Flight of the Tatas: Summary and Analysis

Whew! That was a Telling Knots first! I’d like to put things into perspective now with a summary and my analysis of the issues.

On the blog

I first became aware of the Flight of the Tatas event when fellow-blogger Scorchy Barrington posted a link to this article about it in the  Wall Street Journal online European edition. This was on Wednesday, July 3rd. I published a post about the event and my first thoughts on it on Thursday, July 4th.  Beginning on Friday, July 5th and continuing today, July 6th some people who had never commented on the blog before and who appeared to be unaware of my orientation in writing it began to write comments that I and many of my friends found offensive. Some of my friends and I began to respond in kind. Things went down from there. Today I cleaned up the ad hominem attacks and the strongest language. Comments are still open, but if the level of discourse degrades, I’ll shut it down.

Behind the scenes

I spent some time on July 3rd and 4th looking for any evidence that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) was aware of this purported fundraiser. All I found was their logo among the sponsors on the Flight of the Tatas home page. Nothing else. I decided to contact them. Things were further complicated by some technical issues on the LBBC site that resulted in my first two emails (to LBBC development and communications addresses) being returned as undeliverable. I sent my third to the “mail” email address on July 4th and it did not come back.

On Friday, July 5th, Jean Sachs, the CEO of LBBC replied to my email. I published her message in my blog that day. I found her response completely reassuring.

Analysis: What’s the problem with Flight of the Tatas

Because at least a couple of the comments seemed to me to be genuinely puzzled about why this event offended me and so many others, I decided to spell it out more carefully. There are two issues specific to the July 4th Flight of the Tatas event, and there are some more general issues.

Specific Issues

According to the message from Jean Sachs, the event used the Living Beyond Breast Cancer name and logo without permission. I am no lawyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a copyright infraction or something of the sort. That’s one issue.

Another specific issue is that LBBC were not consulted, were not asked if they wanted to be a part of this event. It is as though the event organizers just put down the first breast cancer organization they came across or perhaps knew from personal contact. This is bad corporate manners, bad event organizing and very arrogant.

It must also be said that many people in the not-for-profit economy do not believe that all money is the same, do not believe that it doesn’t matter where donations come from. Some people and some non-profits feel that it is wrong to take donations of money that was gained through exploitation. I have personal experience with two very different organizations that have turned down sizable donations because they did not want to give the donors the legitimacy that accepting would have conferred.

General Issues

Why is an event featuring “a bevy of topless skydivers” offensive to so many people who have breast cancer and/or who are active in breast cancer awareness?

Sexualization of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns is a very sensitive issue. This can be seen, not only in the event we’re talking about now, but even in more mainstream campaigns. There are many reasons to object to it:

* It tends to portray breast cancer as a condition that damages our identity as women, rather than as a disease that kills almost one-third of the people affected by it.

* Breast cancer does not strike only at women. Men get breast cancer and men die of breast cancer.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” (which was not invented by the organizers of this event) tend to present women as sexual objects and give the impression that the worst thing that happens to someone who has breast cancer is that they may lose their breasts, and that this loss is catastrophic.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” are semantically similar to slogans like “save the whales”, further tending to make women “other than”, to ignore their full human existence.

Breast cancer is not cute. Breast cancer kills people. In all likelihood it will kill me and at least two of the commenters (that I know of) in the July 4th thread. This is a life-threatening illness. Those of us who object to this trivialization and sexualization tend also to object to these slogans and the various pink campaigns wherever they appear.

These are wonderful topics for further conversation, but let’s all remember that we can disagree with respect. Ready, set, go!

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Flight of the Tatas: LBBC Responds

Yesterday I posted the text of my email to Living Beyond Breast Cancer about their supposed association with a topless skydiving event in Las Vegas that claimed to be raising money for LBBC.

It is with great pleasure that I can confirm that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) had absolutely nothing to do with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event on July 4, 2013. I just received the following email from Jean Sachs, CEO:

Thanks for your email regarding the Flight of the Tatas event.  I apologize for not responding sooner but LBBC was closed yesterday and most of my staff are out today as well.
 
I can tell you that LBBC was not a sponsor of this event.  We never gave the organizers permission to use the LBBC logo, never agreed to be the beneficiary and, in fact, only learned of the event on Wednesday, July 3rd.
 
LBBC’s marketing staff member Kevin, copied on this email, will be reaching out the organizers of this event on Monday.
 
I will be on vacation next week but if you would like to speak with me directly please give me your number and I will call you.
 
Best,
 
Jean
Thank you, Jean Sachs and LBBC, for responding so rapidly and for assuring us of the integrity of the organization. You’ve made many people feel much better.

Flight of the Tatas? Really?

Breast cancer cell

Breast cancer cell. Not what Larry Flynt has in mind, I’d wager.

I was already simmering with anger about the trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer when I wrote yesterday’s post about men with breast cancer. My rage boiled over when I saw that a fellow rabble-rouser living with breast cancer, my friend Scorchy Barrington, had posted a link on Facebook about the single most tasteless breast cancer fundraiser I have ever heard about: “Flight of the Tatas”. (Sorry, I refuse to link to their site.)

Here is the first paragraph of the press release that was published in the Wall Street Journal online European edition under the disclaimer “The Wall Street Journal was not involved in the creation of this content”:

LAS VEGAS, July 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Larry Flynt‘s Hustler Club, the most audacious gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, will host “Flight of the Tatas,” a topless charity skydive beginning at 7 AM on Thursday, July 4, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Benefiting the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Foundation, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women affected by breast cancer, the unique event will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most topless skydivers. LBBC empowers all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life.

Participating in this display will be an “adult entertainment legend”, an “adult film superstar”, and a celebrity magician, “along with a bevy of brave and daring topless jumpers”.

The fundraiser is being sponsored by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club & Casino and Hustler Hollywood, among others. It is taking place today, July fourth. This is supposedly a benefit to help Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), but I could find nothing in the press release or the dedicated web site that indicated how much of the money raised would go to LBBC. In fact, LBBC is listed as a sponsor along with “Little Pussie Big Cock” and various of Larry Flynt’s Hustler enterprises (and others).

There is a “Donate for Breast Cancer Research” button on the home page. That’s all I found. I am writing to LBBC to try to get more information, but the event is today. I’ll post whatever I hear from them. I have rarely wanted more sincerely to be shown to be wrong in my assumptions. (The text of my email to LBBC’s development people is added at the end of this post.)

Now, I am not a “citizen journalist”. I am a woman who has metastatic breast cancer and a blog, a feminist with left-leaning social and political ideas. I have been known to displace my fear and anger about the cancer that is trying to kill me onto other targets. But even if that is what I’m doing now – so what? This strikes me as a very deserving target, indeed.

A more blatant example of trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer can hardly be imagined than a “Flight of the Tatas” in which “a bevy of topless skydivers” will attempt to beat the Guinness world record for jumping out of airplanes half naked and then land at a “gentlemen’s club” owned by that monument to taste and respect for women, Larry Flynt.

The event is today. By the time you read this, it will be over, most likely. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Am I just an old school feminist? Is this as disgusting to you as it is to me?

Addendum: Text of my e-mail to LBBC’s development staff

I was extremely surprised to find out that LBBC is listed as both the beneficiary and a sponsor of Larry Flynt’s “Flight of the Tatas” event taking place today in Las Vegas. Can you tell me, please, what percentage of funds raised by the event was promised to LBBC and if this is a percentage of the net or gross intake from the event?

It seems an odd sort of event for a breast cancer organization to be associated with.
Please feel free to comment on the blog or to contact me directly. I am very interested in knowing how LBBC’s involvement with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event came about.
Thank you very much.

First Comes Breast Cancer, Then Comes Divorce by Beth L. Gainer

Beth Gainer is a remarkable woman. After twelve years of caring for her physically and mentally ill husband, she found a lump in her breast. Double mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy… and divorce. She modestly says of herself, “I’m a writer and breast cancer self-advocate. I’m finishing a book called Calling the Shots: Navigating Your Way Through the Medical System.”

It is an honor and a delight to be able to provide another platform for Beth to tell her story.

First Comes Breast Cancer, Then Comes Divorce

“So, how is your relationship now that you have breast cancer?” asks the cancer wellness program intake worker.

My husband and I are holding hands.

“I would say it’s stronger; we’ve become closer than ever,” I tell her.

“Great!” the intake worker enthusiastically responds. “Cancer can strengthen the bond between couples. Luckily, that is the case for you both as well.”

I’m relieved. I half believe the feel-good lie I just told her.

***

Ask any of our mutual friends, and they will tell you, my husband and I are the perfect couple. As college sweethearts, we had a wonderfully close four-year courtship. Our wedding is beautiful.

20120908192813It’s the marriage that is a Ferris wheel run amok.

About a month after our wedding, my spouse develops severe OCD and paranoia. Four years later, he is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that finds him visually impaired and even more mentally impaired. I am supportive, attending all his doctor visits and am proactive in his care. He stops working, but he refuses to apply for disability. And this is the point of contention: he won’t get the help he needs and we need as a couple. I arrange for a social worker to help him apply for disability, but my husband refuses to get help.

I am the caregiver for 12 years of our 16-year marriage. I must work two jobs to keep us financially afloat. I stay awake nights, thinking about the prospect of homelessness, not too far-fetched. If something should happen to me, I’m frightfully aware, I know we won’t survive. The stress is unbearable. I eat right and exercise, but sleep deprivation and worry and anxiety are downright unhealthy. Nevertheless, I am resolved that I will stay with him until death do us part. I do not believe in divorce.

A few months before our 15th anniversary, the unthinkable has happened: I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband promises to take care of me, but the tragedy is he can’t and he won’t – emotionally and physically. I beg him to get some income coming in, to draw from his mom’s inheritance, just so I could work only one job while I’m going through treatments. My oncologist wants me on chemotherapy at the same time as radiation.

It’s going to be tough.

I need to work just one job.

My husband promises he will draw from the inheritance so that my life can be a little easier while I undergo treatments for breast cancer. A few days later, he changes his mind. He is keeping all of the inheritance money, he says, because he has been planning to leave me for some time now and needs a nice nest egg. I cry and beg him to stay; I can’t face cancer without my life partner.

He stays.

But I still face cancer and its treatments without a partner.

Despite my situation, I’m still the caregiver, working a full- and part-time job and getting chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. I seek emotional help from the American Cancer Society, Gilda’s Club Chicago, and the cancer wellness program. My husband accompanies me to the latter’s intake appointment.

He goes with me for the first appointment with my radiation and medical oncologists and the first chemotherapy session. I’m so panicked about cancer, and treatment, and doctors, that I don’t even consider the fact that my new team of doctors must think we are a great couple.

Everyone thinks we are a great couple. They marvel at the sweet man who is supporting his wife.

It is all an illusion.

My spouse decides that, after these initial doctor visits, I’m on my own. He never goes to radiation therapy with me. Monday through Friday, I drive myself to radiation, then take a train to work, then take a train back to the residential area where I parked my car, then drive home. A 12-hour day. This continues for 33 days. And I come home to someone unstable day after day.

I get chemo on Thursday, so I take Thursday and Friday off from my healthily accumulated vacation days. After his first and only chemotherapy appearance, he tells me that chemo is too toxic for him to be around. I tell him, “If you are afraid of your exposure to chemo, what do you think it’s doing to me?!” He doesn’t seem to care. Years of selfishness and mental problems have added up, and the toll is heavy.

I pay the price. In some strange way, so does he.

I do radiation alone. I do chemotherapy alone. I see my doctors….

Alone.

I envy those patients whose spouses and family members have come to support them. Some feel sorry for me and take care of me during my treatment. A warm blanket. Apple juice.

I miss my husband, but things have been so bad between us, I figure I’m better off doing all of this alone. An employee from the American Cancer Society tells me, “Frankly, I don’t know how you’re even standing, given your treatment and work schedule.”

Truth is, I have no choice. I’m in survival mode; I will process what has happened to me later.
After treatment is over, I spend a year in aftershock. Our relationship is now severed beyond repair, and we are strangers to each other. We lie in bed at night next to each other, but we have nothing to say to each other.

During the year after my last treatment, I decide that I didn’t fight so hard to live just to be miserable for the rest of my life.

The marriage dies. It is already on the outs, but breast cancer hastens the inevitable. I still love my ex-husband; I always will. But breast cancer has weakened an already compromised relationship, and frankly, IMG_1289I’m glad the relationship ends. And that’s when I realize that divorce means my life is just beginning.

How has cancer affected your relationships? Feel free to share the good, bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi KingdomIn the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The writing ranges from indifferent to awkward, but that is not the only reason I rate this books as merely “ok”. It had the potential to be so much more than it is.

Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed is capable of close observation–no critical care physician can lack this ability–and some of her descriptions are very closely observed, indeed. It is a shame that these are mostly limited to the physical appearance of the people she meets and of their clothing, homes and cars.

Yet we cannot call Ahmed shallow because the religious experience she underwent in the Kingdom was clearly deeply felt. I am disappointed that she did not spend more time exploring it and less time looking for well-worn metaphors to describe it.

The main problem with In the Land of Invisible Women, in my opinion, is that it never quite seems to decide what kind of book it is. Is it the description of the author’s religious itinerary? Then why leave that almost exclusively to the section on her Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)? Is it the story of a Western-trained double-boarded physician who happens to be a woman practicing in the very different and restrictive conditions experienced by female physicians in the Kingdom? Then tell us more about that.

Is this a book about Saudi culture? Then spend less time on describing cars, jewelry and clothing and more time on behavior, attitudes, laws and social expectations. Is it a book about the history of Wahabi extremism in Saudia? Then write it as a history and don’t try to squeeze it in as background in artificial-sounding conversations.

The main problem I found with this book is its lack of focus. There is so much potential here for a riveting memoir or a fascinating analysis. Ahmed sold herself short by taking the easy way out.

This book will be particularly interesting to people with little or no knowledge of Islam, people who don’t know many Muslims. Think of it as a long, chatty letter from the friend of a friend and you won’t be as disappointed as I was.

Not a bad book, just not as good as it might have been.

Visit my Goodreads page.

Metastatic breast cancer as chronic illness

Please, please, please read Scorchy Barrington’s latest post “Chronic Illness”.

Scorchy has outdone herself in this valuable post. Starting from the point of her mets diagnosis just a few months ago, she continues with a critical reading of the Komen organization and then moves smoothly to Peggy Orenstein’s brilliant article in the New York Times  “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer,” (Sunday Magazine,New York Times, April 25, 2013) and a review of Laurie Edward’s book In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Disease in America  (New York: Walker, 2013).

I am not going to attempt to recap the post. Just go on over to The Sarcastic Boob and read it for yourself.

O is for Offensive.

I am not very good at the language of art criticism or of feminist deconstruction, but I’m giving both a shot in this post. Earlier this week I had to have some studies done at the imaging center of the breast clinic of a local hospital. (Results: Everything is pretty much the same, but the radiation several years ago caused annoying changes in some of the bones in my chest; also my liver is an iffy character and we need to keep an eye on it.) I am not writing today about the tests or my anxiety. I’m writing about this poster.

The words are not the problem. Lower left – hospital name (Misgav Ladach) and logo. Lower right in the pink block “Breast Clinic” and in the blue, “Health First”, the hospital’s slogan. The offense is in the images.

At the left we have a man’s left hand extending from a crisp, white sleeve, looking unnaturally large in comparison to the woman’s. The hand is open, thumb extended, fingers straight. This is a position that requires intention and muscle tone.

At the right, on a lower plane, is the little woman’s right hand. Is it really a woman’s hand or that of a child? The size disparity between the two hands is striking. Does that really look like an adult’s hand? It does not to me.

The woman’s hand is limp and lacks muscle tone or even any sense of intentional movement. It is not reaching out for help or grasping at offered assistance. It is just… there. Passive. Waiting.

The man’s hand extends from the top left of the poster to the center, which it occupies. It is the focal point of the image. The woman’s hand continues the line drawn from the man’s, but disappears into the text that covers it. We see all of the man’s hand, his wrist,  and some of his sleeve. We see four of the woman’s fingers (well, three and a half); the rest of her hand is covered by text blocks. In other words, the important, central figure of the image is the man’s hand. The woman’s hand is an accessory.

Again – this poster was hanging on a corridor wall in the Breast Clinic of a local hospital. The hospital’s history might be of interest. Founded in the latter half of the 19th century, for most of its life it was a major maternity hospital. The name is from Psalms 9:10 (9:9 in some translations): “The Lord will be your refuge, a stronghold in times of trouble”. The literal translation of Misgav Ladach, which, to be fair, hardly anyone thinks of any more, is “refuge for the downtrodden”.

Come to think of it, the poster makes the point fairly well.

Another kind of cancer

This is a news photo taken at a unique demonstration held in the mixed Druze and Christian village of Ussefiya (Isfiya) in northern Israel. The placard featured in the photo reads Violence is a Cancer of Society. Other signs at the demonstration read There is no honor in crime and Your silence is approval of the crime in both Arabic and Hebrew.

The demonstration was organized by a 21-year-old Druze student, Missan Hamdan. That is the first of several unique aspects to the protest: it was organized by a young woman following the discovery of the bodies of Hakim Kayouf (25) from the village and Iham Kadour (19) from Daliat-al-Karmel, a large Druze town, also in the north of Israel. Ms. Kadour’s family is thought to have disapproved of the relationship, and the deaths are initially believed to be murder-suicide. The families have not released any statements.

This is no simple Romeo and Juliet story, however. Ussefiya is known to be a particularly conservative village  and it has been witness to a growing number of violent crimes against women by male family members, many of them on the grounds of “family honor”. In an interview with the Haaretz Hebrew daily (19.09.2012), Ms. Hamdan said, “Violent events in our community are on the rise, and we feel helpless about them. I initiated and led this protest rally in front of the Ussefiya council building; the demonstration’s goal is to say ‘no more violence’ and to bring an end to the tacit condoning of such things.”

Don’t rush to conclude that this is a sectarian issue. Just this week a horrifying story came to light. In 1991 a Jewish man, whose name was not released, murdered his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The prison system, however, deemed him too mentally ill to be held in prison so he served his full sentence in a psychiatric hospital. After his release in 2004, a woman complained that he was threatening her and he served a brief prison sentence. In 2005 this man remarried and in 2008 his wife gave birth to a daughter. This week he stabbed his second wife to death in the presence of the little girl. He is presently undergoing psychiatric evaluation to determine his fitness to stand trial.

Those two cases took place within the last seven days, which is why I chose to write about them in detail. However, not a month goes by without one or two women in this country being killed by their husbands or partners, fathers or brothers. I have a request in with the Israel Police for the exact numbers, but I don’t know if I’ll receive them.

Violence is indeed a cancer in society. It grows, it spreads, it reproduces: violence begets violence. Women are particularly susceptible to victimization due to both traditional roles and the simple fact of being, as a rule, smaller than than men and not as strong. Violence against women is somehow not perceived as being as grave as violence against men, though this is rarely if ever articulated. Fourteen years is a laughably light sentence for murder but not unusual in domestic crimes.

In the US it used to be common (and may, sadly, become common again) for women who had been raped to be accused of somehow causing the rape. Women who are victims of domestic violence face the same sort of revictimization: Why didn’t she leave? How could she let him do that? Women who are murdered by their husbands or fathers are sometimes regarded in the same way. I have even heard from a reliable eye witness about a priest who said that yes, the father should not have killed his daughter, but if she hadn’t been dating a boy the father didn’t like the whole issue wouldn’t have come up.

Taking my cue from one of the signs in Ussefiya, I decided to write this post. I do not approve. I am not indifferent. I will not be silent.

=====

Information in this post is taken from the Israeli press and from private conversations with Palestinian women in Ussefiya and Jerusalem.

War on Women?

I have been growing daily more appalled at the news of proposed and recently enacted legislation in some of the fifty United States that appears to violate women’s rights in several different ways.

First a clarification. I am not talking here about whether or not contraception and abortion are good things, about whether or not they should be regulated by law. I have my own opinions about these issues, and I keep them pretty much to myself. The one thing I am very vocal about is that it is not up to me to judge someone else’s actions, much less try to control them.

So. Some states in the US will require a woman who requests an abortion to undergo a compulsory transvaginal ultrasound. What part of that makes sense? Counseling and a cooling-off period are, as far as I know, a regular part of the process. Compelling a woman to undergo an unnecessary, invasive medical procedure would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a brutal disregard of her autonomy.

I’m going to make a leap here, and I don’t think it is an unreasonable one. Have you heard about the “virginity examinations” performed on female detainees by Egyptian military security forces as recently as the end of last year? Here is an excerpt from a Reuters article that was posted on March 11th, 2012 on the MSNBC World News site (Source):

Controversy over the virginity tests gathered pace after a general was quoted by CNN last year as saying tests were carried out to prove the women were not virgins when they were detained, so they could not say they were raped in detention.

An army official later denied the comments were made.

and

A civilian court issued a ruling in December ordering the army to end the practice and a military judicial official then said cases of reported forced virginity tests had been transferred to the Supreme Military Court.

I am not alone in making this connection. Forbes.com, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, posted an article by contributing writer Victoria Pynchon called “Egyptian Virginity Tests, America’s Shaming Wand and Trudeau’s Satire” (click). The latter reference is to Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau whose cartoon about the compulsory transvaginal ultrasound has been refused by some newspapers that normally run his work. (This is the Los Angeles Times article about it.)

The legislation, if I understand correctly, all seems to come from a particularly conservative part of the Republican Party and is identified with certain Christian denominations or faith communities. However – and again, this is assuming I understand things correctly from far away in Israel – it does not appear to be a pan-Republican or pan-Christian phenomenon. One of the problems is that public debate is seldom nuanced; it is far easier to paint with broad strokes.

I wonder if the people who read this blog would like to join me in discussion about all this. I am very interested in finding out what my friends around the world think about it. Just one thing: comments are not moderated but, as always, I reserve the right to delete inflammatory, trolling or ad hominem comments. Argue fiercely and fairly.

So who’s first?