This morning I posted this piece in response to two separate actions by Wired Magazine. There has been quite an angry response on the part of those associated with Wired to both, so I’ll take them one by one.
The first issue is Wired’s decision to use a photo of two shapely, whole breasts on the cover of their November issue to advertise what is a truly wonderful, smart, and serious piece on tissue regeneration as it pertains to breast cancer survivors. It’s my opinion that using this very sexualized image of breasts to draw buyers to the magazine on the newsstand undermines the importance of this story and trivializes the trauma experienced by the women whose breasts are disfigured due to cancer treatments. If the editors truly wanted to convey what regeneration technology could do for breast cancer survivors they could have chosen an image of an “aesthetically irreparable breast,” which is what researchers say is what current technology has to offer most women who undergo lumpectomies. The editors could have placed this next to a Photoshop version of what the scientists hope they could achieve for that woman’s breast with their new technology.
But, disfigured breasts don’t do so much to lure in male readers and they scare away a female readership that’s already trained to be terrified first of losing a part of their body to cancer and, sometimes secondarily, of dying of the disease. The same line of thinking underlies much of the pinksplosion during October: breasts are sexy to men, women need breast to attract men, breast cancer maims breasts, let’s all focus on saving the breast. Many times, but of course not always, the actual woman attached to those breasts is an afterthought. So it seems with the disembodied image of boobs with no head on the front of Wired’s cover.
Agree or disagree, I take issue with this. Chris Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and therefore the person to whom to direct complaints. Even if he didn’t personally choose the cover, he signed off on it and I therefore have no qualms about naming him here on my blog and sending those who have similar issues to his Twitter feed.
The second issue is this photo that appeared both on the Wired Yourself tumblr and on a blog called ‘Not So Serious’, although the post on the second site has been taken down:
The ‘Not So Serious’ blog named the young women in the photo as “interns, staff, and freelancers.” I’ve since been contacted by several of the young women in the photo who feel maligned by my earlier post. In addition to several personal emails, I received this comment on my blog, which was also posted on the Wired tumblr site:
I understand your frustration. Wired Yourself was conceptualized, produced, and maintained by we, the women posted in its inaugural pictures. Not our bosses. And certainly not by coercion, prompting, or suggestion. To assume so would miss the perhaps-too-subtle-for-the-internet-when-boobs-are-involved point. Also, it hurt our feelings a little. Our intent was to stand behind (literally) the magazine cover by reclaiming the anonymous image as our own, in celebration of the idea that she is all women and we are all her. The breasts on Wired are emblems of an era when post-masectomy reconstruction won’t mean the choice between an artificial implant and scar tissue. So, read the article, and learn about the amazing, liberating future for breast cancer survivors. If you’re like us, it’ll make you want to stand up and cheer.
-The ladies of WiredYourself, acting, as always, on their own volition. (Here’s the link: http://wiredyourself.tumblr.com/post/1398796500/a-clarification-necessitated-by-angry)
In my original post, I said that if the women were told by their bosses to do the Wired Yourself shoot, it would be a form of sexual harassment. It would be. I’m glad to hear that it was not, in fact, the result of coercion and I do apologize to the women in the photo for assuming they have less agency than they actually do. This was NOT very sisterly or feminist of me, I agree. If there is any defense for my mistake, which there really isn’t, it’s that I usually find when women and sexualization and selling things are concerned, there’s a man in the background driving it. I apologize to Chris Anderson on this point because he had nothing to do with the picture of the female staff. However, my criticism about the cover and suggestion similar criticism be directed to him still stands.
BUT. I am not one of those feminists who believe that just because a woman does something out of her own agency it is automatically feminist or good for other women. Even if the breasts on the cover are supposed to be, “emblems of an era when post-masectomy reconstruction won’t mean the choice between an artificial implant and scar tissue,” I still believe sexualizing breasts in the context of breast cancer minimizes the reality of the disease as experienced by a whole woman. Since the women of Wired and I disagree on the message of the cover, it would be hard to agree on an appropriate response to it.
We do agree that the Wired Yourself contest might be “perhaps-too-subtle-for-the-internet-when-boobs-are-involved.” Sadly, we live in a world where 99% of the time you see a young woman posed suggestively, boobs bared, it’s not about solidarity or raising awareness or anything other than selling her sexuality. I personally don’t believe we’re at a point at which playing into this very harmful, alarming pattern for any reason can be subversive. This is where the women of Wired and I see feminist activism differently and since it’s a big tent with no membership office, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a good thing!
My apologies for offending and, as some claim, maligning my sisters at Wired. No such harm was intended at all – if any of the women of Wired would like to have a private convo, please email me. If you’d like to do a Q & A about the activism behind Wired Yourself, even better!