Thursday, 7 January 2010

Save The Boobies!

Wow, that was a long absence. I have been suffering from a prolonged case of writer's block and I had to dedicate a lot of time and energy to eating Christmas chocolate. Unsurprisingly, I was roused from this unproductive slump by anger and frustration. Because that's the type of gal I am.

This morning I began to notice that a lot of my female Facebook friends had random colours as their Facebook statuses. I didn't understand, so, after checking it wasn't some super-cool internet trend that I had missed, I decided to ask what it was all about.

It turns out, the colours weren't random. Women have been encouraged to update their statuses with the colour of their bra. Why? For breast cancer awareness, that's why. Apparently telling everybody on your friends list that you're wearing a red bra, is, like, totally a positive thing.

Except that it's not. It's creepy.

Practically, it's not useful because it's cryptic. It doesn't tell us anything about breast cancer, how to donate to a breast cancer charity, how to prevent the cancer or even how to check ourselves for it. We all know breast cancer exists, so it doesn't tell us anything new.

My other main problem with it is that it enforces the idea that breast cancer is bad because breasts are attractive and sexy, not because it kills women. It is hard to deny that describing your underwear in a public sphere is supposed to be a bit titillating. It reminds me of an this American breast cancer campaign:

I don't know about you, but this ad made me want to punch myself in the face. Reducing women to their body parts, removing their humanity, making them a piece of meat is NEVER acceptable, even for the cause of breast cancer awareness. Granted, the Facebook thing is not as bad as this, but I see it as part of the same sexist strategy.

What would have been positive, is if people, not just women, had been encouraged to post links to self-examination guides or websites where you can donate some money.

I want women's lives to be saved, not just their boobies.

(This is a good guide to self-exams and you can donate to Breakthrough breast cancer charity here.)


  1. my mate died 2 years ago of cancer - started as breast cancer then became everything cancer. I had no idea what those colours on FB were but i gooogled it and found out...and by doing that it reminded me of the her, the anger and my lack of acceptance that she was ill...anyway, long story short if by posting a colour will make some of my FB friends think about their health and think about people suffering of cancer (even if that's for a second) then hell, yeah, i'll post a colour on my status!

  2. i just feel that there are better, more helpful ways to raise awareness that don't make breast cancer about 'sexy boobs' but about real women who die every day.

  3. I have been wondering all day what all these random colours were... until I read a couple of my 'friends' on FB answer their other friend's queries on the matter - they all replied with 'it's the colour of the bra I am wearing' but not one of them mentioned the reason or cause behind it. So, until reading your tweets and this blog, I was none-the-wiser. Thus suggesting that unfortunately, the meaning of what could have been a good idea, got lost along the way. Shame, I love the fact that social-networking sites have the power to spread a message fast to a super-wide audience, but there is always a risk if this happening - people jumping on the band-wagon without knowing why.

  4. This annoyed Mr.Kitton and I a lot last night. I'll refer you to my comment, left earlier tonight under this wonderful post by @geekinthegambia

  5. The whole happy clappy pink power breast cancer industry is pretty dubious, and breast cancer is incredibly well publicised compared to most cancers and other diseases generally. Buying a pair of pink straighteners helps cancer patients and at-risk, exactly? Retailers have clearly discovered that there's big money to be made through painting your products pink.

    On a related note, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an article in the Guardian at the weekend about how cancer patients are encouraged to use 'positive thinking' to beat cancer (despite their being no solid evidence that happy thoughts kill tumours) and discouraged from feelings of anger or frustration, which you'd think would be pretty normal if you were going through chemotherapy or having a breast removed. But I suppose no one wants to see women getting angry or self-pitying - women must be strong and positive, yet feminine

  6. Hey,

    I must admit that I too feel tormented by the breast cancer campaigns. On one hand their goal to spread breast cancer awareness is great! On the other hand it at times can be a little demeaning. THe add you posted reminded me of a Karl's Junior ad. It angered me, but on the same hand I couldn't help but think that it was incredibly smart. You have to admit that this ad will appeal to a large amount of American's, just like the facebook campaign. So is it worth it? Is there a better way? I mean people's lives are at stake. Being an activist against cancer in my lifetime has become something chic, stylish, respected, and popular. That is pretty cool. Cancer activism has done this through becoming main stream.

    But I get your point. I just don't know what side of the argument I fall on.

    It might be interesting to find an ad that was as appealing to the general public that wasn't so degrading?

  7. I would describe it as cynical rather than smart I think. It's problematic for so many reasons.

    1) It leaves out women with smaller/less perky etc. breasts. Are these women not worth saving?

    2) Breast cancer is portrayed in almost sexual terms, overly pink and feminine terms. I'm sure the women who are fighting and struggling with breast cancer don't find it as cuddley.

    3) What about women who have a mastectomy? If their breast/breasts cannot be saved, then they don't fit into this idea of 'save the boobies'.

    4) This only applies to breast cancer. What about other cancers like ovarian, testicular, prostate, bowel and skin cancer? All incredibly commmon but harder to market. How are they supposed to raise money and awareness if this sort of sexed-up advertising is the norm?

    I think it's offensive to sufferers, survivours and women who die every day from breast cancer to advertise in this way.

  8. Ugh, thought you might like to see this:

  9. I'm afraid I have to disagree. I concur completely with Io. Anything that makes people think about breast cancer which, in extension, the facebook trend has done, is definitely a good thing. I mean, it hooked you to find out what it was about, didn't it?
    I can see why breast cancer sufferers may find that advert offensive, and I totally agree that lives should be saved, not just boobs. That's just tasteless advertising.
    The facebook thing, on the other hand, isn't hurting anything, it doesn't trivialise cancer in the manner of the ad above, and it's encouraging people to think. And anything that makes more people aware of breast cancer, the risks, and gives them an urge to find out more information is fine with me.
    And, responding to your post about the excluding of other cancers through such video advertising ... There are other ways of drawing attention to such other cancers - the quit smoking ad, the sun screen ads ... There's plenty of advertisement about. It's just that the chauvinistic gits who made that video ad leapt on the idea of getting a hot chick in a swimsuit. (See 'What Women Want'. That's their answer to everything)
    The facebook campaign is definitely not an issue. It's promoting awareness, and people are intrigued about why their friends are posting colours as their statuses. It's drawing attention to breast cancer in an unoffensive manner. Yes, I know some people may say 'but what about mastectomy patients who don't wear bras?' Pedantry, in my book. You could also say 'but what about pre-op transsexuals'?? Bras are strongly associated with breasts, and the association obviously works. It's a campaign that seems to be doing an awful lot to make people aware of breast cancer (over 60% of my female friends on facebook have done it).

  10. 'Pedantry'? If it is triggering for a woman who has experienced breast cancer, who has had a mastectomy and does not wear a bra then I don't think it's pedantry.

    And what about trans men who may not have had surgery? Why are you so incredulous about that?!

    Yes, obviously awareness is good. But why not post links to self exams or something constructive? That's my point.

    Women being encouraged to collude in thir own objectification is not something I will ever find acceptable, for whatever cause.

  11. I have just read this, from a breast cancer survivor who has had a mastectomy.

  12. That wasn't what I was calling pedantry. It's the fact that this campaign *is* raising awareness. I expressed my confusion on my Facebook status, and 9 girls (who are all around 17-19 years old, by the way) messaged me to explain it. It's all about association. One of my friends just told me that she wrote the colour-as-status status, then immediately went to the breast cancer website to learn more about it. This is what the campaign is promoting. And any reasonably intelligent woman will make the association immediately.

    You've completely misunderstood what I said. Incredulity doesn't come into it. My point is that some people just can't be pleased that something/anything is being done to draw attention to such a major illness. What is pedantry, is that some people will always say 'yeah, well what about these people' or 'what would those people have to say'? Fair enough, this campaign does appeal to a fairly small social category (ie: women with breasts), but that doesn't automatically make it exclusive of others. Presumably, and of course as no kind of doctor or whatever I can't strongly assert this, breast cancer victims DID have breasts once - whether or not they've had reconstructive surgery is beside the point.

    I very much doubt that a breast cancer survivor who's had a mastectomy would kick off about a campaign using bras as a means of promoting awareness about an illness she has had first hand experience of.

    I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't dozens of blogs complaining about the lack of publicity for breast cancer if this hadn't appeared.

    I'm all for fighting against chauvinistic bullshit, but sometime's there's arguing just for the sake of arguing. I agree, the video is horrendous, but the campaign isn't. And I fail to see what personal harm it is doing to you or anyone else who has taken against it in such a manner.

  13. 'I very much doubt that a breast cancer survivor who's had a mastectomy would kick off about a campaign using bras as a means of promoting awareness about an illness she has had first hand experience of.'

    I refer you to my post directly above yours. And she isn't 'kicking off'.

    It is not pedantry to consider how things like this affect other people, it is necessary.

    And this is not arguing for the sake of argument, it is my opinion which I have calmly asserted.

    I am all for raising cancer awareness, (which I why I've included those links) but, again, this is not the sort of awareness women need about breast cancer.

    If you think it's a bit of fun, then that's fine. I'm not attacking people who have participated. But I resent the implication that unless I'm cool with telling everybody about my underwear, that I'm some kind of argumentative spoil sport.

  14. I replied to my friend's post about this with a colour thinking it was just a weird facebook game.

    If this was supposed to highlight breast cancer it failed tremendously for me.

  15. Raising awareness about an issue doesn't have one particular outcome - there are levels of achievement. It's about how you raise awareness and what connotations come with it.

    I agree with mass protests about war, climate change etc and it is 'raising awareness'. But so is me standing outside my house with a placard saying 'no to war', this is also 'raising awareness' but it we can still say it's a worse way of doing it.

    The whole bra colour thing is not a great way of raising awareness. Neither would be encouraging women to flash in public. There are a multitude of shit ways to 'raise awareness' for good causes. We don't need to uncritcally support them all. To be critical doesn't mean you don't actually support the cause, just the method.

    Actions/campaigns are not just unilaterally 'good' because they can be argued to 'raise awareness'. If that were true then why i don't i shoot someone in the name of breast cancer awareness? that'd get mass press coverage, probably more than ever before it's 'raise awareness'. But no, we can choose how we do these things and what connotations we bring with the actions we take in the name of various 'causes'.

    I know that's a bit complex but try!

  16. No implication whatsoever. And it does appear that you are condemning people for participating in this, because it's 'not the right kind of awareness'. For a cause of big as this, I think any kind of awareness is a positive thing, as it will save peoples' lives.

    I've just looked at the link you posted. I've got the utmost sympathy for that woman, and I can see why she may not be supportive of such a method. But it's horses for courses. Some other breast cancer sufferers may be pleased to see that such a worthy cause is being highlighted, even if it is in such a small way.

    And I think this whole thing is pretty subjective. I honestly think that any way of raising awareness about any big issue is good - the more people are aware of something, the more they'll understand, the more they'll actually DO. I can't see that there are bad ways of raising awareness, when it's such a small thing like listing a colour. Maybe some people just don't 'get it', like Chenilla above, but a lot of people do, and these people may be key to making a difference, and supporting the charity.

    Yes, Jen, I believe that campaigns are 'unilaterally "good" because they can be argued to "raise awareness"'. As I pointed out above, there's a chain of events once people think about something for the first time. Oh, and incidentally, the example you gave isn't a 'campaign'. It's idiocy. It isn't productive. It doesn't make people THINK in a manner in which may help save their lives, and promote a worthy cause.

    Of course I don't think it's 'fun'. Don't be absurd. I'm supporting a campaign that may just make a difference, even in the smallest possible way, to one of the biggest fights that women will ever have to face. And I can't see any *majorly* detrimental connotations. As I wrote earlier, it's a process of association which evidently works. There's the video example you gave in the blog, and that's certainly dodgy advertising with potentially awkward connotations for women.

    And no, that wasn't complex in the slightest. Maybe try and get your head round the learn-consider-act cycle.

  17. I'm not being absurd! That's what plenty of people have said it is on various blogs and people's facebook pages. And the 'you' was not necessarily aimed at you.

    There's little I can say to you if you don't recognise that this is sexist. And if you don't see the problem with promoting something which is potentially hurtful and alienating to the people it is 'meant' to help.

    The advert is worse, but the two things are tied together. And linked to this weird sexualisation and pinkification of breast cancer which I find highly problematic.

    Surely you can acknowledge that providing information in your status would have been a more productive thing to do?

    I'm not condemning the people doing it at all! I just personally think that something more constructive could have been done.

    I would also say that I would appreciate not being called 'absurd' and would ask all commenters to be respectful of others. As a feminist blog, this is supposed to be a safe space, where insults are not thrown.

  18. hi only now i managed to watch the video you posted.

    i do not see the connection of that video to the Facebook colour status. Posting a colour is not sexualisation. if one starts fantasising about me when i say "blue" after (s)he finds out this is for Breast Cancer then this is just a little too pervy on their part.

    I do feel uncomfortable with the video though but maybe this appeals to a certain group of people who will push away the more serious or shocking facts and figures... (although it is not my kind of campaign)

    And yeah i agree, saying a colour is not raising awareness. But what is does is giving people that split second of thinking of breast cancer and then hopefully doing something related to it. That's all it is. which is better than nothing. Like the person who described holding a placard outside their house not being as powerful as a big mass protest...well, if i passed by your house and saw the placard and made me think then that achieved something.

    If we start attacking the small campaigns we can similarly say what;s the point of any protest: what's the point of anti-war protests? there always going to be countries that fight. well if we have this attitude then we might as well give up everything.

    Anyway, just to avoid any arguments i am NOT into the objectification or sexualisation of women, or reducing their womanhood to just a pair of boobs. and i think the people who have witnessed someone dying of this are not thinking of sex, and boobs, but of the pain of treatment and fear of dying and hope of living...


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