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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Did the New York Times "Sexualize" Breast Cancer?

Posted by on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 12:30 PM

NYT_breast_cancer_cover.jpg

Because there is no actual news the day before Thanksgiving, apparently, the internet has decided the cover of this morning's New York Times is very interesting. I refuse to argue with the entire internet. The big, front-page photo that accompanies this story shows a breast-cancer survivor who had a smidge of areola showing. Dan tossed the image into the morning news (without mentioning the breast). But elsewhere, people are agog. Slate's Amanda Marcotte began:

The New York Times may hold itself above the rest of the grubby news media, but Wednesday they proved that they're as dependent on WTF traffic as everyone else. Check out how the paper of record illustrated a story about breast cancer gene testing in Israel. Yes, that's a partial nipple you're looking at there.

Marcotte wrote about many ways of looking at the image—from shocked to "people need to get over it"—but she makes a strong case for how sexual the image is:

It's grossly inappropriate to sexualize breast cancer, which is a serious and deadly disease. It's not just the nipple that sexualizes this picture. It's the lighting and the tank top and the pose, which is reminiscent of a strip tease shot. (The photographer tells New York Magazine that it was "an unplanned moment" and that the inclusion of the nipple was "not intentional," but that's hard to believe with the tank top positioned just-so, and clearly masthead editors at the Times were very intentional in choosing to run it.) It's absolutely maddening the way that people focus on the loss of breasts, instead of the loss of health and life, as the main problem with breast cancer. The sexualization of discourse around breast cancer strongly implies that the main reason to keep women alive is as life support for their delicious breasts. It's particularly inappropriate to focus on how delectable breasts are when the article in question is focused on preventive mastectomies, which are the ultimate expression of valuing a woman's life over her breasts. This argument will probably win the feminist blogs (and is my personal opinion).

But I'm with Slate's Jessicca Winter, who says that sexualization shit's poppycock:

Marcotte writes that her heart is with those of us who despise Puritan prudery, but a puritanical society is exactly what equates “breast” with “WTF traffic.” The Times picture doesn’t strengthen the taboo—it dismantles it. Demystifying the breast is good for women. The Times got this one right.

I didn't find it sexual in the slightest. Never mind that I'm gay and didn't even notice the areola when I picked the paper up this morning, most of all, Star of David tattoos toss cold water on anything hot. But it's important that we keep throwing fuel into the outrage machine. What says Slog—sexual or not?

 

Comments (37) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
levide 1
Cancer is sooo hot.
Posted by levide on November 27, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
I think it's sexual because of the partial showing. Your eye is drawn to that and not to the scar. It would less sexual if her whole breast was exposed.

That said, I don't see what's wrong with that. Breast cancer survivors are still women and therefore still sexual beings. It's only our puritanical views that demand any such image be cold and clinical.
Posted by Matt from Denver on November 27, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Report this
this guy I know in Spokane 3
I noticed the aureola, but didn't think it was sexy. And not because I'm gay, but because breast cancer just doesn't seem all that sexy. Am I weird that way?
Posted by this guy I know in Spokane on November 27, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Report this
very bad homo 4
I find male nipples pretty sexy, and somehow those don't have to be covered at all times, even though they're pretty much the same thing.
People are so weird about body shame.
Posted by very bad homo on November 27, 2013 at 12:45 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 5
Women have breasts. It's a scientific fact.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on November 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM · Report this
word3 6
Men with a BRCA2 mutation are also more susceptible to breast cancer. So, they could've shown a man's…er...chest.

Posted by word3 on November 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
I don't think it's gratuitous.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 27, 2013 at 12:57 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 8
echoing @1
Cancer is extremely hot
fuck all of the pink ribbons, we want TITS!! And dead reindeers!
Comrade Tits and Comrade Dead Reindeers forever!
Posted by dnt trust me on November 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM · Report this
9
Yeah, there's nothing sexual there. It is a good picture, however.
Posted by NateMan on November 27, 2013 at 1:08 PM · Report this
wingedkat 10
I don't find the photo sexual, and I think the areola adds to the photo. Cancer is something that happens to real women with real breasts and nipples, not barbie dolls or air-brushed fashion spreads.

However, the NYT editors would have known that a lot of people do find the image sexual, and will be offended in some way by it. I'm sure the NYT editors were counting on the controversy.
Posted by wingedkat on November 27, 2013 at 1:08 PM · Report this
disintegrator 11
I like nip slips as much as the next guy, but that one ain't sexy.
Posted by disintegrator on November 27, 2013 at 1:09 PM · Report this
12
Breasts are not inherently sexual. Their primary purpose is to provide milk for infants and attract a mate by showing that a woman is capable of being a good mother. The erotic pleasure women receive from them and men enjoy by looking and touching are bonuses. This photo is not about sexualizing the woman in the photo, it is about the area where the cancer originated. If anything, it should be completely bare and not partially hidden behind the top.
Posted by Duvall-ite on November 27, 2013 at 1:10 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 13
the scar & the star of david take it way out of the "delicious, delectable breasts" territory. and i'm straight.

it fell in to the "ashkenazi jews in israel have genetic mutations that make them susceptible to cancer? this is news?" territory.
Posted by Max Solomon on November 27, 2013 at 1:12 PM · Report this
14
I didn't know Mullah Omar was so concerned about the sanctity of breast cancer discussion.
Posted by GermanSausage on November 27, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
pfffter 15
"Star of David tattoos toss cold water on anything hot"

Really? Wow. Just … wow.
Posted by pfffter on November 27, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 16

NYT contending to get a spot on Kermit Shafer's: Next Gen Bloopers.

http://youtu.be/SqY4CU_2P5o?t=23s

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on November 27, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
unknown_entity 17
@ 12 - Arguing against breasts as sexual, then in the next sentence describing one of their primary functions as "attracting a mate" is self defeating.

A few points about the sexuality of breasts

1) Human are the only species where females have permanently swollen breasts (i.e. outside of lactation periods)
2) They are one of the earliest and most visible signs that a woman is maturing sexually
3) A few types of clothing built around enhancing or drawing attention to breasts include: low cut tops, halter tops, push up bras, padded bras, etc.
4) Nipples and areola's are especially treated as sexual - even the tiniest of bikini's cover nipples. Pasties are also considered sexual since the only thing they cover is the nipple.
5) The most common surgery in America is now breast enlargements. I don't know about the rest of the world, but I am sure they are popular there too.

Regarding the photo, showing the nipple is unnecessary. Without knowing that the focus of the article is on breast cancer issues, the photo could easily be mistaken for a woman in the process of peeling off her clothes. Furthermore, there are millions of photos related to breast cancer and breast surgeries that are more clearly medical, less easily confused as sexual. I have no doubt that NYT chose that photo to be provocative.
Posted by unknown_entity on November 27, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 18
#17

Provocative, but perhaps not in the way you imagine.

With the scar, I assume this woman has had breast surgery.

But obviously she still has both some breast, and...a nipple!

Are they making a statement about say America's full bore mastectomies - including nipples - and the need to be that brutal? Not to mention all the false positives (leading to some very lucrative procedures)?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on November 27, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Report this
19
*sigh*
Posted by chi_type on November 27, 2013 at 2:48 PM · Report this
catpantsclub 20
Not sexual. It is a well balanced interesting photograph.
Posted by catpantsclub on November 27, 2013 at 3:11 PM · Report this
treacle 21
Gotta keep circulation up somehow. Worked for The Sun.
Posted by treacle on November 27, 2013 at 3:30 PM · Report this
ams_ 22
This is the stupidest, most sexist "outrage" I've heard of in a long time. Depicting a woman, as she is, exposing part of her anatomy relevant to the article, is "too sexy"?

Reminds me of when Hilary Clinton was photoshopped out of the Bin Laden reaction photo for being too sexually suggestive.
Posted by ams_ on November 27, 2013 at 3:34 PM · Report this
23
I was shocked by that photo of the cover. The daily edition of the NY Times is $2.50 now?

Meanwhile as far as the photo ON the cover, I think it's a great photo. It's an important article, and getting people to read it and talk about it is good work.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on November 27, 2013 at 3:37 PM · Report this
ams_ 24
Also, WTF to the "pose is reminiscent of a strip tease"? This just reinforces women's responsibility to always dress modestly or else be mistaken for a sex-worker. Did this "feminist" blogger really intimate that this breast cancer survivor is a stripper for wearing a tank top? I can't even wrap my head around this. This type of language particularly puts a chill on breastfeeding in public, because women feel that their actions are construed as a sexual display. If we expose our breast the "wrong way", or wear the "wrong thing" then, uh oh!, Now it's "reminiscent of a strip tease".
Posted by ams_ on November 27, 2013 at 3:45 PM · Report this
sirkowski 25
Marcotte is a sex-negative puritan.
Posted by sirkowski http://www.missdynamite.com on November 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM · Report this
26
(Paraphrasing)
It's only a nipple, so what's the big deal?
It's only a nipple, so what's all the fuss?
It's only a nipple, and everyone's got them,
There's better things to discuss!
Posted by Johnston on November 27, 2013 at 4:46 PM · Report this
27
I don't think it's sexualizing as much as prettifying the effects of breast cancer/mastectomy. Most of us have a breast on one side and a big ol' honkin 6" scar on the other. They could have shown that.
Posted by crone on November 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM · Report this
fletc3her 28
I thought it was only the dudes that had nipples.
Posted by fletc3her on November 27, 2013 at 6:07 PM · Report this
Mahtli69 29
Not sexual. The NYT would be sexualizing breast cancer if they showed some bush.
Posted by Mahtli69 on November 27, 2013 at 8:08 PM · Report this
venomlash 30
It's not sexual. But I'd like to do my very best Charles Mudede impression:

The partial areola and the Star of David tattoo encapsulate the biopsy scar. Above, the spiritual shield of the people; below, a carnal and physical structure important both to sexual intimacy and to childbearing. In between, the harsh reality that the potent symbol of motherhood and new life may harbor the seeds of death, and that the divine shield perhaps should face inwards if it is to ward away evil forces.
Cancer is the new dybbuk.
Posted by venomlash on November 27, 2013 at 8:26 PM · Report this
Fistique 31
Cleavage? Sexual. Areolae? Neutral.
Posted by Fistique on November 27, 2013 at 10:11 PM · Report this
seatackled 32
@30

I will read all of Charles's posts if you write them from now on.
Posted by seatackled on November 27, 2013 at 10:44 PM · Report this
Sandiai 33
@30, I second that emotion.
Posted by Sandiai on November 28, 2013 at 12:36 AM · Report this
34
Would the NEW YORK TIMES publish the same photo of a muslim woman with a crescent tatoo?....not a chance!...the antisemitism of the photo is obvious.
Posted by richdonnagreat on November 28, 2013 at 6:31 PM · Report this
sirkowski 35
@34 Not sure if serious...
Posted by sirkowski http://www.missdynamite.com on November 28, 2013 at 9:42 PM · Report this
36
Whether or not the photo meant to sexualize the breast, the aureolla is provocative in our society. No matter the tattoos, scars, nip-slips, etc., breast cancer is a huge problem. If you feel offended, send a few bucks to Planned Parenthood to help pay for screening those that need the help.

Don't get mad, get even...

Peace
Posted by Married in MA on November 30, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 37
It's a HuffPo-style plea for attention, I don't really care about the rest.
Posted by undead ayn rand on November 30, 2013 at 1:53 PM · Report this

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