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Don't value the breast, value the woman, Dr Haughton

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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Dear Editor,

The recent outcry that elicited an apology of sorts from Opposition Senator Dr Andre Haughton, regarding his “love breast” comment in Parliament, which he claimed was an icebreaker, is a moment that we should be proud of as a nation.

Yes, it is not new for us to demand better from our public officials. What I am applauding is that it ensued for what some might consider a minor offence, or no offence at all, given the more substantial issues with which we are grappling.

Of course, that was one of the arguments used by some who didn't see the error of the goodly politician's comments. But an error it was indeed. The outcry and subsequent apology demonstrate that our democracy works at some level, and also that we have a social conscience.

We know that words have meaning, layers of meaning, and consequences for the speaker, the hearer, and those for whom, or to whom the speaker refers. In this instance, it was insensitive, inappropriate and tasteless for the space in which it was said, and even more so for the reason it was said. He claimed he was supporting women on the occasion of breast cancer month, but his words suggested otherwise.

The goodly senator took the opportunity to posture and position his masculinity at the expense of women who might be suffering at different stages of this disease, those who have succumbed, and those of us who are at risk. This is the light in which some of us opposed his comment. We saw it not as support, but abuse.

In his comment, he has actually tapped into the age-old objectification of women which reduces us to body parts to be valued solely for their use to others, particularly men. Singling out the breast as separate from a person (who is suffering from a disease in this case) reduces her to a sexual object of male desire. There are women who have lost their breasts to cancer, so, for the senator, in speaking to the country, to declare his love for breast sends a rather disconcerting message.

Furthermore, does he not know that men are not immune to breast cancer? Of course, the prevalence is very low, but does not negate that fact. Perhaps then he should have considered that before advertising his base masculinity.

Don't value the breast, value the woman. There are women who have died because of this culture of objectification. Unfortunately, many women have bought into the notion that they are nothing without these body parts, and some would rather hold on to them, to their graves.

Senator Haughton's initial refusal to issue an apology, as he opted not to see the error of his comments, added further insult to injury. As such, the 'apology', as reported in the media, raises questions as to the sincerity of the senator's regret. It was perhaps only for political expediency rather than a genuine recognition that he was wrong.

As a young parliamentarian he should understand that accountability is not just for the big issues. Letting the seemingly small things slide is just a path to more serious violations, and in this instance, for some of us women, it was not a small issue. Anything less and a society descends into disorder.

If we normalise such behaviours and let things slide, the seemingly small offences add up and the envelope is pushed until we have the type of society we are now attempting to curb, without much success. We should continue to hold our public officials and the society in general accountable and hopefully, with time, we can see some change for the better.

Carolyn A E Graham

carolynaeg@gmail.com

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