Are you saving the ta-tas this October? How about second base? Maybe you’ll put on an “I love boobies” bracelet or a giant boob costume in support the UK’s Coppafeel campaign.
People are asked to participate in October’s breast cancer awareness month by accepting challenges to post photos of their breasts to social media, sometimes touching themselves or using their breasts to prop up a pop bottle. Or they might donate old bras to string them end-to-end across a bridge. So what’s the harm in these playful but sexist breast cancer campaigns?
I find it strange that there’s not more criticism over the objectification of women in breast cancer campaigns. Especially when I see outrage over the sexism on display in this year’s Presidential race or the backlash against biased reporting about female athletes during this summer’s Rio Olympics.
After all, breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It strikes men and women, although not in equal numbers.
Those arguing for sexist breast cancer campaigns believe that that the means justify the end. If you save one life, it’s worth the price. But there’s no proof that this messaging saves lives. All the focus on women’s boobs obscures the fact that we haven’t moved the needle much on the number of people dying from breast cancer over the last 15 years.
So are these campaigns worth it?
I don’t think so. The greater harm is that we treat women’s health as a joke. A breast cancer diagnosis leads to the disfigurement or amputation of a breast. You’re no longer in the market for a bra. It isn’t funny. Treatment is painful, physically and emotionally debilitating, and exhausting. Reconstruction is no simple boob job. And there are lives on the line. Not breasts. Breast cancer can be deadly.
Advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) kills because it moves to the bones, liver, brain, or some other organ. Early detection isn’t a cure, either. Some 20% to 30% of all breast cancers (no matter the initial stage of diagnosis) will metastasize—whether 5, 10 or 15 years later. When you’re struggling with MBC, it’s about staying alive. There is no cure.
Objectifying women in the name of breast cancer also offends those who have been through treatment or live with MBC. They’re tired of seeing the focus on sexy body parts. They want the emphasis placed on research that could save their lives. Instead, sexist breast cancer campaigns obscure the reality of those living with MBC.
Taking women’s breast health seriously could help reduce the rising incidence of breast cancer, too. Educating the public about the benefits of breastfeeding could reduce the backlash against women who breastfeed in public. Breastfeeding is known to lower a woman’s lifetime risk of developing the disease. But you rarely see a baby at the breast to promote awareness. Why not?
What do you think? Do sexist breast cancer campaigns help or hurt?