Dolly’s Boobs


There — I bet that headline will make you click on my blog…

I remember the first time Feminist critique of media wound its way through my brain, and actually persuaded me to look at the world differently.

It started with the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when I noticed he’d have Dolly Parton on and decided to watch. I got to see Johnny good-naturedly banter for 10 minutes with his female guest about her boobs.  Then she sang a little number, and moved down the couch to sit farther away from Ed McMahon’s cabbagey farts.

One of my earliest memories of music was Dolly singing “Jolene (1973).” I still think it is one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. Another (very) early musical memory was hearing Dolly’s “Butterfly (1974).” Say what you will about the genre, if the songs have staying power in a five-year-old, they must have something special about them. To this day, almost 40 years later, I think her haunting, ethereal, Smokey Mountains tone is remarkable in the best sense of the word. But hey. Johnny Carson cracked boob jokes. Ten minutes.

Dolly Parton on the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson.

Dolly always had the best sense of humor about it.  “I don’t mind being called a dumb blonde,” she once quipped, “Because I know I’m not dumb, and I know I’m not blonde.”

I don’t fault Johnny. He was a product of his generation. Things like that hadn’t been examined really.  Yet, from that day, probably back in 1985, I started seeing it more often. Actresses were almost never greeted on talk shows as “talented,” or “versatile,” or whatever, but “beautiful.”  Don’t believe me?  Listen to the “Jolene” link. Porter’s words about Dolly:  “One of the prettiest singingest songwriting little blondes in Country music coming up right now.”

Just an aside: the scientist who named Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep, had this to say: “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.” This was in 1996. We’re not talking about ancient history, that we did, and said silly gender-biased things.

I remember a lot of guff being taken by Gloria Steinem in the 70s for insisting the word Ms. enter our vocabulary, so women aren’t defined by the fact they have (or don’t have) a husband.  Miss and Mrs. is an artifact from earlier years. I don’t mind if they’re used. But I do object to deriding people who would rather be called Ms.  My Granny went by Mrs. S.L. Spurgeon, even after Grandpa’s death. People were announced, for example “Mr. and Mrs. Norman Farmer,” as if the woman’s name doesn’t even merit more than a mention. It just wasn’t looked at back then. I get that. It hadn’t reached a national stage where it needed to be examined. But now is our moment to prove ourselves. We need to reach beyond ourselves, and see beyond gender, race, class, sexuality, and see people as simply that: people, just trying to get by, make a buck, keep their families safe, and go home and listen to old Dolly Parton albums. We aren’t gay people, or Mexican people, or female people. Stereotyping needs to end.

</ off my preachin’ stump now.>

I know much sociological research has been done; and far headier stuff than the anecdotes I can present. It just hit me with force recently when a friend on Facebook asked her friends to stop calling her cute. Ten-year-olds are cute, was her point. Adults shouldn’t be “downgraded” to a young girlish thing.  Now whether or not you agree with her, I would like to believe people in the 21st century are willing to heed a friend’s distaste at a term and retain this in memory, and not call them by that word or phrase.

One objection she received was from a person who said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Women would be better off if they just shut up and learned to take a compliment in the way it was meant.” This provoked my Inner Feminist to a spontaneous moment of wrath.  To the thread, I posted the following thought (with one typo corrected):

All compliments are not created equal, and no woman should have to “just take the compliment given to them.” Just imagine if some woman decided to tell a guy “It’s not the size that matters, honey, but the way you use it…” How would you respond?

What’s the matter?! It’s a compliment. Just take what’s given to you.

It’s an old, nasty trick of rhetoric to force blame on the recipient of a degrading statement, rather than the deliverer of the statement. Another fine cop-out is, “What? It was just a joke! Can’t you take a joke?” Onus falls on the listener. In United States jurisprudential situations, the prosecution is beholden to prove the case, not vice versa. Same with intent and interpretation. If I wrote “sladfrk flrm pppwed, sqk!” I wouldn’t expect a person who stumbled face-first into this blog to understand my statement, and I certainly wouldn’t find fault in, and point out, their sad, sad incapacity to converse appropriately. I am behold to make my message, as WELL as my intent, free of interference.

I know I’m just as guilty.  I have my own blinders on, and surely make horrible assumptions based on things even less obvious than gender.  But, as the twelve-steppers say, the first thing is to admit you have a problem.

Yet, I must insist that calling something “politically correct” is all-too-often a cop-out. We play a game of double standards and refuse to admit culpability. What if Johnny Carson interviewed Burt Reynolds and, for ten minutes, talked about his tight little pants-package and his oh-so-hairy chest? Would men have reacted differently? Oh, heck yeah they would have, and The Tonight Show would have been cancelled (and rightfully so) in most markets within a week of the interview’s airing.

Whaaaaat? It was just a joke. Can’t you take a joke? Men should just learn to take a compliment when it’s given to them.

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4 thoughts on “Dolly’s Boobs”

  1. One thing I’d change: Instead of Burt Reynolds on the Johnny Carson show, think of Burt Reynolds on the Dinah Shore show talking “about his tight little pants-package and his oh-so-hairy chest?”

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  2. So often, I am shocked and appalled as to what is deemed “appropriate” to enter the light of day from the depths of our mouths. I am a Christian homeschool mom. I go to church every week, homeschooled my kids for over a decade, and for 17 years, stayed out of the work force to raise my kids. Most people would read that description and have me all summed up. I know, based on this info, my parents do. They don’t speak to us much and harbor much disdain for my existence. My girls for years got “self-help” books on GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING BOYS CAN DO to make up for any true harm I might do them bringing them up in such a way. The Stereotype. Not really along the lines of Dolly’s boobs (by the way i love Dolly to death – always have) but still the harm of assumptions are that they can lead to stereotypes and unfair judgments. Dolly played it off well, but I guarantee the subject of her bra size was the last thing she wanted to discuss on the JC show or any other. And the assumption that it was acceptable to make her feel like an object to be oogled was not a good one. Who would have thought a Conservative (which I’m not), Christian (the struggling one that I am), Homeschool (darn good one – life is not about textbooks ya know) Stay at Home (always busy with good, quality, stuff) mom would ever be regarded as the true person I am…. a quirky, opinionated, vulnerable, girl with really huge dreams. Btw, I can empathize with Dolly and the boob thing. Got ` em young and there they stayed much to the joy of various men with zero discernment whose eyes never venture high enough to meet mine when we speak. Seriously, they’re really JUST boobs.

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  3. I get the “cute” comment. But now that I’m 41, it doesn’t seem so bad ;). It was demeaning, like a pat on a puppy’s head. “She has nothing to say, poor thing, but she’s easy on the eyes.”

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