Thursday, October 7, 2010

"I like it hanging neatly on its designated hook in my foyer. I support breast cancer awareness, not sketchiness."

Or in other words, how can we spread awareness about a disease without turning it into a sexualized campaign that mystifies, even tantalizes, but never actually educates? Surely, as bright young women (or middle-aged women or older women or men, even!) we have what it takes to successfully campaign for a cause without the use of sexual innuendos.

By scanning online forums and blogs, it is easy to see how upsetting this type of "activism" can be to others. As one woman writes on Jezebel: 

Seeing Facebook stunts doesn't make me feel supported, it makes me think that the people who post them are immature and shallow. Breast cancer has the odd predicament of being a terrible disease that strikes a "sexy" body part. Well, my diseased breasts are gone, replaced with implants and the latissimus dorsi muscles from my back. I'll be aware of breast cancer every day for the rest of my life. Someone using it as a reason to act flirtatious under the banner of awareness just makes me resentful. 

Others have called attention to the fact that while Breast Cancer Awareness spans October, other months dedicated to serious diseases lack a comparable fanfare. For example, prostate cancer (September) receives less media attention and less research money than breast cancer even though it is statistically more prevalent and more deadly. As Arun Gavali of the New Agenda explains:
Prostate cancer is more serious than Breast Cancer because, although the death rates are both about 2.8%, the chance of a man getting prostate cancer is over 30% greater than the chance of a woman getting breast cancer.  That means that even though the life-time percentage chance of dying from either cancer is the same, the percent chance that a man will have to fight prostate cancer is greater and there are more cases of prostate cancer for the “sick care” system to have to deal with.

The need for stronger awareness efforts on the prostate cancer front does not, of course, negate the importance of October and the many ways in which we can honor survivors and victims of breast cancer. Typing out a suggestive Facebook update does not, however, accomplish this task. Perhaps knowing where you "like it" will eventually lead someone to research and extrapolate the correlation between sexed up statuses and breast cancer, the thought process will probably end there. Putting aside the issue of using one's (female) body and teasing references to garner interest in a tragic disease, let's consider the proactive and direct avenues by which knowledge can be spread. You might, for example, follow one blog commenter by writing:

Today, let's all donate to breast cancer causes like or & do self exams instead of updating our status.

Whichever way you decide to raise awareness, do it with dignity. Share facts, provide hospital locations where mammograms are free or discounted, give to a charity, volunteer. Honor your own body by talking to your doctor about reducing your risk of cancer in general. Because after all, "I like it" when women are informed about their health.

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