Regarding Lance Armstrong’s admission to Oprah Winfrey that he used illegal drugs to win as a cyclist, the L.A. Times (and others) reported:
…surprisingly, he attributed it to his battle with testicular cancer that changed his attitude.
“I was always a fighter,” Armstrong said in the first of the two-part interview that aired Thursday night. “Before my diagnosis, I was a competitor, but not a fierce competitor. Then I said I will do anything I need to do to survive. Then I brought that ruthless, win-at-all-costs attitude into cycling.”
That he attributed his win-at-all costs mentality to his testicular cancer does not surprise me. In order to understand it, we need to bring genderinto the conversation. We need to talk about the culture of masculinity—a culture that celebrates success in competition. But I’ve not heard that from the commentators discussing the subject.
If winning in competition with other males is the societal mark of manhood, then testicles are the biological signifier of masculinity. After all, the question of whether or not a man has “the stuff” to take on a challenge often comes down to the crude question, “Does he have the balls?” After surviving testicular cancer, Lance Armstrong has only one testicle. Might that not explain to some degree at least why he was compelled to cheat so completely in order to be a winner?
I read and loved Michael Chabon’s book Manhood for Amateurs. As a woman, it helped me understand the excruciating pressure that some American men feel about the robustness of their masculinity.
All the brouhaha about Armstrong could be productive if talk centered on the gender component of this fiasco.