Tuesday, February 07, 2006

a mini-foray into gender/Gender* and the patriarchy in general; or, Theorizing Breasts

(Disclaimer #1: This is something I initially wrote in my personal journal a couple days ago, and I've gone back and forth about whether or not to post here. But as problematic as I'm sure it is because it was a fairly impulsive entry and I haven't gone back to fix any non-inclusiveness or overly gender-oppressive language...I think it's still good as raw material for musing. So please see it as such (raw, that is), and feel free to problematize anything that needs problematizing. I have edited it only slightly to take out any overly identifying information.)
*Disclaimer #2: This is not meant at all to be indicative of other transgressively or ambiguously or otherwise gendered people's experiences. I'm not pretending that this is me "transgendering," which is evidently a verb, according to an old dean at Wells. This is just me fucking with my own physical indicators of my sex, which is of course assumed to be my gender. And I fully accept that I'm just doing this in the privacy of my own room, so I'm not pretending that I'm being socially subversive here. I'm just musing.


So tonight, I was having a bit of a panic attack, paired with some massive body-hating, specifically aimed at my breasts, which for some reason were looking way bigger than normal. I hated that. I wanted to just cut them off.

Normally, when I get to this point, I cut. Specifically, I usually cut my breasts, but sometimes, if the panic attacks are especially flashback-intensive, I cut my thighs or pelvic area.

This time, though, I just wanted them to go away. My breasts, that is. Even though they didn't really show up so prominently until this past summer, I place a lot of blame on them for a lot of things, and place a lot of hatred specifically in and on them.
See, my breasts are predominantly what make me so recognizably female, and therefore recognizably vulnerable and victimizable.
I'm sick of being objectified, of them being stared at - yes, by both/all genders. I'm sick of my breasts being something to be ogled. (By comparison, they're not even that ridiculously huge. They're only 36C, not crazy huge like LS-L or KW or DC or whoever. They could be much bigger. And while I love aforementioned three women and their breasts, I am very thankful that mine aren't that large. Just sayin'.)

Anyway, so instead of my usual "I hate my sexual identifiers" actions (cutting), I did something else impulsive.

I tore off my shirt, my tank top, my bra. I grabbed two of my tightest sports bras, a bandeau that's far too small, and an ace bandage (with velcro ends -- very handy).
I squished my boobs into the three tops, and then wrapped the ace bandage around my chest.

I put on a beater and a t-shirt and looked in the mirror.

And they were gone.

Of course, I'm not pretending I'm an expert at binding, so you could still tell that they're there, somewhere, but they were no longer prominent. Instead of seeing:
"AWCC Soccer Championships 2003" (the writing on the shirt) when I looked in the mirror,
I saw simply "AWCC Soccer Championships 2003".

I love it.

I'm sure I could analyze and deconstruct and dissect this to death, but right now, I'm only going to scratch the surface.
(The rest behind the flip 'cause it's wicked long.)

I don't pretend that, "Ooh, I bound for an hour, I know what transmen feel like now! I totally sympathize!"
That would be stupid.
Because my incentive was not that I wanted to change my perceived gender. I don't want to stop being so recognizably female because I want to be recognized as something else. (Which, I realize, can hardly sum up the reasons behind transitioning, but bear with me and my generalizations.)
I have no qualms, inherently, with being recognizably female. I want to stop being so recognizably female because I want to stop being objectified. I want to stop being so recognizably female because I'm sick of being used. Because I'm sick of being seen as hypersexualized. I'm sick of being looked at, essentially.

And I realize that my changing my outward appearance by removing the prominence of my breasts is not going to change that, and that even if I did that, it would not go far to change the system. And I realize that it's the system that needs changing, not me.

Because my breasts, in and of themselves, have no meaning. They are not inherently sexualized. They are not inherently beautiful. Or objectifiable. They, themselves, do not say, "Hey, I'm a female! Come, objectify me, rape me, fuck me, look at me, stare at me, penetrate me!" Outside of the discourse, they mean nothing. They're just lumps of fat and tissue and muscle and nerve endings and whatnot.
When I was "little" - that is, when I was in high school, flat-chested, and trying not to be bitter that everyone else had boobs and I didn't - I would try to make myself feel better by saying that I didn't need boobs, that they were useless anyway. What good were they? They were just lumps of fat, I said. I didn't understand why they were so coveted.
Because then, I didn't acknowledge the workings of the discourse around and in me, that glorified The Big Breasted Woman by virtue of her Big Breasts. I didn't understand at all where the "power," if it can be called that, of the breasts came from.

And sometimes, I wish I were back there. Back in the place where I didn't understand the workings of the system, of the patriarchy, of how oppression touches each life uniquely and unequally. I would love to be ignorant again, to just not see all these fucked up things. To whine that, "It's not fair," and when the inevitable, "Well, life's not fair," came, to whine that, "Well, it should be," and honestly believe that it could be. A lot of the time, I would give anything for that.
But you can't ever go back to that place. You can't just pretend that you don't know about homophobia and sexism and racism and all the other phobias and 'isms that fuck people over.

But I digress.
Back to the breasts.
(Since starting this post 45 minutes ago, I had to remove the ace bandage, bandeau, and 1 sports bra, because it was hard to breathe and my back hurt. I honestly have no idea how pre- and non-surgically altered transmen do it...)
There is so much I want to analyze about this impulsive action, but I don't know where to start.
It's all so fucked up, all so mired in the patriarchy and the system.

I looked in the mirror, saw the breasts, and thought, "Objectified. Victim. Sexualized." That's what my breasts signify to me. That's what I assume other people think when they see my breasts. I thought, "Fuck, I hate these things." I grabbed at them, squished them down, scratched at them.
I automatically (and falsely) assumed that if the breasts weren't there, or at least weren't immediately visible, that all of those things that they signify wouldn't be signified elsewhere on my body, and therefore wouldn't exist. But erasing my breasts doesn't erase the discourse. It just makes it slightly harder to identify.
But I (naively) assumed that making them go away would fix everything. So that's what I did.
And when I looked in the mirror, and they weren't immediately there, my chest didn't scream BREASTS!!!, and I smiled at myself in the mirror.
I turned to the side. I turned to the front. No breasts.

I went out in the suite hall where the full-length mirror is. I looked, saw my chest, and saw no breasts!, and smiled. Then I took in the whole image.
My hips were still there, still identifiably female.
My ass was still identifiably female.
My face, my hair, my fingers: still identifiably female.
Even if I tried to get in full drag, I still wouldn't "pass" as anything but female. A "girly man," at "best." And, therefore, still oppressed.
I wasn't smiling anymore.

I looked at my face. It was still the face of a victim. Maybe a survivor too, maybe not, but always at some point a victim. Nothing I can do to my physical appearance can change the fact that I was, at one point, a victim.
That's something that stays with you, no matter what you do to your body. That's something that gets tattooed on your forehead, even if nobody sees it but you. That's something you can't ever escape.

(Slight Digression) And I wonder...if I'd been born a boy (like my mom so often wishes I was), and therefore socialized as a boy, what would have been different? (Well, other than everything.) Would I still have been sexually abused? My abuser was abused, too, and he had male privilege on his side. Would I still be a victim? What would have changed? How would I have dealt with things differently?

Would I still look in the mirror and hate what I see?
Would I still be cutting or hurting myself almost every day?
Would I still feel like a whore for getting abused in the first place?
Would I still feel the threat of rape every time I walk alone? Every time I'm drunk around men? Every time I take a breath? Every time I exhale?
What would have been different?

But I guess this all comes to the question of what would have prevented this impulsive fucked-up action altogether. At this point, is it even possible to change the system to make women less objectified/sexualized/etc?

I guess it can be summed up with this question:
What would make me not hate my breasts for their female (and therefore oppressed) implications?
I'm ok with the idea of having breasts. I'm ok with the idea of my breasts giving me and whoever else I choose to "share" them with sexual pleasure. To an extent, I'm even ok with the idea of breasts as teasing, because anticipation is pretty imperative to pleasure, and really, I'm a sex-positive feminist, so I'm all for pleasure.
I'm not ok with them being used as fodder for some random person's fantasy. (I realize it sounds like perhaps I'm giving my breasts too much credit here, but I'm not talking specifically about my breasts, I'm talking abstractly.) I'm absolutely positively not ok with the suggestion of them being used as justification for rape ("she was dressed provocatively, she was asking for it!"). Obviously. I'm not ok with the fact that a woman showing cleavage is inevitably going to be ogled and stared at and objectified by anyone mildly interested in the curvature of her cleavage. I'm not ok with the fact that I've internalized the notion that because my breasts connote femaleness, they connote victimized status and being oppressed, that because they announce my "womanhood," they announce my vulnerability.

I love breasts as breasts.
I hate breasts as tools of the patriarchy.
I hate what breasts connote. I hate what they symbolize and signify.

To sum up:

Fuck you, patriarchy. Fuck you.


Laurelin said...

Great post, Jen. (((hugs)))

Hugo said...

This is enormously powerful and moving, Jen; thank you.

Have you read the work of Joan Brumberg, such as "Fasting Girls" and "Body Project"? She does some nice things with the history of breasts as cultural signifiers, particularly about the origin of the bra in this country as a tool for binding and deemphasizing rather than enhancing as we see today.


Nick Kiddle said...

As I read that, all I could think was how my breasts are ten thousand times the size I'd like them to be because they're full of milk for my baby girl, and how one woman in the maternity ward was *jealous* of me for having so much extra weight up top. (If you got the idea that I don't like my breasts much, you're right. But I love feeding my daughter. Mixed feelings central.)

Great post.

ACM said...

tough post, great conclusion.
fuck the patriarchy, indeed...

Kim said...

Hey Jen: When my breasts began growing around 4th grade, I wore a sweat jacket for a year straight to cover them. The jokey, bra-strap snapping attention my breasts gave me was horrible--made me feel naked and ashamed. Everyone SAW this very private thing happening to my body--I hated it.

There are still times when have flashes of extreme discomfort, a strange want to hide myself. I think I'm understanding where that maybe be coming from thanks to your post--thank you!

Anonymous said...

*got here from Carnival of the Feminists*

This really touched something for me. I've done that as well - reduced my bust to nothing, then stepped back and realised that my soft curves and small bones still denote me as female.

My goal is to look androgynous. Always has been. I'll never get it, and I'm only now accepting it. I could drop all body fat, and still I would be recognisably female.

And like you, I wanted to be born a boy. Not just because the physical realities of being female are excruciatingly painful (and useless, as I have never desired children), but because of the social space I'd then occupy. I'd rather not be male, because of all the downsides to having an XY chromosome (being a biology major really showed me *that*) but I would still change sexes tomorrow if I had the choice.

I haven't felt that my body represented me since I was 10 years old.

Mickle said...

fantastic post Jen

And I was so there with you, kaka mak. I fortunately never had my bra strap snapped but I was constantly terrified someone would try.

Anonymous said...

Hate to tell you this, but objectiification is a fact of life. It has nothing to do with patriarchy. It has nothing to do with whatever abuse you may or may not have suffered. From what you've said, it has nothing to do with your behavior , so pull any lingering guilt from your soul. Even if no man or woman ever looked at you in a sexual way again, you can still count on being objectified in one way or another. Even those who love you objectify you in some ways , or have you ever heard of "object of desire", or "mommy's little girl"?

It has to do with being human. Humans objectify each other all the time. You can be a sexual fantasy, a patsy, a breadwinner, a 'bitch' a symbol of young womanhood, a 'victim'. The point? To other people you are, and always will be, something other than what you feel you are in your innermost soul. Humans categorize, and humans fantasize, and humans idealize, and it is these activities that result in objectification. You need to come to terms with this and stop seeing it as always being a threat or an imposition. It can be an opportunity. Of course, if you don't like it, you are free to live in a hermitage.

Anonymous said...

If complaining about your breasts is your idea of feminist revolution, the patriarchy(tm)has nothing to worry about.

You were born female. You have breasts. It seems obvious the patriarchy(tm) is to blame.

If you can't accept being born female, you really only have 2 options. Surgery or kill yourself.

Or you could just get over yourself and do something constructive.

Anonymous said...

The feminist in me applauds your explorations of self; the mental health professional in me worries about the cutting and apparent self-hate. Be well, sister.