A double mastectomy in a world where a woman is seen as ‘packet of behinds, thighs, hair and lips’.

Wombs?  In laws’ property. 

Hair? Length maybe controlled by the family elders and future in laws. 

Skin? To be protected from the sun and men’s eyes, no matter now hot or humid (sometimes this does not apply to women working in the fields).

Which parts of their bodies, would you say do women completely own?

Do you agree with these lines?

“We live in a world where women are like chickens, reduced to their parts. Men are still lucky enough to be considered whole …

But women? We are a packet of behinds, thighs, hair and lips. I am only reciting current primary targets. There is nothing on a woman’s body that isn’t brutally assessed.

The secondary targets with mandates are bellies (must be flat), eyebrows (emphatic), toe cleavage (wear low-cut shoes), arms (Michelle Obama-muscled) and genitals (plucked to a soundtrack of screaming).

Breasts, in a category all their own, have been reduced into even more parts, just as chicken breasts are made into breaded fingers for bar snacks. Nipples have long been excoriated for slipping out. Now it’s “side-boobs” and “under-boobs.” ….

[Link: Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy story stirs shame and desire — Mallick]

Psharmarao shared this link, Jolie’s disclosure sends out an empowering message.

“Jolie’s disclosure sends out an empowering message. By sharing her deepest fears and courageously talking about her surgical scars, she wants all women to learn the valuable lesson of self-preservation. By sharing her story, Jolie has made it every woman’s story. It’s really not about Angelina Jolie and her breasts but about women’s health and breast cancer prevention. In the entire Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston-Brangelina saga, I picked my side in the opening rounds. I was always Team Jen and proud of it. But now I wouldn’t mind sporting a Team Angie tee. You go Girl. Go, Do, Be.”  [Read more at: The Angelina Jolie Message]

But then, why should it be seen as courageous to talk about a life saving procedure?

42 thoughts on “A double mastectomy in a world where a woman is seen as ‘packet of behinds, thighs, hair and lips’.

  1. ”We live in a world where women are like chickens, reduced to their parts.” Particularly in India. And yet Indians get outraged when women in the West are shown naked in magazines or on TV. I find being arranged into a marriage, sexed up whenever the husband wants to and impregnated without a choice the whole with having to hide behind covering clothes even more demeaning.

    Regarding Angelina Jolie I would add that she made a right choice and I admire her courage but let’s not generalize and think this is possible for all women: Most people in America can’t afford the test ($3,000) and even those who can afford 3,000 dollars or France where social healthcare security makes the test free, the reconstruction of the breasts still costs around 7,000 dollars. Now I think it’s fair to assume Angelina will go through that operation after her mastectomy: Would she really give up her breasts at only 37 year old ? Now most women can’t afford what she does.

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      • In the US, reconstructive surgery is covered by insurance for mastectomies. Not sure if that extends to elective ones based on the results of this test or not.

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  2. I think it’s because she’s an actress: so she’s automatically expected to look a certain way and she chose to risk it by getting a preventative mastectomy. Also, in the Western world, people don’t really disclose too much personal information unless it’s on a ‘need to know’ basis. Because breast cancer has become so common, I think it helps when a famous woman (especially one who has received much famed for beauty) talks about going through something like this. I think it’s seen as courageous and brave because she didn’t have to talk about it, but she chose to.

    Also, I think pointing out how important gene testing is will put some pressure on the American government to push for better healthcare. It’s pretty much the only developed country that doesn’t have universal healthcare–even people with insurance are screwed over by insurance companies all the time. It’s a truly pathetic health care system.

    But for what it’s worth, I think men are objectified too–perhaps not to the same degree as women, but they’re definitely objectified in certain ways. I would disagree with “We live in a world where women are like chickens, reduced to their parts. Men are still lucky enough to be considered whole …” I’d say it depends.

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    • I agree, I think men are objectified too, as much as women. For every frat boy who talks about how great mila kunis’s boobs are there is a teenage girl who screams when channing Tatum takes his shirt off. Ans I feel like its seen as more…societally acceptable? For girls to gush over how hot men are..in public anyway

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      • Haha, I agree with you. If he were to have surgery on his abdomen (for whatever reason), I bet you’d see some silly reactions on the internet. It’s Hollywood: men and women are very objectified. It’s an industry based on looks and talent.

        I do agree, it’s seen as more socially acceptable. Just a few months ago, Anna Kendrick decided to tweet that she did something very inappropriate while watching Ryan Gosling on screen. I thought she crossed a very, very inappropriate line that would have caused a much bigger reaction had the genders been reversed.

        Even Bollywood seems to have caught on. I watched a B-wood movie recently (it’s a few years old) but they were definitely exploiting one actor! And the guy had a really built up upper body and skinny legs, which makes me think he’s taking steroids. It’s just not healthy to look like that.

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        • In fact, at least women are seen as a package of behinds and things and hair and whatever. Some value. A man’s anatomy is seen as worth ZERO. A kick in the balls that sends a man writhing with agony is a comedy staple on screens worldwide. I am yet to see a movie where a woman getting beaten up is used for comic effect.

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        • Abhishek, the reason why a woman getting beaten up is not used for comic effect is because it happens far too frequently in real life for it to have any comedic value…

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        • I agree Satish.

          Also there are movies and scenes where, in the last scenes, the husband realises he should have beaten the wife to teach her Indian family values, and then he does either slap her or beat her. And our censor board that scrutinises affection between a couple, does not object to scenes that justify violence against a spouse.

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        • @Abhishek,

          Maybe you have seen movies where ‘eve-teasing’ or sexual harassment is used for comic effect? Any govinda movie probably.

          Women (and men) are attracted to men’s bodies too. Men’s anatomy is not irrelevant. That’s a myth. There are lots of good looking male models and actors. There have forever been body-building contests churning out dara singhs and arnold schwarzeneggers. Are you saying that men’s bodies should be as objectified as women’s? I can tell you it’s not much fun.

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        • haha, I think Anna Kendrick was just jokingg…but you’re right. It would have caused a much bigger reaction if it had been a guy talking. and it’s not even hollywood. even in schools you can hear girls gushing over guy’s abs and muscles and whatever, and it’s just laughed off as teenagers fan-girling, but it’s far less common to hear guys talking about girl’s boobs or hair or legs…it’s just seen as more offensive. i mean im sure they still do it but definitely not in the open. so anyone who says that women are objectified and not men needs to get their facts checked. right now, it’s FAR more societally acceptable to objectify men.

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        • Yep, shaadi-karke-phas-gaya-yaar starring salman khan and shilpa shetty is basically entirely about how husbands should keep their wives under control. In the climax, shakti kapoor slaps his wife twice and says ‘ye muje pehle ji karna chahiye tha’ and barks at his daughter to return to her abusive husband. The wife is then shown fanning him and making chapatis for him in the next scene. Her friend comes knocking and he swears at her ‘teri ma ki..’ I think.. and the wife tells her to go away. This is the ‘happy’ ending’.

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  3. From the article: “Jolie is dauntless. She has a lion heart.”

    Agreed. There are not many women who would have done what she did. ESPECIALLY given the industry in which she works. Can you imagine someone in the Indian film industry pulling this off? (Of course not. We don’t talk about breasts, we just gawk at them and yell about them when strange women walk by on the street.)

    Angelina Jolie is a brand. People often forget that she is human. As a brand, she’s expected and held up to certain unfair standards by, well, everyone. It takes a lot to break that mold, to step out of it and assert her humanity. By doing that, she’s done everyone a service, and I think that’s pretty great.

    That being said, she does have opportunities that most women don’t have, due in part to her money. If the American healthcare system is anything to go by, it doesn’t seem like everyone would have money to reconstruct their breasts afterward (I wouldn’t know, I live in Canada). What she did was monumental, but she can afford to return to normalcy afterward, whereas not many women would be able to. Still, she took her life in her own hands and made a decision not a lot of people would make, even if they could afford it. I think that’s pretty awesome.

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  4. “But then, why should it be seen as courageous to talk about a life saving procedure?” Because it’s a part of the body that’s not usually out there and visible, because it’s a part of the body that women and men associate with women’s sexuality, because life-changing or not, hacking off any part of one’s body for men and women is a difficult decision that impacts not just how others percieve oneself but one’s own body image.

    When my friend was faced with the same choice last year, I read research on masectomies in Hong Kong and one thing that was mentioned was that women delay testing even when they find a lump because they are scared of a masectomy. That Angelina Jolie, a woman whose job depends on her body to a great extent, chose this option and testified that the results were satisfactory might help some women who need to make those choices.

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    • considering the fact that my aunt (who lived in a village) DIED of breast cancer because she was too “ashamed” to admit that she had a huge painful lump in her breast ( even to her sister in law, who was a surgeon!!) and finally admitted when it broke and started oozing pus(too late for any treatment by then) i would say that talking about breasts and mastectomies is definitely terribly, terribly necessary, especially for women who are raised to believe that sex and private parts are taboo topics.

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  5. A neighbour passed away from breast cancer when I was a kid. Apparently she didn’t even go to the doctor until very late. I remember women from the neighbourhood discussing this and they could all relate, they understood how weird it would be to show your breasts to the doctor for checkups, how would you even complain about breasts?

    I remember reading a novel, Valley of the Dolls, in which an actress/ starlet known for her looks gets breast cancer. She thinks of getting surgery but then realises that her partner loves her breasts, as does everyone else. So she kills herself instead. This is not based on a true story but it shows the world view that the author is commenting on.

    I think some body parts are so sexualised, so taboo, that it becomes brave to stand up in front of the world and talk about issues around that body part. I think it was great that Angelina Jolie did this. They’re only boobs, her boobs, and she is more important than a pair of mammary glands.

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    • I remember this scene in Erich Segal’s novel ‘Doctors’ where a lab assistant brings to the young medical students a freshly excised human breast on a tray and naturally, for a moment everyone just looks at it in sheer horror. The author then tells us that while the girls were horrified at the prospect of being at risk of suffering such a fate, the horror the boys felt was reserved for the poor men whose wives had to undergo such a tragic operation. As if the wives were objects whose value was greatly diminished by the mastectomy, and hence their owners deserved sympathy. I had found this bit very revolting.

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    • oh, I totally know what you mean. My gynecologist is an indian male (in the US) and my friends were all asking me if I felt comfortable talking to him about “private” stuff and letting him do the pap smear test. And I had not really thought on that lines before I went to him! For me, he is a doctor, a professional and I am a patient in need of his services. I dont care if he is a male, a female or a robot as long as I get done what I went in for. Needless to say, I still go to him, and now that I am expecting a baby, I talk to him about all sorts of things ranging from breast issues to increased hair on my tummy!
      I think in today’s world, we are vocal where it is not really required and less vocal about things where raising a voice and starting a discussion is a must!

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      • Yeah, it’s fairly common for Indian origin women in the US to pick an Ob/Gyn who is ‘Indian’ and ‘female’. The criteria is not ability and references but her nationality and gender.🙂

        Ironically, on the day of delivery, there may be as many as 7-8 medical staff in the room, so the whole thing is moot.

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  6. Thanks IHM for putting this up for discussion.When I read Eve Ensler’s VAGINA MONOLOGUES for the first time and later saw a performance of the same I was converted to this cult of reclaiming our bodies.In the objectification of the female body the woman participates in the male gaze and becomes a cleavage, a pair of boobs or a son-bearing womb.Her identity as a person gets diluted and so does her right on her own body and to make decisions regarding pregnanacy,sex or her appearance.
    having a global celebrity like Jolie speak about it may open so many discussions like this one all over the world about the female body and its rights to make its own decisions.

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  7. I think this is a poorly written post. Its one thing to say women have problems and try to think of solutions, its another thing to make the whole world look bad and write a depressing-looking post.

    “Wombs? In laws’ property. Hair xx, Skin xx”, “women are like chickens” – really? Is the world SO depressingly bad for the average desi woman? I’d be darned if it is!

    I can appreciate Angelina’s action makes the average woman more confident about going in for these procedures, raises awareness, and is empowering for women. It would be so much better a post if you’d written the post along these lines. That is the more important message, not that women are viewed as body parts and Angelina is the holy savior.

    I know of 2 neighbors and one relative in India who underwent double mastectomy and the results were noticeable. People didn’t consider her any less a woman because she was now lacking breasts, neither did her in-laws claim ownership over her body and reject the procedure. Neither did the woman have to fight with her in-laws about their bodies. People who treat a DIL like that are criminals, and I doubt the average in-law is like that.

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    • In some ways you are right.
      There are so many women who have been affected by breast cancer in India. It’s irritating to see how it suddenly becomes a talking point only after a Western celebrity comes out about her experience.
      The upshot is that people like us will be more aware of this test and this preventive surgery.
      The downside is that it will not really help the millions of women in India who don’t know who Jolie is , and who do not realise that the lump is a ticking time bomb.
      The reluctance to go to a doctor arises from shame but more importantly, ignorance. It is my personal belief that the latter factor plays the bigger role. The most conservative women would go to a doctor if they realise that not doing so could mean cancer and death.

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      • I think you’ve understood what I intended to say in my comment better than other readers. its definitely wonderful that Jolie did this, and I’m sure it’ll have an impact for the better.
        And I agree with you – its more about shame and ignorance. Women are taught to be shy, and men in our country value that. This post could’ve invited much more meaningful discussion on that kind of an attitude.

        …did this post have to do with women being seen as body parts? I think it is irrelevant to the message of the post, and takes an extreme view of the world. The analogical view for men would be ‘men are seen as purses and represent a passport to a better life for women’. I know most of the bold and independent women reading this won’t agree with that comment, but that is the stereotype, and there are definitely some women who think that way, aren’t there? Look at the previous post someone wrote on arranged marriage – men are seen as income gatherers.

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    • “Is the world so depressingly bad for the average desi woman”.

      Unfortunately, it is. Women’s identity is nothing but their body parts. Which is why Indian girls are TOLD what to wear.

      Here are examples :
      My neighbour got married to her college boyfriend, set up her own practice as a Doc,and not finding enough time to manage work and married life (in laws living with them) she decided to cut hair short.Her MIL scolded her.

      My SIL (cousin’s wife) is TOLD by her MIL to wear nothing but sarees.

      My colleague at work who never bothered much about cosmetics was suddenly interested in herbal fairness creams as soon as she got engaged becuse the guy ‘convinced’ her that she will feel ‘inferior’ if any relative from his side comments on her dark under eyes and dark patches on her face on the day of the reception.
      Another colleague stopped wearing jeans immediately after marriage, and stopped trimming her hair because her hubby did not approve of jeans and did not like to see her hair short because his mom and sis had long hair and he liked to see his wife with long hair too.
      A friend was asked by her husband to stop wearing ‘tight’ clothes,’too many’ bangles, bangles which have bells on them,anklets which have bells on them,dresses which have mirror work on them,because, according to him,such things tend to attract another man’s attention.
      I could go on, but I dont think I need to.

      It is very difficult for men to comprehend such things, because nobody dictates a dress code for them ever. Nobody demands they wear a gold chain,bangles,anklets,nose rings,long hair,etc.They dont have to fight for the simple pleasures brought on by choosing what to wear on a daily basis,and then put up with disapproving looks.

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      • I agree,the length of their hair and their skirts,the cut of their blouse or what kind of make-up they wear are taken as statements being made by the women on their In-laws and her husband,which is not the case and so this does become a potential area of huge conflict in homes.A woman is blamed for not bearing a son,she is the “banjh” if there aren’t any children after many years,she is blamed to be cold/sexually not good enough if the husband has an affair outside.who says it is not about the woman’s body?

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        • I feel both psharmarao and aarti got my point wrong and are trying to interpret one line from my entire comment. My point is, yes there are idiots of all kinds in our country, but does their ‘dress appropriate’ attitude have to do anything with breast cancer awareness? I don’t think so, and I think we all started on a wrong footing here.

          I’m just saying your comments appear tangential to the post. I’m not doubting the validity of your comments

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        • All the attitudes that objectify women and see them as breasts, legs, hair, skin colour etc work to make women (and their families) hesitate in talking about some body parts. Some other body parts, like thick, black, long hair are seen personal achievements and proof of a woman’s womanliness and Indian-ness.

          How do you think does a mastectomy affect women in a society that is so obsessed with their body parts? Specially where no discussion is heard anywhere about mastectomy or breast cancer and how it might feel; but lots of discussion is heard about tighty whitey vaginas, under arms whiteners, stretch marks removing creams and wonder bras?

          Just think about it. Women are expected to want to look like they never were married and never became mothers and never grew older, never had an illness, never stepped out into the sun, never used their hands for anything that could chip a nail (catastrophe) – and many see this as a privilege to be allowed to be attractive.

          Would it not be good to hear from women who couldn’t care less, who value themselves, who enjoy good health and physical activity in the sun or rain (even if that’s not either keeping them attractive or sculpting their bodies or serving their families) and who would put their lives, comfort and safety above their attractiveness?

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      • And it’s not just the in-laws. It starts very early, in one’s childhood. In India, I’m considered ‘borderline fair to light brown’. Whenever I get lots of sun exposure, I get more and more brown. My mother never stopped me from playing sports, but after a particularly intense session inducing a deep tan, she would look at me and say in regret, “Can’t they provide some shade at school?” I would reply, “How can they provide shade for running on the track?” Before festivals and family gathering, I was advised to stay out of the sun.
        There were many family discussions on who inherited who’s color and who’s lucky and who isn’t.
        As a teen, I saw some of my cousins being picked on for their growing breasts. They were considered “too big and indecent” and were asked to wear pillow-cover like tops. Or there were “concerns” about their “healthy development” because they were too skinny.
        Faces were mercilessly scrutinized, every feature put under the microscope by aunts, grandmothers – their cruel judgements delivered on the fate of every little girl – “with her face, she will get a wonderful husband” or “with that face, it’s difficult to get her married”.
        What will a little girl learn to think about herself? That she is the sum of a set of body parts. That her face and body parts will determine her fate.
        All of this subtly conveyed and unconsciously imbibed – none of this has to be announced blatantly – it is part of the entire family’s unstated understanding, passed down from one generation to the next.
        And what about today, in these modern times? We are being bombarded with fairness creams ads and “lovely, smiling, servile bahu” ads.
        I kind of see where the author’s coming from. Depressing? Yes, very much so.

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        • I get what Niketan is saying, this is about body shame and ignorance.. but I think that is related to body parts being highly objectified and sexualised, isn’t it? Where does the shame come from? Why are our boobs such a big deal?

          I fully relate to wordssetmefree’s examples here. There is an incredible obsession with some parts of the body. I remember the incessant questions about my sister’s tan when she joined swimming classes at age 7. I remember when I was about 12, an aunt told me that she was ‘proud’ that my breasts had arrived. What a great moment that I was developing ‘so well’, she had always rued being flat chested apparently. This was a bizarre conversation. Around age 14 some other aunts giggled at my boobs in a salwar kameez and asked me to wear my chunni well. I was pretty pissed off.. no skin was visible, it was a freaking salwar kameez, what was their problem? Someone got mad at me because someone else stared at my boobs and wondered if I had intentionally not been wearing my bra, also at age 13 or so.. what kind of a crazy through process is that?

          We are told to hide certain parts of our body, to never talk about them, but also to obsess about them in a schizophrenic ‘flaunt it but NEVER show it but it is important’ sort of way. This is where the shame and ignorance comes from, no?

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        • Thank you for taking the time to explain, wordssetmefree, IHM and Carvaka. This post makes better sense now. I confess I hadn’t looked at it this way.

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  8. I’m sick and tired of every part of a woman’s anatomy being mystified. A face is for laughing. Arms are for hugging. Breasts are for feeding babies. Legs are for running. It’s time we stopped making such a big deal about a woman’s body parts.

    Yes, not everyone can afford what Jolie can in terms of medical treatments, but it’s a good thing she came out and talked about it. She sent the right message – one’s health and life are more important that fitting into someone’s notion of beauty.

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    • When I say “I’m sick and tired of every part of a woman’s anatomy being mystified”, I mean OTHER people judging our bodies. Mastectomy can be traumatic to the woman undergoing it. For something that’s already incredibly hard, we can do without dumb public opinion that tells a woman which parts ought to make up her whole.

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  9. Agreed. A big deal is made of the mastectomy because it involves breasts and a woman’s identity and attractiveness is linked to it. As if she is defined by her breasts and other body parts. This would be especially true for models and actresses I guess..

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  10. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of Jolie’s moves, I think the value Indian women must derive from this is the right to care about and prioritize our health needs. So many of us neglect our health because of centuries of conditioning about our lower self-worth as compared to the men and the kids in the house…..that has been my takeway!

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  11. This is an incredibly hard decision. I HAD breast cancer and still could not bring myself to do a mastectomy. While discussing my options my doc showed me pics of a mastectomy , i was horrified to say the least!
    The surgery that I did have (called a lumpectomy, with some minor reconstruction) left my breast disfigured , and even now I have trouble looking at myself in the mirror. I still feel self conscious about being ‘lopsided’ . And I haven’t even begun with issues of loss of sensation and feeling in the area.
    With a mastectomy , all of this would be amplified. And I couldn’t bring myself to do it… and once again I actually HAD cancer!!!!
    And some day when I am older I might choose to go the same way as Angelina. But for now I can only appreciate how incredibly hard it must have been!

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  12. Pingback: “Here’s what I would tell my future/potential daughter, if I ever have one.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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