I’ve been a bit harried since the publication of Mastectomy and the Single Girl, but have managed to make it to radiation every day, flirt with a few men here and there, do a photo shoot for this Friday’s installment (Love in the Time of Chemotherapy) and get started on my final Today/MSNBC essay for October, which is on all the inappropriate things people say to you when you have breast cancer. (If you’ve got a good story on this, feel free to share!)
What I haven’t managed to do, of course, is to throw up another blog post (if you’ll pardon the expression). So here goes.
I usually try to keep myself from reading the online comments for my stories (trust me, once you’re called a “feminazi cow” a few times, the process loses its charm), but I couldn’t help diving into to the abyss last week to see what people had to say about my essay. And in addition to a handful of curmudgeons (like the guy whose entire takeaway from the story was that I was “promiscuous”) and a huge amount of support, I found some interesting debates.
One was about how breasts were nothing like penises, that there’s no comparison, they serve different functions, yadda yadda yadda. I get that argument; it’s the kind of argument you might hear from someone who thinks very logically and linearly. It’s just hard for some people — especially perhaps for some men — to acknowledge that anything could be as spectacular as a penis.
As one reader put it (a reader who has apparently given this a lot of thought):
To say losing ones breasts are as bad as a man losing his penis is not true. Both are terrible, thats a given. But with out breasts you will still be able to have sex and function normally. I hate mens identity is tied to his sexual organ, but it is and with out it or even if it just dont work a man falls into DEEP despair and would just as soon die rather than live without, breasts although awful to lose as well are not as detrimental to a womans well being as a penis is to a man, it aint even a close race, now if you had your v-jay cut out and concreted and your boobs too that would be equal.”
Hand that man a trowel! Not. Another reader offered this argument (and again, I’m reproducing the comments exactly as written, as much as it’s killing my inner copy editor):
Breasts are not sexual organs. They’re reproductive organs that aren’t actually necessary for reproduction. Medically speaking, loosing your breasts is absolutely nothing like loosing a penis. It’s medically the same as a man with breast cancer… where I can understand the feeling of loosing some part of your sexuality with loosing your breasts, do not confuse them with being a sexual organ. That’s just outright wrong.
The thing is, though, we’re not talking tit for tat here (yeah, I went there). Reproduction function versus maternal function versus sexual function, etc., etc. This is about comparing how we feel about these particular body parts. And I think that women feel about their breasts the same way men feel about their penises.
I also think culture gives the two the same sort of heft, if you will.
For instance, when it comes to both breasts and penises, larger is generally preferred over smaller. Although to be fair, I think men are more appreciative of small breasts than women generally are of small penises. So just a shout-out to the guys. You’re better men than we. But I digress.
Breasts and penises are also the only two parts of the body that get full-on erections. I suppose you could argue that a woman’s clitoris gets a hard-on, too, but erect nipples — at least to me — are a lot more like an erect penis. They stick out. They’re readily accessible. They make themselves known to friends and strangers alike (a homeless guy once told me I could “pop balloons with those things” when I jogged by one morning). Anyway, they’re body parts and they serve all kinds of other functions. But they’re also these fun fleshy toys that perform cool tricks. For many of us, they’re the absolute favorite part of our body, sexually-speaking and otherwise. And for society, they seem to be the body parts that truly encapsulate the essence of our sexual identity, our femaleness or our maleness. (Imagine a large-breasted woman walking by a construction site. Do you think the guys there are going to express their admiration for the amount of milk her breasts can produce?)
Anyway, that’s my take on the whole penis v breast smackdown. There were some other funny memes going through the comments section that I was going to mention, but it’s late, I’ve had a glass of wine and my sternum is starting to burn from my daily dose of radiation, so I think it’s time to quit typing.
Again, huge thanks for all of your support. Wish I could reply to each of your comments individually, but it’s been a busy week (a busy year!) and as a friend recently reminded me to say whenever I can’t get to the things I’d really like to get to, “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m still in treatment.”