Cancer is not pink.
You know something? Pink is my favorite colour and it always has been. I own a lot of pink things. If there's something I want to buy, and it comes in pink, I'll go in that direction, always.
But as much as I love pink, I've come to loath the image of that damn pink ribbon. You all know what I'm talking about. And we have just past the month when that fucking pink ribbon is everywhere. You can't go anywhere without seeing it. There does not seem to be a single company out there that will not jump on the “pink ribbon bandwagon”. I've seen the most ridiculous things coloured pink all in the name of so-called “breast cancer awareness”. Screwdrivers. Irons. Boxing gloves. Candy. You know those “5-Hour Energy Shots”, the drinks that (supposedly) give you that extra burst of energy? Even they've jumped on the pink ribbon stage, with their new “Pink Lemonade” flavour.
You know what? This may make me sound like a total bitch, but at this point, I don't care. The fact is: I am sick and fucking tired of all these pink ribbons. I am tired of people and companies trying to “beautify” breast cancer, to make it cute and sexy and palatable and.... pink.
Recently, a couple of convenience stores here in my small hometown have begun selling those idiotic “Boobies Rule” bracelets. They say “Nice Guns” in huge letters across them, and then have “Boobies Rule” written underneath in slightly smaller letters.
OK, great. Yes, boobies do rule. I'll agree with them on that. And, obviously, the body parts affected by breast cancer are breasts, so... I suppose in that regard, the bracelets make sense. But why is it that we don't see breast cancer bracelets that say “Breast cancer sucks” or something along those lines? Why is it that when products or campaigns are designed for breast cancer awareness, not only are the terms used for breasts reduced to slang, but the focus is squarely on the body part involved – instead of the women who (surprise, surprise!) just happen to be attached to those body parts?
When I was the head of the Women’s Centre at my university, I was responsible for organizing a certain number of events for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was more than happy to do it. But I quickly came to realize that my idea of fundraisers and campaigns were vastly different from that of the administration. They wanted me to organize events like “Paint the Axe Pink” (“The Axe” was the campus bar), where the entire place would be decked out in pink, everyone would be required to wear pink, and (my “favourite” part!) drinks would be served in BOOBIE MUGS. I shit you not.
And then there was the idea of a movie/discussion night, where we would screen a film about breast cancer and then hold a discussion afterwards. Great idea, right? Well – not really. My idea was to screen the documentary “The Breast Cancer Diaries” - the real-life experiences of an actual breast cancer patient, who filmed every part of her journey. What better way, I thought, to showcase the actual effects that this disease has on the women it affects?
I was voted down. The film, my Women's Centre co-coordinator and the administration felt, was too “depressing”. They felt that a more “lighthearted” choice would be better, and most likely draw a bigger crowd.
Their choice was the film “Stepmother”. You know; the one with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon? The one where they hate each other, but then they become best friends once Sarandon's character gets cancer during the last, like, half-hour of the movie?
Yeah. That one. THAT was what they showed. A movie in which cancer plays only an incidental role, and the type of cancer is never even mentioned. My choice was shot down for THAT. Because we all know that breast cancer is a bummer, and who wants to sit around and watch a movie about it?
I could tell you, too, about the “Save the Tatas” campaign – but to be honest, that one just makes me so angry that I don't even think I can go there. Tatas. TATAS? Jesus. Are you serious?
Cancer is not sexy.
Look. Here's the upshot of the whole deal, for me. I don't have breast cancer (thank whatever deities there may be.) And maybe it's presumptuous of me to express this opinion, but seriously, do people not realize that breast cancer is more commercialized – not to mention more sexualized – than any other disease? Yes, I understand that it is one of the major causes of death in women worldwide, and the most common form of cancer in women. But – not to put a fine a point on it – so what? Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men, but you don't see people running around wearing shirts that proclaim “SAVE THE NADS” or other equally asinine bullshit. There are countless kinds of cancer. For virtually every body part, there is a cancer that can attack it. Yet, no other type of cancer gets the attention – and more importantly, the money – that breast cancer gets.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, back up here,” you might say. “It's a good thing that breast cancer gets all of this attention! It's great that so much money is raised through these products and through these campaigns! Women's health issues get so little attention, it's about time that our health concerns were in the spotlight!”
To that, I offer you this statement: The only reason that there are so many campaigns, and so many different companies that “support” breast cancer awareness, is because breasts are so very easily sexualized. Breasts are, after all, right there. They're used in advertising all the damn time. We women can go on and on until we're blue in the face about how breasts are for so much more than sexual gratification, but the fact remains that – well, to be perfectly blunt?
More than any other body part of either sex, breasts are easy to commercialize. They're so easy to sexualize. Hell, you don't even have to work at that, do you? All you have to do is turn on the TV. They're right there. Victoria's Secret. Sports Illustrated. All the major forms of media. That's without even venturing into the area of pornography. You see what I'm getting at, right? Campaigns like “Save the Tatas” and “Boobies Rule” work because infantile slang terms for breasts are still so pervasive in our society. And therein lies the irony – the terms that so many feminists fight to destroy are the very terms that are being used to bring this devastating disease to the forefront. Why is that okay? Why aren't more women standing up and saying, “Wait a minute! I'm more than my breasts!” It boggles my mind. We wouldn't want to be objectified in any other area of life, so why is it okay to objectify us when it comes to breast cancer?
I have an uncle who is currently battling prostate cancer. Within the past month (in other words, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month) we had a conversation during which he mentioned that, despite having the disease, he has no idea what the “awareness colour” is for prostate cancer. And he expressed disgust (yes, disgust) over the fact that, while everyone and their dog knows not only the colour of the breast cancer awareness ribbon but the month dedicated to its awareness, no one knows a damn thing about prostate cancer; not to mention other, less common forms. There are certainly no international fundraising campaigns for prostate cancer (or, indeed, any other kind of cancer, as far as I know.) And if there are, well, they're certainly not as widely recognized or promoted the way the Run for the Cure is.
Because, you see, you can't make a prostate cute. You can't market a uterus. You can't put a kidney on a mug, or give it an infantile, palatable nickname. No one seems to give much of a shit about brain cancer, or lung cancer, or bone cancer. People usually aren't reduced to those body parts in the same way that women are so often reduced to nothing more than a pair of walking breasts. Which, I think, is what really, really bothers me about this whole breast cancer “awareness” thing.
I don't know about anyone else, but I am more than just my “tatas”, dammit. I resent, to an insane degree, the idea that it's the “tatas” that need to be saved. What about the woman attached to the damn tatas? Don't they deserve to be the focus of the saving? Fuck the tatas – save the damn women! What is the problem here? I ask again: Women, WHY IS THIS OKAY?! Why are we not fighting this the way we fight every other form of misogyny?!
And no, I'm not overreacting, either. This is misogyny, like anything else. We fight against being called “bitches” and “hos” and all that, but we as a sex seem to be perfectly okay with the reduction of ourselves to our breasts – but only when it comes to breast cancer, because THAT'S IMPORTANT. God knows we have to get the word out there! The tatas must be saved at all costs, because we all know that, holy shit, without tits you're not really a woman!
A friend of mine was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer three years ago, at the age of 27. She went in to see her doctor and discuss treatment options, and the first thing the doctor said was, “We'll do everything we can to save your breasts.” She told me afterwards that she was shocked to the point of speechlessness at first; then, when she had regained her composure, she looked straight at the doctor and said, “Doctor, I can live without my breasts. You better do everything you can to save my life.”
But there's this idea that women, for some reason, aren't “real” women without their breasts. There are other distinctively female organs, of course – the ovaries and the uterus, among others – but because the breasts are an immediately visible feature of femaleness, they're automatically associated with “being a woman”.
That's not fucking okay. It is not okay for a doctor to tell a 27-year-old woman who is facing a potentially fatal disease that everything will be done to save a couple of sacks of mostly useless fat. It isn't. It's completely ridiculous and should never, ever happen.
Goddammit. Breast cancer is not cute. It is not sexy. It is NOT FUCKING PINK. It affects more than just the tatas, the cans, the funbags, the boobies. It affects WOMEN. But the thing is, you see, talking about tits is more fun, isn't it? It's more palatable to society as a whole. And that's what makes these campaigns so fucking offensive and unnecessary.
Look, I'm all for breast cancer awareness (although to be honest, I think everyone on the planet is “aware” of breast cancer, so I don't know what the point of the name is). I just don't think that women have to be reduced - to their breasts - for awareness to happen. I really don't. Breast cancer doesn't just affect the young; it doesn't just affect the pretty ones, the ones who look good in bikinis or Victoria's Secret lingerie. It affects saggy ones. Wrinkly ones. OLD ones. But they're not the ones on which everyone focuses, because hey, who has to look at those, right?
Maybe this is the main idea to grasp, when it comes to this topic:
Breasts don't suffer from breast cancer. Women do. And it's time we directed our attention to them.