By Ellen Leopold
A Twentieth-Century tale of Breast melanoma, ladies, and Their DoctorsIn the 1st cultural background of breast melanoma, Ellen Leopold asks how sexual politics have formed the connection among sufferer and health practitioner, and the way a sickness lately shrouded in secrecy has turn into so public.
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Additional info for A DARKER RIBBON: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY STORY OF BREAST CANCER, WOMAN, AND THEIR DOCTORS
First of all, middle-class cultural values may not have monopolized society's response to the disease but they exercised a disproportionate influence over those giving and receiving treatment for it. By the end of the nineteenth century, most doctors in the medical mainstream were largely middle-class husbands and fathers. Middle-class wives and daughters constituted their clientele. This doubling of domestic and professional roles provided endless opportunities for the crossover of sexual politics between home and office.
Writing on the subject reinforces this sense of a woman's alienation from her own breasts. It ranges from the obvious to the obscure, from the history of breastfeeding and wet nursing in different countries and different centuries to the use of the breast in political propaganda. All of the recent writing has brought to the fore the contributing role of culture, highlighting the impact of the dynamic but elusive set of values governing society at any one moment. This has given us a richer, if less determinate, view of human history.
It begins with the first testaments in women's magazines in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, where women's stories, often told by male doctors, served primarily as a cover for public health warnings promoting early detection and early treatment. When women finally begin to tell their own stories, they are still heavily chaperoned by medically credentialled men (sometimes their husbands, sometimes their doctors). Women's magazines played an important role in this history. They provided not just an opportunity for women to describe their Page 15 own ordeals but a platform for those few pioneer doctors with "heretical" ideas about treatment.