Protecting the Breast and Promoting Femininity: The Breast Cancer Movement's Production of Fear Through a Rhetoric of Risk


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Virginia Tech


Tremendously popular in American society, the breast cancer movement functions through a rhetoric of risk to persuade women to monitor their breasts and thus medicalize their bodies. The vast majority of breast cancer literature available is specifically aimed at women with breast cancer, while the research here examines the way the breast cancer literature actually includes women without breast cancer in its audience, expecting these women to see breast cancer as an eventual experience. The rhetoric of risk focuses on lifestyle choices, the body, genes, and the environment in order to encourage women to engage in body projects to prevent breast cancer. The attention to risk factors without reliable facts produces fear of the body. Prevention of breast cancer, really impossible, becomes synonymous with early detection, thus displacing responsibility for the disease from society to the individual. Through the rhetoric of risk, the breast cancer movement promotes the ideology of femininity by manipulating women to become complicit subjects in their subordination. Furthermore, the directives, as yet unproven, to prevent breast cancer are the same directives to attain the white heterosexist ideal of beauty. The woman is thus reinscribed into the traditional feminine role of caretaker (of her body) and femininity is not only preserved but produced despite a disease that physically threatens a woman's most visible marker of her femininity, the breast.



Body Projects, Medicalization of Women's Bodies, Social Construction of Breast Cancer, Feminist Theory