Accepted paper:

When technology meets nature in the production of gendered bodies: the case of breast re/construction


Cinzia Greco (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, I explore the way in which cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the breast contribute to naturalize the breast as an anatomical part deemed to distinguish women from men. I analyse how the "obvious" naturality of the breast is used to justify complex surgical operations.

Paper long abstract:

The breast is among the anatomical parts deemed to distinguish women from men and is symbolically linked to the maternal and care roles that women are expected to take. The "obvious" naturality of the breast is rooted in the zoological taxonomy through the terms "mammals", as shown by the historian Londa Schiebinger. The rhetoric of the women's breast as natural also pervades the different cosmetic operations, and even the reconstructive surgical operations performed after a breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy. In this presentation, drawing on an extensive ethnographic research on cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the breast, both in France and in Italy, I will explore how cosmetic operations that need significant technical skills and equipment are justified, both by medical professional and patients, with ideas linked with the naturality of the female breast. The rhetoric does not take into consideration the anatomical variety of this part of the body - many women do not have an evident breast while several men have developed breast tissue - thus reinforcing the perception that the breast can distinguish the female body from the male one. The result of this paradoxical meeting between surgical technology and nature is the construction - both practical and ideal - of this district of the body, supported by the idea of the female breast as "natural".

panel F08
Medicine meets the sexed body: Discovering, diagnosing, producing and shaping