Sociological Images addressed two issues that have been pet peeves of mine for a long time, namely the sexualization of breast cancer and the sexualizing of breastfeeding. The piece compares the admonishment of the author’s sister-in-law for allowing her “breast to fall out” when she fell asleep nursing on a plane and this 2012 ad for breast cancer awareness:
To create momentum to fund breast cancer research, breast cancer has been both feminized/infantilized through pink marketing, and sold as a way for men to save body parts to which they want to preserve sexual access. Breast cancer awareness is all about the breasts. Hence, you see bumper stickers that say
As if what is being preserved through breast cancer research and treatment are breasts, not human lives. It is hard to imagine a campaign to raise awareness of testicular cancer that promoted blue teddy bears and selling beer with blue ribbons on it, along with bumper stickers saying “save the wienie beanies” or “save the family jewels” or “save the nuts” (which is what we are if we think such a campaign would ever occur).
While the 2012 ad featured in Sociological Images does include partial faces, many breast cancer awareness ads do not:
While it is possible for nubile young women to get breast cancer, most women who get breast cancer look more like this:
Bodies and breasts getting cancer treatment, even when headless, look more like this:
and despite the blonde locks on the tatas model, many women battling breast cancer do not have hair, having lost it to chemo treatments:
Somehow, these sexy tata images, including apparently naked women (or women’s torsos), are okay to display because they are for the higher purpose of fighting breast cancer, and perhaps more importantly, preserving breasts so men can be titillated by them (yes, titillated, haha).
While it may be possible to find breastfeeding a baby sexy, usually it is fairly dull. Most women-infant pairs look something like this while breastfeeding:
though many new mothers don’t look this good on a regular basis.
But the media also tends to portray breastfeeding as an activity of a breast rather than a human:
even when the intent is not remotely sexual:
But many photos of breastfeeding women are sexualized. Beautiful women with no postpartum paunches wear attractive bras or negligees or form-fitting tops and pull the top down (rather than wearing a loose shirt and lifting it up from the bottom):
While some women do feed their babies this way, usually it’s not the first-line choice for feeding in the presence of strangers.
Somehow, this image gets translated to the typical breastfeeding women, who is chastised for allowing her breast to show, or sometimes merely because she is breastfeeding, even if no one can see anything at all other than fabric:
No one excoriates women for having cancer in public.
The problem with breasts is, apparently, that they are attached to women. Women need to go out in public to work, shop, get sunshine, see other people, and all of the reasons that human beings generally leave the privacy of their homes. And when they go out, they take their breasts with them. And when a woman gets cancer, the pain and fear are experienced by a human being, not a breast.
It’s fine to think breasts are sexy. it’s not so fine to define them as separate from the women who have them.