By Savanah Mandeville
Do I have your attention?
I should, because that’s been the marketing strategy that, over the last 10 years or so, has made Breast Cancer Awareness as synonymous with October as pumpkins and Halloween.
Breast Cancer Awareness has taken on a culture all its own. Each October we are inundated with fundraisers, walkathons, and galas to raise money for our sisters in pink. Businesses put up pink building facades, mow giant pink ribbons into their landscaping, and come out with special-edition pink merchandise. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – with about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. to develop invasive breast cancer of the course of her lifetime, it’s one of the most life-threatening diseases for women today. An estimated $6 billion is raised annually for breast cancer research, which is wonderful. People getting behind breast cancer in droves is nothing short of amazing.
What bothers me is the means to the end, and it has forced me to consider, in new ways,
how our society objectifies women. I find it sad that breast cancer has garnered so much attention and funding as the result of marketing strategies like “Save the Ta-Tas” and “Save Second Base” and even “Save a Life, Grope Your Wife.” It’s unsettling that in order to get people (men) to pay attention and care about breast cancer, we have to make it all about them and how much they love the funbags.
It’s like saying, “Congratulations women, just because you have cancer doesn’t mean we’re going to stop sexualizing your body!” There is no reason why a horrible, life-threatening disease should be sexualized. I know the other side of the argument … it’s about having a sense of humor. Injecting humor into an otherwise serious and depressing topic makes it more palatable and easier for people to get involved. The problem is that “Save the Ta-Tas” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world where women have been valued for little more than their reproductive organs since the dawn of time. I could start listing examples of ways women are treated as sexual objects, but we don’t have all day. It’s not okay for a women’s healthcare organizations to further promote this damaging point of view.
Breast cancer is largely a “woman’s disease” – men get breast cancer, but a man’s lifetime risk is 1 in 1,000. So why doesn’t a “man’s” disease — like prostate cancer — get sexual attention? At least a man’s prostate is necessary for sex. Women’s breasts, believe it not, are actually for producing milk to feed infants. What if all the breast cancer campaigns were about “Save the Milk Makers” or “Save the Baby Feeders”? Wouldn’t it seem like we were a society obsessed with babies and only viewed women as a means to feed babies? Then why are we not more concerned with the way “Save the Ta-Tas” or “Save Second Base” makes us seem like a society obsessed with sex and only view women as a means to make men horny?
The sexual objectification of women and of women’s breasts has real world consequences. It’s an actual epidemic that large numbers of women diagnosed with cancer are abandoned by their spouses or suffer other serious relationship problems as a result of their diagnosis. What “Save the Ta-Tas” fails to consider is that the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the breast in order to save the woman’s life. It suggests that women are worth saving because they’re attached to breasts, not the other way around. So in a way it’s telling any woman who’s had a mastectomy in order to survive that she’s lost the thing that made people care about her survival. And, sadly, “people” doesn’t just refer to society at large, but in a lot of cases, to the survivor’s husband – the person they’re supposed to trust more than anyone else in the world.
This forum and this forum have countless stories from breast cancer survivors whose husbands lost all desire for them, cheated, and/or left them, including many stories where the man was a loving and doting husband up until the mastectomy.
This article states:
“A 2009 study published in the journal Cancer found that a married woman diagnosed with a serious disease is six times more likely to be divorced or separated than a man with a similar diagnosis. Among study participants, the divorce rate was 21 percent for seriously ill women and 3 percent for seriously ill men. A control group divorced at a rate of 12 percent, suggesting that if disease makes husbands more likely to split, it makes wives more likely to stay.”
Below are some anecdotes I found online about this issue. These are just the tip of the iceberg:
Please remember that Breast Cancer Awareness is about saving the whole women: body, mind, and spirit. It’s about saving everything that makes her a unique and complex human being – the sparkle in her eye, her laugh, her stories, her compassion for friends and family, her intelligence, her strength, and every other thing beautiful thing that she brings to the world. It’s about saving a sister, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a grandmother, a wife … but most importantly, it’s about saving a human being.