So I mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot (more) about cancer; I’m currently writing a seminar paper on 21st century women’s cancer narratives, which I’ll be turning into a conference paper to present on a panel at the Michigan Women’s Studies Association conference–“Leading the Way: Feminism, Education, and Social Change”– in March. I presented a version of this in class yesterday. Abstract below.
A Portion of This Paper Will Help Fight Breast Cancer: Women’s Cancer Narratives and Twenty-First Century Survivor Subjectivity
The rise of the breast cancer narrative as a popular genre evolves largely out of the establishment, in 1985—and the subsequent commercial propagation—of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: an annual cultural phenomenon sponsored by the pharmeceutical company AstraZeneca. The genre’s initial emergence in the 80s and 90s marks the emergence of a new subjectivity—the “politicized patient”—and a new genre: a Foucauldian “counternarrative to medical discourse.”  In the twenty-five years since its inception, breast cancer awareness culture has moved from a model of a politicized patient to an increasingly commercialized one; adopted by corporate culture as a “cause,” breast cancer becomes a brand name. In the twenty-first century, the breast cancer narrative therefore demands not only a counternarrative to medical discourse, but a counternarrative to the commercial discourse in which women’s stories are used as useful marketing tools for the cultivation of the uniform subjectivity of “survivor.” Thirty years on from the publication of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, a second generation of female cancer patient subjectivity persists: a sentimentally politicized patienthood, carrying with it a ubiquitously commercialized, normalized ur-narrative of “survival.” In this paper, I explore the ways in which American women’s cancer narratives operate in the post-feminist twenty-first century, particularly how the “survivor” subjectivity is constructed, or deconstructed, against the backdrop of American commercial culture.
 See Lisa Diedrich, Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness. (Minneapolis: Univ of Minnesota Press, 2007), pp. 25-6.
The ACLU has won the lawsuit against Myriad Laboratories re: their patenting of human BRCA1 & BRCA2 genes.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.”
If this ruling sticks, what an enormous feminist victory, and a victory of human rights. Coupled with the passage of a health care bill–incredible. Can it be that this country is really making strides to release the slow chokehold of government and corporate control over our bodies–and women’s bodies besides?
For background on this issue, watch the ACLU video against monopolies over human genetic testing here.
Does this commercial make anyone else feel ill?
Why, when whichever advertising mastermind was making this pitch, did no one grab the storyboard and shove it where the sun don’t shine?
YouTube asked me to verify I was over 18 in order to view the content of this video. Which is aired on television during family game shows at dinnertime.
So another generation of girls can learn that their bodies are there for decoration, and for competition.
Controversial question of the day: is breast reconstruction after mastectomy an anti-feminist practice?
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
I thought, before pursuing this project any further, I should make something quite clear.
I read a lot of breast cancer blogs and they are chock-a-block with ‘inspirational’ women who have dealt graciously with their disease, nonchalantly even, smiling, like it’s just another thing. Don’t misunderstand me; I admire them. But I am not one of them. Don’t expect inspiration here. I’m just not ready for it.
So I’ll come out and say it: I am not ‘okay’ with having had cancer. In fact, I’m fucking pissed. Why does it always seem as if no one is allowed to be pissed? Let’s be honest for just a minute and get some things off my chest.
[Yes, I said, off my chest. Horrid pun intended. Dark humour’s a different matter. I kind of thrive on it. Just don’t mistake it for acceptance of the situation. The sit-tit-uation. Never mind.] Continue reading