Here's a sample from a commenter at Uneasy Pink's blog;
"I'm sorry you find the words "boobies" and "ta-ta's" offensive but you know what? What you find offensive doesn't matter to me. That's your hang-up to get over... not mine or anybody else's. I have found that women who have had mastectomies are hyper-sensitive about the fact anyway (understandably so, by the way!!).... and have a hard time when anybody makes references to breasts that they themselves don't have anymore. That's understandable & I sympathize... but unfortunately that's another hang-up to get over or be consumed by it."
The scream of the Banshee
Get over it?
How does one respond to this kind of thinking? Well, others have done a much better job than I ever could in explaining how they feel about their breast cancer experience. Molly Ivins, noted journalist, humorist and author, in a 2002 Time Magazine article famously said;
Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.Molly passed away from Stage IV breast cancer in 2007. If she could send us a message from the grave I'm sure she would add to the above quote and say something like;
......Then on top of all that NOT having fun, the cancer goes and kills you.
And perhaps in response to our apparent inability to "get over it" or deal with our breast cancer "hangups", which seems to imply that some of us don't have the kind of attitude that engenders positivity or indeed a sense of lightness and fun, Molly might have quipped as she does in the same article;
I suspect that cancer doesn't give a rat's ass whether you have a positive mental attitude. It just sits in there multiplying away, whether you are admirably stoic or weeping and wailing. The only reason to have a positive mental attitude is that it makes life better. It doesn't cure cancer.
If you've been following the current "boobies" debate in the breast cancer blogosphere, proponents of using sexualized slang in the context of breast cancer will tell you that it's a way of making a serious situation lighter, more palatable and makes people feel more comfortable in talking about breast cancer. That's nice, but as The Accidental Amazon points out in her latest post;
Knockers. The Girls. Cupcakes. Muffins. Tits. Titties. Melons. Rack. Bags. Milk pails. Tatas. Boobs. Boobies. Jugs.
Do these words tell you anything about the reality of breast cancer? Me either.
Nor do they tell you anything about women. What they do tell you about is how our culture labels women. At best, what they tell me is that humans are fond of jokes, slang and euphemisms, and at worst, that humans are also prone to slurs, innuendo and objectification when they are afraid or hateful or ignorant.
But this idea of using humor to mask the seriousness of some aspect of breast cancer, for whatever reason, is not new. I learned this as I was reading Siddhartha Mukherjee's tome, The Emperor of All Maladies.
And this one really boggled my mind.
|The disfiguring effects of Halstead's
Halstead's radical mastectomy was a grueling operation lasting six to eight hours and left patients extremely disfigured and debilitated as a result, It could also involve removal of ribs, cracking and excavation of clavicles all in the mistaken belief that breast cancers emanated and spread from the breast in a centrifugal pattern.
According to Keynes, a more local surgery to the breast could achieve the same outcomes as the radical mastectomy and save many women from the terrible after-effects of Halstead's operation. In questioning the surgical status-quo, Keynes also challenged the notion that breast cancer spread in a centrifugal pattern.
So how did Halstead's followers respond? Rather than listening to Keynes theories and using his evidence to extrapolate and expound on his techniques, they instead chose to use language to trivilialize and denigrate Keynes' ideas. Mukherjee writes;
"They retaliated by giving his operation a nickname: the lumpectomy. The name was like a low-minded joke, a cartoon surgery in which a white-coated doctor pulls out a body part and calls it a 'lump' ". Keyne's theory and operation were largely ignored by American surgeons..........his challenge to radical surgery was quietly buried."
After fierce and sustained resistance from the entrenched Halsteadian beliefs of the medical fraternity, it wasn't until the 1970's - some forty years after Keynes had first hit upon the idea - for the lumpectomy to be regularly considered in the surgical treatment of certain breast cancers.
|Illustration of one type of
Why? If we are to believe Mukherjee's historical account, then we can only surmise that the Halsteadian followers' resistance to clinical challenge, and the resulting institutionalized trivialization of Keyne's treatment theory by the use of jokes and euphemism, was the cause for this long delay in finally changing the breast cancer treatment status quo.
Too bad that the butts of this particular joke, uttered in the context of breast cancer, were the hundreds of thousands of women who were subjected to the horrors of the radical mastectomy in the time before lumpectomies, and less invasive forms of mastectomy became standard forms of treatment.
Interesting isn't it? That one little joke could stagnate real progress in the treatment of breast cancer, for decades.
All because someone dared to question the breast cancer status quo.
Could a society hung-up on using fun "boobie-like" language to describe and sell the breast cancer cause, end up ultimately forgetting about the seriousness of this disease? Forget the fact that so little progress has been made in stemming the number of deaths from this disease? Forget about the need to continually question and recalibrate the messages in order to move the fight forward? Will the public simply grow weary of boobie fads and move onto the next fun cause du jour? Then where will we be?
In a 2001 article discussing the work of one of the first breast cancer activists, Rose Kushner, Barron Lerner M.D. writes;
"It will be the challenge of modern breast cancer activists to continually scrutinize their strategies and, when necessary, question dogma, as Kushner did so successfully."I am one person who is prepared to keep questioning dogma.
I will never "get over it".
And as to my "hang-ups"? Only about breast cancer. For me, a truly frightening reality.
Do you see me laughing now?