Supporting a Woman through
Recovery from Breast Cancer

When I was leading the men in my Region, I tried to help them discharge their feelings about women and actually take on [undertake] for themselves the ending of sexism and male domination.


I asked them to consider what it might be like to live in the same world that women live in. I asked, “Do you like women, as opposed to being attracted to them? Do you like women’s culture? Do you like spending time with women when they are engaged in their culture? When you are the only man? Do you like shopping for clothes with them? Or going to a party or other social event with your female partner or friend when you are the only man?”

I grew up close to my mother, sister, and aunt and spent lots of time with them doing what women do. In others words, I participated in their culture. It seems like I developed more comfort with women than many men do. The segregation of men and women is real.

Recently my partner was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went to many doctors’ appointments with her and of course gave her many sessions on it. I also had many sessions on it myself. In most of my sessions I cried about the world of women that we men are separated from. All of my partner’s health care practitioners—and there were dozens of them—were women. The waiting rooms had almost all women in them (there were a few men, whom I assumed were their partners).

I did not realize how far our society had come in developing female doctors and surgeons. I cried about how wonderful it is that a woman can go through the experience of breast cancer without having to be treated by a man. I noticed how the women acted who were working in an all-female environment—polite and kind but not overly careful to be “nice.”

I discharged realizing that we men don’t have much of an idea what it’s like to live in a female body. I realized that every women lives with consciousness of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer—to name a few of the ailments related to the capacity to give birth and nurture a child. I realized that few men (including myself) think about these things with any frequency but that all women do. I realized that every older woman has in her mind the women she knows who have had these cancers, struggled to survive them, recovered from them, or died from them and how little we men are aware of this.

I loved being in that female environment. No woman appreciated me for being at all my partner’s appointments and with her in the hospital when she was recovering from surgery. But I could tell [notice] that it meant something to them that there was a man who had attention, was respectful and interested in what was going on [happening], and was playing an equal role with them in this one woman’s survival. I cried with pride in myself and gratitude that somehow I had escaped some of the distresses that keep men segregated and from supporting women.


Of course in some of these venues everything was about breasts. Female breasts entered my consciousness with much more frequency than they usually do. I would wonder how many of the women in the clinic or hospital had had breast cancer surgery, had their breasts made bigger or smaller with surgery, or had their breasts removed and were wearing bras with artificial breasts. Of course along with all of that came all of the patterns that nearly all heterosexual men have of being afraid or embarrassed to look at breasts, or even say or hear the word “breast.” 

Yikes! A lot to discharge! There was a lot more breast talk than I was comfortable with. I realized how little slack we men have to think about women’s bodies, particularly the parts related to procreation, as anything but objects of sexual attraction. At the same time, I was surprised at how much attention I did have to actually think about breasts as breasts, as one part of a female human body. I was grateful for all of the work on early sexual memories and men’s oppression that we in RC have done and all of the safety we’ve created for men to be open about their sexual distresses and discharge them.


All that being said, I am writing because I would like more. We, my partner and I, are still in the recovery and treatment phase. At a recent workshop I tried working on this with some men. They were pretty [quite] good counselors, but I could see that they were struggling with a ton of embarrassment about breasts. I cannot blame them for that—I understand.

I would love it if more of us men would take on the challenge of spending as much time with women in their culture as we do in our own. Their welcoming of us will allow us to discharge on what it is like. I would encourage us to be as close as we can to women who are undergoing surgery or other treatments for ailments of their reproductive systems and to discharge on that. (My partner had a great session with me in which she threatened to do surgery on my breasts. She grabbed them and acted it all out with a mean face and laughed and laughed and shook.)

As men we may be even better counselors than women on some aspects of this because we do not carry the same fears that women do. I would love to hear about any experiences and successes you’ve had in pushing beyond your comfort zone to be supportive and useful to women who are struggling in these areas.

As men we tend to talk more about our distresses about women than we do about our successes or what we like about women. I think part of that is homophobia and part of it is a trivialization of women that makes us uncomfortable when we talk about where we participate in women’s culture. I think it is time that we take pride in the role we can play and have played in support of women.

“A Human Male”

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of men


Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00