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.


  1. Lauren! You and my friend Hannah should talk. She wrote her honors thesis on obesity and breast cancer and how the idea of prevention and finding a cure gets lost in translation of money. I think. She can explain it better.
    It's called Undue burden: A Feminist Analysis of the Discursive and Material Realities of Breast Cancer and Obesity in the United States. And I almost cried during her defense.


  2. well said my friend well said. I have not been able to articulate or pinpoint why that slogan drove me crazy and you did so nicely.