Sarah Sands: There's more to man boobs than meets the eye

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three High Court judges debating the sexual allure of man boobs is the stuff of music hall. The Court of Appeal has just overturned the conviction of a homosexual care worker who filmed another man at a swimming pool. He could not have been found guilty of voyeurism under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, because the male chest is not accorded the same privacy as female breasts.

The mysteries of the flesh are a joyful topic. "What is Linford Christie's lunchbox?" asked the great Mr Justice Popplewell. "They are making a reference to my genitals, your honour," replied Christie.

But in this case, I think the Appeal Court judges have alighted on an issue of genuine complexity and ambiguity. Sexuality is in the eye of the voyeur. There are no photographs of the man who was secretly filmed, and thus the story is illustrated in my newspaper by a photograph of the cheerfully collapsed physique of Jack Nicholson. This throws us off the scent. What if the victim in the court case was an Abercrombie and Fitch model? A monumental slab of beefcake? The photograph of Jack Nicholson is intended to depict pantomime buffoonery, but we know that Nicholson is still something of a hellraiser. His man boobs may be an essential part of his sexual armoury.

The Sexual Offences Act fastens on female breasts as an impenetrable sanctum, yet women have become fairly careless about exposing them. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, have both disregarded the spirit of the Sexual Offences Act with their swaggering displays of cleavage.

The most outdated aspect of the Act is the assumption that only women can be sexual objects. The Abercrombie and Fitchism of our culture has been the other side of feminism. As many women are taken more seriously so many men are less so. Good-looking young men have the option of being gawped at and squeezed and given pocket money and patronised just as pretty young women always have.

How can we talk about unique lasciviousness towards the female form when you have David Beckham posing in his underpants on gigantic billboards in city centres?

The prosecution case against the care worker rested on a quaintly chivalrous view of the woman swimmer. The Act discouraged men from entertaining thoughts of women emerging from the water, drops trickling down their shoulders and thighs. But the act pre-dated Daniel Craig's swimming trunk scene in Casino Royale.

Despite society signing up to sexual equality, there are areas of ambivalence. We wonder if a female teacher who seduces a boy student is as serious an offence as a man in authority who takes advantage of a girl. We shouldn't, but we do.

We believe that male domestic violence against females is more menacing than women attacking men. We even seem to accept – disregarding the legal and ethical transgressions – that it is OK to pay women less than men.

And judges still believe in the exclusive sanctity of the female breast. Bless them.