October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone knows that. October is also Halloween. Everyone knows that, too. Some lesser known holidays that occur in October include Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, National Popcorn Popping Month, Clergy Appreciation Month, and Sarcastic Month, just to name a few.
Slogans such as “Save the Ta-Tas”, “I love boobies!”, and “Support My Rack” are used all year-long to raise money for breast cancer awareness and research, and have proven to be successful marketing strategies for various foundations. But how do these slogans affect us, and what do they mean?
During October it seems like we can’t escape phrases that sexualize breast cancer and breasts in general. Using euphemisms like “rack”, “boobies”, or “ta-tas” reduces women to one aspect of their bodies. Breasts are not neutral territory in our culture, but rather a part of the human body that is already highly-charged. Breasts have a long history of being fetishized by some, revered by others, or used as a mechanism of oppression. Who are we “Saving the Ta-Tas” for– the patriarchy or ourselves?
The color pink has become synonymous with breast cancer, but pink also represents love, romance, nurturing, and understanding. This non-threatening color has been completely co-opted by corporations to represent breast cancer and breast cancer awareness. Susan G. Komen has an entire online store dedicated to the sale of pink objects. And 5-Hour Energy, the 4-calorie, caffeinated energy shot, has a “Pink Lemonade” flavor, whose proceeds support the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade. These foundations are capitalizing upon a medical illness that affects real people with real experiences, whom we know and love. Supporting breast cancer awareness and research is trendy.
Breast cancer is most commonly found in women, but also occurs in non-female-bodied individuals. It can occur regardless of your biological sex, but you wouldn’t know that from the marketing campaigns. The rhetoric surrounding breast cancer is pink, frilly, welcoming, and inherently feminine, alienating “non-traditional” breast cancer survivors as well as survivors of other types of cancers, who may feel unsupported as breast cancer takes up so much public space and discourse.
This month, try to be cognizant of the sexualization of breast cancer. Try to alter your language to honor the experiences of survivors, and to internalize that breast cancer affects everyone. Think about the notion that breasts are a powerful symbol in our culture, but that they are also just a part of the human body. Organizations using slogans such as “I love boobies!” have made great strides for breast cancer awareness and research, but a little attention paid to rhetoric surrounding this cause can go a long way in making Breast Cancer Awareness less of a seasonal trend and more of a socially-responsible, feminist statement.
*Many thanks to the Feminist Collective at Boston University for the discussion and thoughts that contributed to and inspired this post.