Breast (Cancer?) Awareness

While we have sadly become accustomed to marketing and advertisements using sex to sell us our clothes, cars, beauty products, alcohol, and the 27 workout DVDs they tell us we need after drinking all that alcohol and to fit into those clothes, using sex to advertise and fundraise for a deadly disease strikes me as more than a bit odd. Facebook “campaigns” using sexual innuendos in statuses, Save the Tatas, the controversial “Save the Boobs” commercial, and I Love Boobies bracelets* beg the question: are they raising awareness of the women who struggle with breast cancer and promoting breast cancer prevention, or are they simply raising awareness of breasts?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love breasts, and I certainly feel a tie between my own personal set and my femininity and sexuality. But I also love and care about the women who face breast cancer with grace and courage. Why isn’t there a breast cancer awareness campaign with the tagline, “I ❤ my mom” or my sister, aunt, friend, wife, girlfriend, partner, daughter, etc.? I am not arguing that breasts or the female body should be censored or not used in awareness campaigns for breast cancer, but is it too much to ask that they be shown attached to a whole female? I for one have never seen a campaign for prostate cancer awareness using a picture of a male where his prostate is the focus and his face is cut out as though he isn’t even a full person. This is the case despite the fact that the prostate is a sexual organ and breast and prostate cancer are diagnosed at about the same rate per year (National Cancer Institute)*. Do we really want breast cancer awareness to look this similar to sexualized merchandise advertising that objectifies women?

To be honest, I think it’s pretty obvious why there aren’t any equivalent “I heart scrotums” bracelets and campaigns. It feels like these “I heart boobies” campaigns are specifically meant to draw heterosexual male-identified folks into the fight against breast cancer. What does it say about these campaigns’ perceptions of men if they think the only effective way to get men’s attention about breast cancer is to sexualize it so much so that the focus is on breasts as a sexual object and not the woman to whom those breasts are a part? These campaigns seem to say, “Hey (het) men! You should care about breast cancer because it could affect your sex life!” I’d like to believe (and do) that men are far more intelligent and human than a puppy whose head quickly turns, drooling, at the mention of sex and who is otherwise generally uninterested.

I hope that this October throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we can find some ways to raise awareness of breast cancer, promote early detection and screening, garner support for both research and for people fighting breast cancer, and get male-identified folks involved in conversations and contributions without resorting to the tired old themes of over-sexualizing and objectifying female bodies in the media.

Here’s a breast self-exam sheet you can print off and hang in your bedroom or bathroom (if it’s laminated)!  The Women’s Health Clinic at UNC’s Campus Health also offers breast examinations as a part of their Well Woman’s Examination.

If you’re interested in learning more about the objectification and over-sexualization of women’s bodies in the media, and how these issues tie in to violence against women, check out the films Killing Us Softly (4) and Miss Representation and the student-facilitated media literacy workshop, “The Naked Truth: How the Media Shapes Us” which will be offered on October 30th from 6:00-7:30 in the Genome Science Building, room G010,  sponsored and hosted by the Carolina Women’s Center as a part of Relationship Violence Awareness Month.

*Taken from

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