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22 January, 2007

Calling All Anthropologists

What I need is an army of PhD students. I’m always noticing weird bits of human behaviour that I’d love to have investigated. Take the following, for example.

One of the odd side-effects of being retired is that I spend more time in shopping malls, since now I go with Wifie to do the weekly shopping trips. At least this gives me a chance to feed my cappuccino addiction without having to buy a new espresso machine.

As I sat there sipping the other day, a woman, standing in line for a bank cash dispenser some way off, began stroking her left buttock. Now, you might imagine I’d spray a mouthful of coffee all over the place and goggle like a loon at this bizarrely casual, autoerotic behaviour in a public place but no, I observed it quite nonchalantly. For, you see, I’ve seen the same thing many, many times before.

I first noticed it at a local fair in my home town when I was a teenager at university. A woman at a stall, whose bottom I had been admiring, suddenly began fondling the object of my interest. If I’d had a mouthful of coffee that day, I may well have splattered the passers-by, so amazed was I. Fortunately for all around me, I didn’t really discover good coffee for many years more.

But then I began to notice it. Women walking in the street, standing talking to chums, queuing in a shop, in fact, women everywhere, doing just about anything, will, from time to time, reach behind them and stroke their own bottoms. It happens in the UK, all over Europe, and here in Australia. I can’t remember seeing it in the USA or Asia and I’ve never been to Africa but I see it so often and it is done so unselfconsciously that I’m willing to bet it’s a universal phenomenon.

What are they doing? I have no idea. They are not straightening or smoothing their clothing. The movement is not at all businesslike or purposeful, it is a slow, gentle caress. They are tenderly feeling or stroking themselves. It doesn’t look as if there is a particularly sexual intent but it definitely seems sensual, as if it must be pleasurable – or at least comforting.

So, if there is a PhD student out there looking for a thesis topic – an anthropologist, say, or a psychologist – you should definitely look into this. Why do women stroke their own bottoms in public? As a title for a thesis it is bound to attract loads of press attention and there would certainly be a book in it for you, with TV and radio interviews, and a guest spot on Oprah no doubt. It would be a great start to your career. Just drop me a line if you need help with the field work.

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