Tag Archives: femininity

10 August 2009: Choice

Terrible foreboding and loneliness. The two of us in this house together and nothing but discomfort between us. I wish I could feel warmth, comfort, closeness. All outward signs are there: he takes me to the hospital, makes my meals, says he wants to “be there” for me. The essential difference, it seems to me–being “there for” me versus being “there with” me. Wanting to be with me–not as a fulfillment of some duty, some cause of martyrdom.

And I’m anxious and defensive, bitter and easily upset. Recovering from the biopsy, the awful pain and ache and itch of the stitches and bandages. I don’t know how I can possibly cope with the “real” surgery when this small thing unnerves me so.

Spent yesterday restless–alternately working my way through Shakespeare’s comedies and nodding off to sleep. I sleep so easily these days, so often, so suddenly and so long, a series of deaths.

I spent more time trawling the internet for cancer-related websites, watched a woman’s hair regrow in time lapse from chemo–still no idea what is happening with my own. The search term “mastectomy support” yielded mostly information related to lingerie and swimsuits. “You may feel an essential part of your femininity is missing”–why femininity, merely, specifically? Why always the emphasis on gender or sexuality when it is an organ too, and aesthetically, functionally, a part of oneself, and not only one’s sexual self? The comfort is meant to be that, externally, socially, “no one will know.” That you can cover up your cancer, your surgery scars, like the most shameful parts of yourself. As Audre Lorde claims, a near-conspiracy to hide these women, make us indistinguishable to one another. And the emphasis placed not on prevention or recovery or cure but on reconstruction–to be attractive to men.

I’m ashamed by my inability to cope, sickened by my own appearance. How do you make a change in your essential attitude to and response to adversity? Is a change of such magnitude even possible? I don’t know how you start but by pretending, and hoping that your invented persona takes over. It’s the only way to execute a choice over your attitude. My response to most things in the hospital has been utter despair, bursting into tears. To not do that would be to actively deny my natural response–and hope that enough instances of ‘acting’ calm would eventually translate into ‘being’ calm.

But still I am on this course I have not chartered, and over which I have no choice. Or else, the only choice is to allow myself to die, which is no choice.

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audre lorde, falsies & feminism

Controversial question of the day: is breast reconstruction after mastectomy an anti-feminist practice?

deenametzger

I find coming to any sensible conclusion on this issue particularly taxing. As with most issues of moral ambiguity, the answer always slides into the terrain of ‘situationally-dependent.’

Audre Lorde takes issue with reconstruction and prostheses post-mastectomy in her Cancer Journals, arguing that while prosthetic limbs serve a functional purpose, “false breasts are designed for appearance only, as if the only real function of women’s breasts were to appear in a certain shape and size and symmetry to onlookers, or to yield to external pressure.”

There’s no arguing that the purpose of breast reconstruction is appearance–and it is indeed worrying that appearance, rather than survival, may be a woman’s first concern. But the ‘external pressure’ of which Lorde speaks does not necessarily have to be about achieving a sexualized aesthetic. One doesn’t opt to undergo breast reconstruction, I hope, merely because one is influenced by a demand from society for ‘normalcy’–as if having two breasts were a socially constructed, arbitrary attribute of ‘femininity,’ like nylon stockings or nail polish–but because of a demand from one’s own body, for balance. To return to default.

I don’t feel my choice for an LD flap reconstruction was a yield to pressure of any sort, especially to the pressure of men. Here’s why: Continue reading

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