04 May 2010

Saving the ta-tas

I have something VERY important to say [type]. The above image makes me more mad than almost anything on the face of the planet. It is not because I'm against breast cancer awareness campaigns. In fact, I'm pro-finding a cure. What I am not all about is finding a cure and meanwhile objectifying the body part that is the target of this particular type of cancer. Allow me to explain.

Last year, I worked in a residence hall where a supervisor (who I thought was a creepy, womanizing jerk anyway) wore a shirt that said the above gem. Because he happened to be wearing it on one particular day where I was feeling especially triggered by life and patriarchy and men, I may have essentially scolded him for wearing it and for not understanding why it was, in my opinion, really awful and misogynistic and, honestly, annoying as fuck. Naturally, as is the case with men (or supervisors, I guess), he was unappreciative of my scolding and we became un-friendly for the rest of the year. Prior to that experience, I hadn't really examined why those shirts and bracelets, and the others like them, felt so triggering to me. And, at the time, I doubt I was really explaining myself very clearly.

The trouble is not a desire to bring an end to breast cancer. The trouble is that breast cancer has garnered an immense amount of support recently, and I'm not convinced it is because of the severity of breast cancer (which is NOT to say I doubt the severity. I totally get that breast cancer can be extremely life changing and/or deadly for many women, and men too). According to the CDC, on average each year more women die from heart disease than from cancer, the 2nd leading cause of death. It's important to note that the numbers switch for American Indian/Native American and Alaska Native women, and for Asian/Pacific Islander women. Even then, the focus on breast cancer is fascinating. Overall, more women are dying from heart disease than any form of cancer, so why don't we have promos like "Save the Hearts" or something? I'm about 110% sure these campaigns wouldn't be as popular if the slogan was "Save the Colon".

The point here is, I think a big part of the reason that breast cancer awareness has been such a hip thing is because breasts are such a culturally identifying trait of women, and a characteristic that is sexually appealing and pleasing for all genders. So, I don't think people are worried about breast cancer because of their exceptional concern for women and their bodies. Nay, I think it's really because people want boobs to play with, to look at, or to fit best into women's clothing. The other slogan that comes to mind is "Save second base". So, clearly, the focus here is the sexuality of breasts and not the immense health concerns that come along with having breast cancer, and additionally the potential loss of parts or all of one or both breasts due to cancer and the loss of self/femininity/woman-ness that could perhaps come with that.

*I* would really like to see some reframing around the way breast cancer is presented and the way the cure is funded. I understand that these types of slogans are popular and are hot buys, so organizations can make oodles of money to put towards research to find a cure for breast cancer. I'm all about finding a cure. I just wish it could be done in a non-objectifying kind of way.

01 May 2010

Leaving people out, as usual

Since pretty much the beginning of feminism (which I assume was whenever some super-BA kind of woman stood up to her husband or quit making babies 'cuz she wanted to, meaning since always), this movement has failed to include all groups in a way that makes the movement itself more powerful, useful, and applicable to a wider range of folks. I know I spent far too much time counting myself as a feminist (which came after I learned that feminists can, in fact, still like the menfolk and wear bras if they so choose) while also excluding broad groups of people from that ideal. Still, I catch myself thinking exclusive kinds of things about feminism, about who can and cannot be a feminist, as if I were the feminist police. I've really worked hard in the last year or two to grow my feminism into an ideal and a life practice that takes into account intersections and differences and provides space for feminists who also identify with things like Christianity or as a Republican. Unfortunately, it was and still is tough to make those changes after being raised in a world where not everybody gets to be the same.

As of late, I've noticed that some of my social justice peers at my University have taken to alienating (or so it seems and feels) folks who do not fight as hard for an issue as themselves. It seems like this alienation comes in the form of incessant badgering and an overload of comments on facebook that address and talk about and work through whatever said issue might be. In the most recent case, I've seen an excessive amount of badgering going on regarding SB1070 out of Arizona. While I want to point out that I don't support this bill in the least, I'm also working hard to recognize the intersections of the ways class or even gender play into it. Certainly, from a feminist POV, it's hard to see it as anything but racial profiling. But, that's aside the point. Some folks agree with the bill, some folks don't. But where ever someone might stand on that issue is not impacted by rude comments or comments that make people feel alienated, judged, or looked down upon for agreeing. I'm a firm, FIRM believer that change comes with excessive amounts of understanding, education, listening, and dialoguing, and not through rude exchanges and covert put-downs. In fact, it really irks me that people get so caught up in being a better activist/feminist that they forget that much of this movement, from my perspective anyway, is about including even those who disagree to have dialogue and to progress from those initial viewpoints...on both sides. I know I have a lot to learn from people on all sides of every issue, and we could probably all move forward with positive social change much more quickly if we didn't get so caught up in emotion.

That being said, I can't stress enough how much I value personal stories as a way of moving forward and creating change. Stories make issues real and personal, and I think that's a huge element that sometimes gets left out of academic work around social justice.

But I digress. I've just been frustrated lately with some of the conversations I've overheard/witnessed around social issues. With folks who lie on the humanist/feminist side of things arguing and battling like war, I don't see us ever moving forward. I want to encourage my peers to really examine how they present themselves in conversations and how they approach the subjects where they most want to see change. It seems so pointless to work so hard for something just to see if break apart before your eyes because you couldn't manage to see the POV of someone who sees things differently.

I need some perspective: is it better to throw your emotions out there in social change conversations, even if it means potentially losing a possible future supporter in the name of talking to everybody about that issue? Or, is it better to maybe not get someone completely on board with your views, but let someone know that you understand their views and want to work together to make change?

Make sense? Whatevs, thoughts and criticisms welcome.