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Our bodies, theirselves

   Atossa, daughter of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great,  had her breast cancer removed by a Greek slave, Democedes. Photograph by Daniel Mossaddeghi   .

Atossa, daughter of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great,  had her breast cancer removed by a Greek slave, Democedes. Photograph by Daniel Mossaddeghi.

Freud said there are no accidents so maybe it’s no coincidence that the controversy over recently enacted (and hastily revived) RFRAs (Religious Freedom Reformation Acts) has occurred at the same moment that PBS has been airing “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.”

What do they have in common? An undertone of misogyny. I’m not suggested that the series – which was alternately informative, hopeful, horrifying and depressing – was misogynistic. But rather that the way in which female cancers used to be treated suggests a kind of savage disregard for the female body, and you have to wonder if a more enlightened approach – lumpectomy rather than radical mastectomy, which turns out to be ineffectual for early stage and metastatic breast cancers alike; a moratorium on hysterectomies, which used to be a dime a dozen – has to do with the rise in the number of female physicians and surgeons.

Certainly, in the early going, cancer struck fear into the hearts of doctors and patients alike. (It still does.) And the butchery that accompanied it, which has extended to prostatectomy for men, was in part a reflection of that fear and the desperation to rid the body of a killer by tearing it out. But it had a whiff of well, What’s a breast or a cervix to someone who doesn’t have them? (Unless, of course, they’re viewing them, very differently, in Playboy magazine). And that smell suggests, too, a certain fear of female sexuality and the loss of male control over it.

Similarly, these RFRAs seem to be less about denying gay people access to wedding photographers – though there is that – then they are about conservative Christian companies being uncomfortable with birth control for women.

Look, no religion likes birth control. The fewer the children, the fewer the future congregants putting money in the coffers. It’s about power, and, as Alexander Hamilton noted, “Power without revenue is a mere bauble.”

The way for women to level the playing field in the power game is through not only economic independence but emotional autonomy as well. And if the first is hard – women still earn 70-odd cents on the dollar – the second is impossible, because women are willing to sacrifice greatly to be with a man.

As long as women remain emotionally dependent on men, their bodies will continue to be a battlefield.