Missing the Breast
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Missing the Breast book
Again and again in the medical, social, and more explicitly fictional narratives of the English Renaissance, representations of the female breast reify the logic that puts women in their place. Presented in a causal relationship to domestic convention, breasts demonstrate the processes through which social constructions of the feminine and physical qualities of the female become precisely coextensive. The breast identifies women, distinguishing them from men both visually and functionally: men, too, have "paps;' but women's breasts impose a necessarily gendered performance. Thomas Vicary, in The Anatomic of the Bodie of Man, writes, "But I fynde certayne profitablenes in the creation of the Paps, aswel in man as in woman: for in man it defendeth the spirituals from annoyannce outwardly: and another, by their thicknes they comfort the natural heate in defience of the spirites. And in women there is the generation of milke."l Accounts of generation that define woman as matter, man as spirit, find material proof in the production of milk, in the image of the woman acting as a vessel in the most literal possible sense. And even if, as in the Galenic model, women's genitals are imagined to mirror those of men, producing some degree of reproductive mutuality, the maternal breast is an inescapable site of difference: whatever may be said of the genitals-or, for that matter, of
the arms, legs, hands, or feet-women's breasts neither look nor act like those of men. 2
The breast comes to summarize the implications of gender difference. Breasts provide a physical referent for domestic categories, displaying the sense in which women are vulnerable to disease and to desire, implicated in generation, more demonstrably embodied than men. Functionally defined, the female body imposes a causality of acts as women play the social parts to which their body parts confine them. The very insistence of this causal logic suggests its potential fragility; the investment in a normative femininity that can be referred to the body, and specifically to the breast, is at once most visible and most vulnerable when the terms of that body prove subject to change. Such preoccupations explain-in part-the peculiar fascination of Amazons: Amazons, who according to myth make a deliberate monomastic choice, illuminate as they destabilize the categoric processes of reading through the breast.