The XX Factor

Is That a Nipple on the Front Page of the New York Times? Yes, That Is a Nipple on the Front Page of the New York Times.

The New York Times

The New York Times may hold itself above the rest of the grubby news media, but Wednesday they proved that they’re as dependent on WTF traffic as everyone else. Check out how the paper of record illustrated a story about breast cancer gene testing in Israel. Yes, that’s a partial nipple you’re looking at there. This image will, guaranteed, get far more discussion going online than the story underneath, which is about how common the breast cancer gene is in Israel and the impact that is having on Israeli society. But forget about all that. Within seconds of viewing this image, you will be expected to have an opinion about it. Here are the options to choose from:

Anyone who objects to this is a Puritan and Americans really need to get over their prudery, like, yesterday. My heart is with this argument, since I really hate the national panic that arises any time we’re reminded—by breast-feeding moms or Janet Jackson—that boobs have nipples on them. Also, I like that the Times seems to be getting braver with its image choices, as in this past weekend’s big investigative story, “Two Gunshots on a Summer Night,” which they ran with this image. That said…

It’s grossly inappropriate to sexualize breast cancer, which is a serious and deadly disease. It’s not just the nipple that sexualizes this picture. It’s the lighting and the tank top and the pose, which is reminiscent of a strip tease shot. (The photographer tells New York Magazine that it was “an unplanned moment” and that the inclusion of the nipple was “not intentional,” but that’s hard to believe with the tank top positioned just-so, and clearly masthead editors at the Times were very intentional in choosing to run it.) It’s absolutely maddening the way that people focus on the loss of breasts, instead of the loss of health and life, as the main problem with breast cancer. The sexualization of discourse around breast cancer strongly implies that the main reason to keep women alive is as life support for their delicious breasts. It’s particularly inappropriate to focus on how delectable breasts are when the article in question is focused on preventive mastectomies, which are the ultimate expression of valuing a woman’s life over her breasts. This argument will probably win the feminist blogs (and is my personal opinion).

Boobs are gross, and think of the children. You will probably hear a version of this at your Thanksgiving dinner. And I’d bet the amount of money I spend on bras that this image will be used in conservative media to suggest that the country is going to hell, with the New York Times leading the way.

There you have it, folks. Pick one and start defending it with your life. As for the topic of breast cancer gene testing, it’s okay to take some time off and not have an opinion on that. That conversation is legitimately complicated and nuanced, something the story underneath the image captures with aplomb, if anyone bothers to read it.

Update, Nov. 27, 2013, 12:10 p.m.: John Cooper Clarke must be pleased.