Sep 6, 2010

Sexualised breast cancer campaign sending the wrong message

Breast cancer awareness is a worthy and honorable goal ... but we should not give carte blanch to sexist rhetoric, even if well-intended, writes Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra author and blogger.

“Help The Hooters”, “Save The Jugs”, “Don’t Let Cancer Steal Second Base”, “Cop a Feel”, “Save The Tattas”, “Save The Boobies”, “Save The Headlights”: these are just some of the slogans which have been used to promote breast cancer awareness and fundraising around the world.

There’s a new slogan appearing on twitter at the moment. It’s “Feel Them Up Friday” (#feelthemupFriday).

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31 thoughts on “Sexualised breast cancer campaign sending the wrong message

  1. Jenny Morris

    Bravo, Melinda!

  2. Liz45

    Thanks Melinda for exposing this reality – I had no idea! I find it repugnant, for all the reasons that you’ve mentioned. I’ve known at least 5 women who’ve died from breast cancer – all of them lost at least one breast. As a feminist and interested in a just and equal society, I find this sexualisation of breast cancer offensive. I’ll certainly be more aware in future. I’m involved with a women’s health centre, and shall raise this at my earliest opportunity. Thank you for speaking out!

  3. Meski

    As a guy, I think some (most?) of the slogans are fairly tasteless.

  4. Cath

    My mother and 2 aunties had breast cancer so I’m a candidate as well and clearly the marketers behind this campaign have ZERO consideration for how vulnerable you are.

    A woman’s breasts have some key functions, and no one is denying that her sexuality is a big part of those. But when it comes to having your life threatened, saving these should not be the priority. If we continue to make the saving of the breast, as opposed to the saving of the life the priority we will lose many more women to cancer.

    There are enough issues with reconstructive surgery to not make that a viable option for everyone either.

    So – thank you Melinda for presenting these campaigns for what they are – cruel, repugnant and non-creative.

  5. Tom

    Melinda – In a perfect world I’d have no agument. Trouble is, the world in which we live is far from perfect and ‘the message’ has to get out. My mother died of brea$t cancer 10 years ago. Remembering her as a feminist I wonder what she would have made of the notion of the s_xualisation of that which was killing her.
    I agree with Meski that the slogans are pretty tasteless but if in an imperfect world they get the attention, get the tins rattling and advance a possible cure, should we be anything other than disappointed that this is what it’s come to?

  6. Scott

    Isn’t this just niche marketing? “Save the Boobies” was created by a Canadian not for profit called “Rethink Breast Cancer” (who raised about 1.4 million last year for Breast Cancer programs). They deliberately target younger women (as breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer for women between 18 and 40, roughly 5% of all breast cancer sufferers) and believe they get greater penetration by making their marketing “sexy” to appeal to this demographic. Another aim of the campaign is to take the “scariness” out of breast cancer, to normalise it and encourage women to talk about it, both to each other and their partners. The head of Rethink, MJ DeCoteau lost her mother to breast cancer so I don’t think her aim was to objectify anyone.
    Are women objectified by the campaign? I don’t believe so, but it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves. Even if a few people are offended, there is no reason to stop this marketing. I have no doubt this strategy will raise awareness among the young (we are talking about it after all) and increase fund raising (if only through Tshirt sales). The “Save the Ta-ta’s” T-shirt company raised $340,000 US for breast cancer research over the last 6 years. Can only be a good thing.

  7. Emma

    I agree with this article, and have a big problem with this sort of campaigning. I don’t think the sexual objectification of women is ever a good thing, but in this context it’s particularly horrible. There are other non-objectionable ways to increase awareness for breast cancer, or to fundraise to cancer research.

    The assumption that an issue, even cancer, needs to be sexualised in order to grab the attention of young people is patronising. It’s also lazy and as Cath says, lacks creativity.

  8. Scott

    @Emma. You might say that it’s patronising, but the reason why marketers use sexy or shock advertising when targeting the young is because it’s effective. Lots of academic research out there that says that shock advertising works better than fear focused or informational advertising when dealing with the under 30’s. Check out one such paper below.

  9. Eric Brodrick

    I get the impression here that Melinda is hijacking a cause to spread her own agenda. Such “party line” phrases as “treat women’s bodies as objects whose central purpose is the sexual gratification of the male libido”, “The sexism of breast cancer awareness normalises the view that women are sexual objects rather than subjects with agency and dignity”, “they are objects of sexual desire is an insidious reinforcement of sexist norms” and “it emphasises the sexual desirability of breasts, especially as objects for male sexual gratification” have even less to do with breast cancer detection than the corny slogans she is protesting about. She writes as if women are totally passive creatures with no sexuality or desire of their own (providing its by someone she desires, does any woman mind being “felt up”) and then goes on to link these slogans to assault, rape and murder which is stretching the point a bit far.

    I could write an entire essay in reply to this article, but when it comes to the crunch, if one woman’s life is saved by an awareness campaign. Does it really matter how cheesy or politically incorrect the slogan is ?

  10. Gibbot

    I respect your opinion on this issue, Melinda, and as both a fan and a friend of @ellymc, the last thing I wish to do is incur her considerable and well documented wrath* by appearing antagonistic. I can’t help but feel however, that your position actually does more harm to the cause of cancer awareness than the real or perceived sexualisation of it.

    I was one of many who ‘pinked up’ their avatar for #feelthemupfriday. Though I concede I had reservations about the choice of hashtag as I have more than one friend who has suffered sexual assault, the whole campaign was spontaneous, heartfelt and utterly without malice. The lady who brought it into being had no thought of objectifying women. She wasn’t even concerned with raising donations (although I believe many happened as a result), her goal was merely to raise awareness, and I have to seriously question how that can be construed as a bad thing.

    What I got out of #feelthemupfriday is that if everybody plays an active part, detection rates increase and less women die or lose breasts. Of course women aren’t their breasts, but tell men their partner could lose their breasts if cancer is not detected early and they take a personal interest.

    The best advice I could imagine giving loving partners (the kind Fred Nile approves of, of course – not the ones he ‘researches’ on the taxpayers’ dime,) is to shower together and get to know your partner’s body intimately. If that leads to a little more intimacy in your relationship then all the better. Why take the sexuality out of an act that can save lives? Why take the fun out of anything if you don’t have to?

    More men die every year of prostate cancer than women die of breast cancer. The main reason is not funding, although that’s sadly lacking in comparison to breast cancer. It’s discussion. It’s the fact that men don’t go to the doctor with their health concerns because that’s not what we do. We don’t talk about it, and society is just fine with that.

    I’m more than happy to feel my partner’s breasts for lumps, but neither me or my partner is comfortable with the idea of sticking a finger up my arse to check my prostate, though when I think about it, I would much prefer it to be my partner than a male doctor I may or may not know.

    Breast examination happens more regularly than prostate examination because it’s been made acceptable through public discourse. I’m all for it. What we now need is #manicuremonday and #twinstuesday. We need to make cancer detection a part of our daily lives, male and female.

    There’s no ‘brown ribbon day’, and until you’re willing to stick a manicured finger up my arse, I don’t see how you have a right to complain about the fact that men are getting on board the breast cancer cause. Less women are dying. Those that lose breasts are better loved and supported. Nobody with a brain thinks women are their breasts, but us blokes are getting involved. What are you doing for us?

    *This is a total lie. Elly has not a wrathful bone in her body. She scarcely has a cranky muscle, and her derma is Christ-like. I really live in fear that she’ll stop baking for me.

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