Some time ago I wrote a piece on the Twitter phenomenon of “Boobie Wednesday” (#BoobieWed). When I first wrote the piece my intentions were to share my personal experience with breast cancer and to provide my opinion of women using shots of their bare or barely covered breasts as their avatar. In the time since that original post, almost a year now, I have written openly in other posts about my life, my sex life, and my body since my procedures. This was done in part to speak about cancer tangibly as opposed to many on Twitter who speak intangibly about the disease. Part of the choice to write so openly was assuage the fears and concerns of women facing reproductive cancers, women often racked with fear of losing their sexual appeal or the aspects of their person that define their femininity. It is the latter half of my impetus that has been and continues to be missing from the “Boobie Wednesday” movement and programs like this.
What should be central to programs aimed at educating women about cancer and reproductive health should be just that: education. Pink ribbon campaigns, the Komen Foundation, Save the Tatas, etc do more to shill products than to provide education and support. The primary goals of these and similar organization should be:
- Providing templates and conversation points to aid women in constructing a family health history
- Providing conversation points and important topics for women to speak with their primary care provider and gynocologist on a regular basis about
- Frank and proper education about women’s bodies that dispels myths and encourages a woman to accurately know her body and how to care for it
Lastly, organizations MUST finally break their silence about life during and after treatment. When have you ever seen the Komen foundation talk about maintaining sexuality and sexual confidence post-cancer? Never. It’s never happened. Breasts can be reconstructed. Ever hear that message while you’re being sold lipstick? Clothes? Pink shoes? No, of course not. When do pink ribbon campaigns talk about sex during and after treatment? How medications and treatments can affect a woman’s libido? They don’t. The sad thing is organizations often run by women, for women behave as if women can’t handle the truth. The constant call for mammograms and participation in “Race for the Cure” never seems to include frank discussion of other reproductive cancers and health concerns. So how many American women are under educated or falsely educated about their bodies as a result of this? In fact about 60% of American women are unable to accurately answer basic questions about their reproductive organs.
Sure, we can start the finger pointing. We could blame our “Puritan” heritage, the lack of sexual health instruction in schools. We could say mothers should talk to their daughters about this. But finger pointing doesn’t accomplish anything. At the end of the day, organizations devoted to the health and well being of women have consistently dropped the ball. In fact this country has consistently dropped the ball about women’s health in the name of religion and morality.
This brings me to the heart of why I felt compelled to revisit this topic. Since the 2010 midterm elections, there has been a deluge of legislative action taken to greatly limit women’s access to contraception and abortion. In addition to making abortion nearly impossible to many women in this country, efforts to make hormonal contraception illegal has taken root across the country as well. Never since the passage of Roe v. Wade has there been such and organized and concerted effort to remove reproductive rights from women, to dictate and mandate the care a doctor will tell a woman she can have as opposed to discussing options with a patient and allowing the patient to make their own medical choices. It is as if second wave feminism never happened, as if Our Bodies, Ourselves never happened.
What Our Bodies, Ourselves accomplished, what Roe v. Wade accomplished was to make it legally possibly for women to be active participants in their health care. Woman could know their bodies, enjoy their bodies, decide if and when to have sex, if and when to have a child, what kind of birth they’d like to have, etc. The book arose out of a 35-cent, 136-page booklet called Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 by the New England Free Press, and written by twelve Boston feminist activists. The booklet was originally intended as the basis for a women’s health course, the first to be written for women by women. Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston’s Emmanuel College organized the health seminar that inspired the booklet in 1969. “We weren’t encouraged to ask questions, but to depend on the so-called experts,” Hawley told Women’s eNews. “Not having a say in our own health care frustrated and angered us. We didn’t have the information we needed, so we decided to find it on our own.”
Now, sadly, this country is returning to an age where doctors dictate care, tell a woman what she can and can’t do or have done to her body. The rights of a woman to be her own advocate, to speak for her own body should be essential to any and all awareness campaigns. As women’s access to health care are being diminished, let “Boobie Wednesday” serve as a weekly reminder that women have a voice and should be in charge of ALL health care decisions. This isn’t a liberal issue or some anti-church issue. This isn’t about politics. This is about human rights. It’s about not allowing women to become voiceless members of our society again.