All of the readings this week shared the themes of objectification and bodily alienation. To whom does disability belong? To whom or what do disabled bodies belong? Given the stigma and difference surrounding disability, perhaps a better question entails who will claim disability. We have discussed how the lived body might do this, a co-mingling of mind and body that is not defined by ability, but is nonetheless shaped, enabled, and limited by the form it takes. Breasted experience is prey to a similar sense of objectification and alienation. Breasts are a main focus of the male gaze. They float around, disembodied, in joke and novelty items. They appear as the sole focal point on billboard images without heads that are advertising something surely unrelated. It is safe to say that breasts have entered into the realm of object, but what does this mean for one with breasts?
Young investigates this question. Surely, to breasted women, breasts are not objects, but the body. At the same time, they are differentiated from the body; there is a keen awareness of how one presents them. Breast augmentation may increase sexual pleasure, but pleasure for whom? For sexual purposes, it seems that breasts belong to men before they belong to woman; they are the stuff of male fantasy, not the erotic organs of women. This sort of disembodiment takes on a weird twist when breasts become cancerous, as Ehrenreich describes. Defaulting to mastectomy reinforces breasts’ status as “secondary sex characteristics.” More troubling still is the whole breast cancer discourse that Ehrenreich is reacting to: as women we have breasts, then we get cancer, which is when we have them removed. In this way, breasts become sort of “optional’; worse still, it is naturally of course that woman part ways with their breasts. This naturalization fails to recognize the causes of cancer, which resemble chemotherapy radiation more so than genetic mishap. Now a woman’s breasts are own by cancer and what Ehrenreich calls the “cancer-industrial complex.” How do we, as women, reclaim our breasts?
For myself, breasted experience in bras hasn’t resonated, so I choose to go without. Still, after a number of years, I catch myself some moments questioning if I am being overly sexual or indecent, or if I am drawing unwanted attention to myself. It is an odd thing to navigate – balancing the perception of one’s self as an embodied subject and as a sexual object. Perhaps re-naturalizing the female body is one route to move toward the former and away from the later.