October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in case you’ve been wondering why the world around you suddenly went pink. Now, I happen to think that breast cancer awareness is a very good thing, and that educating people about breast cancer and numerous other health issues is a terrific idea. I hate breast cancer. And cancer in general. Cancer, in my opinion, can go take a long walk off a short pier, and anything which improves prevention and treatment of cancer is awesome, in my opinion.
But I hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or, as Laura aptly puts it, “Objectify Women’s Bodies Month.”
There are a lot of reasons why. Let’s start with the obvious, which is that most breast cancer awareness campaigns focus on using exploitative images of women’s breasts. Many include sexist language in their very campaign names, like “Save the Ta-Tas.” Women of all walks of life, including prominent celebrities, participate in ads which focus on breasts. And by focus on breasts, I mean “do not address the whole body,” as in ads with floating, disembodied breasts, tight camera cuts onto women’s chests, etc.
You know what I think when I see disembodied body parts? I do not think “oh, what a great way to raise awareness.” I think “oh my Pete, this is incredibly fucking triggering and I am flashing on centuries of violence against women right now.” I think of the centuries of torture techniques which involve cutting or ripping off women’s breasts. I think about the fact that purses made from women’s breasts were popular keepsakes among some Latin American death squads. I think about the time that I was on a BART train and a drunk man groped my breast so fucking hard that I had a purple bruise for weeks. I think about the fact that human society has thought that it owns women’s breasts for hundreds and hundreds of years.
When these ads go on to say things like “grope for the cause” and to use language about how we need to protect women from breast cancer so that they can keep their breasts, it makes me want to vomit. Literally, it makes me physically ill. The focus isn’t on the fact that breast cancer kills people, it is a focus on the fact that breast cancer makes breasts go away. And what’s life without the funbags?
Note that I said “kills people,” above. That’s because breast cancer kills people, not women, which brings me to another problem with breast cancer awareness month, which is that it is cissexist all to hell. Not everyone in this world has breasts, but everyone in this world can get breast cancer. And the focus on breasts, specifically, means that breast cancer goes untreated in people who are not cis women. Those people? They die.
Something else, which I am editing to add, is that I don’t heart breasts. My position on breasts? Is actually pretty neutral. I feel the same way about breasts that I do about arms, legs, noses, ears, toes. I don’t attach any special value or importance to them. In fact, I would probably have a prophylactic double mastectomy if I could afford one. Without reconstruction. That is how much I do not care about breasts.
You know what I do care about? I care about health. I care about the health of all people. I care about the fact that cancer kills people. Cancer does not confine itself to specific areas of the body. Cancer likes to metastasize. Cancer likes to sprawl its little cancer tentacles all over the body. As a result, I care about brain cancer. Stomach cancer. Throat cancer. Colon cancer. Skin cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Liver cancer. Etc. I don’t see any awareness-raising shirts shirts that say “save the esophagi” or “I heart colons.” If breast cancer awareness ads which use sexualized and disembodied breasts aren’t exploitative and sexist, then why don’t we see awareness campaigns for, say, cancer of the bile duct featuring cutesy little pictures of bile ducts? (end edit, original resumes after this)
I’m also not a huge fan of the cause marketing, in which every corporation slathers their crap in pink (also sexist) in the hopes of appealing to people who want to make a difference. The proceeds from sale of pink-branded crap? Don’t necessarily go to breast cancer research. When they do, they often go to organizations which do not use funds in efficient ways. And they also go to funds with nebulous connections to breast cancer, like “women’s health initiatives” which focus on scaremongering about abortion.
You want to make a difference? Donate directly to organizations which research breast cancer and which have high ratings from third party organizations which rate charities. Donate to funds which provide mammograms, education, and other intervention for low income women.
There’s something else that I want to say about the tone of breast cancer awareness campaigns, which is that it’s my body they’re talking about. I have multiple family members who are breast cancer survivors and I have variant BRCA1 & 2. So, when I talk about how much these campaigns offend and upset me, I am speaking from a personal place. Because it is my fucking body that is being exploited by these campaigns, it is my fucking health that is at risk from breast cancer.
So when people tell me that I should “lighten up” and “not be so offended” and that these campaigns aren’t problematic or sexist or, ok, maybe they are a little but it’s for a good cause, I want to scream. You do not get to tell me how to feel. You do not get to tell me that I should not be offended, furious, and upset by campaigns which exploit women’s bodies. Which reduce women to disembodied sexualized body parts.
(Incidentally, this post is part of a larger conversation which started at Adventures of a Young Feminist and moved to Small Strokes Fell Big Oaks, so you may want to check out the posts/comments there as well.)