Facebook and breast cancer ‘awareness’

By , October 14, 2013 1:03 pm

I recently was included (along with 80+ others) in the following Facebook message:

Hello ladies, it’s that time of year again…support of breast cancer awareness! So last year’s game was writing your bra color as your status…or the way we like to have our handbag handy. Last year, so many people took part that it made national news!! And the constant updating of status reminded everyone why we’re doing this and helped raise awareness too! Do NOT tell any males what the status means…keep them guessing!! And please COPY and PASTE this in a message to all your female friends. The idea is to choose the month you were born and the day you were born. Pass this on to GIRLS ONLY and let’s see how far it reaches. The one last year about the bra went all over the world!! Instructions: The month you were born is the Place you are going, and the day you were born should be how many months you are gone January – Mexico; February – London; March – Miami; April – Dominican Republic; May – Paris; June – Rome; July – Hawaii; August – California; September – New York; October – Puerto Rico; November – Las Vegas; December – Australia. If your birthday is 21st January, YOUR STATUS SHOULD READ: “I am going to Mexico for 21 months”. Don’t reply to this, put your answer in a status on your wall. Please do it, don’t be a spoil sport!…

I didn’t bother replying, and immediately clicked ‘leave conversation.’ I’m pleased to report that I have not received it from any other friends, or seen anyone actually post the status on their wall. But the IM has still been bugging me, and not simply because sending an IM to 80+ people. Lets talk about why I’m so annoyed.

Armchair Activism

There is nothing inherently wrong with armchair activism, or Internet activism, or whatever you want to call it. The tools of social media, blogs, online videos, etc, can raise awareness and foster conversation. I (of all people) am not one to throw stones at those trying to send a message via the Internet. But armchair activism is most effective when there are tangible steps offered to create substantive change. Spreading the word about how the GOP has changed the rules so that a majority vote in Congress couldn’t end the shut-down?  Valuable information. Reminding people that breast cancer exists? I’m skeptical…in large part it would be difficult to say that we need additional breast cancer awareness, particularly if it’s directed at the folks who are going to be seeing this message on Facebook.

Trendy Trends of Trendfulness

Take a look at this Google Trends graph of ‘breast cancer’ searches:

There's a huge spike every October

There’s a huge spike every October

Discussing breast cancer isn’t  just a part of everyday conversation. It’s a seasonal event that coincides with major media pushes by large non-profits. Organizations like Susan G Komen, which – quite frankly – sucks. Pushing for breast cancer awareness can also create an unreasonable scare factor for breast cancer compared to other health concerns.

Did I Mention Sexism?

I’d argue concerns of armchair activism, and engaging in a trendy campaign which tacitly supports shitty organizations like Susan G Komen, are both enough reasons to avoid obnoxious spam ‘awareness’ campaigns like these. But lets get to the issue that really pissed me off: Sexism.

From the original IM:

Do NOT tell any males what the status means…keep them guessing!!

Sure, breast cancer is much more common in women, but it’s not a “women’s only” health concern. Reading this post about one man’s experience with breast cancer is kind of like traveling through the lookingglass: where usually women are unsafely and unreasonably expected to fit their health experiences within a male-body paradigm, when it comes to breast cancer men are expected to fit their experiences within a female-body paradigm. But neither is ultimately good for health, or healthcare. And furthering the narrative that breast cancer is a women’s problem is wrong on so many levels.

(The above paragraph is true even if you ignore the existence of trans bodies. Throw us into the mix and this whole campaign becomes even more problematic.)

But even if I did think that breast cancer was solely a women’s health issue, how is “keeping them guessing” going to help anything? I hate hate HATE the assumption – the underlying foundation of this chain IM – that men and women must be constantly engaging in battle with each other, having secrets from each other, conducting acts of subterfuge and covert ops.


I Am Aware That Breast Cancer Is Bad

None of this is to detract from breast cancer as an important and legitimate health concern, and one people should be aware of. So donate to organizations that actually fund research. Share a link about self examinations. But please please please PLEASE don’t post about your ‘travel plans’ in some middle-school-ish attempt to have a secret code about breast cancer ‘awareness.’

One Response to “Facebook and breast cancer ‘awareness’”

  1. Laurie Swenson says:

    THANK you. I hate the secret breast cancer posts too, and the notion of secrecy between the sexes. I don’t like sexism toward either sex, and I don’t like that it’s pretty much socially acceptable to be sexist and mocking toward men.

    I also hate the notion that this issue and others are considered ONLY women’s issues, and men’s thoughts and opinions are not considered valid. I’ve never understood that mentality. Being female doesn’t automatically grant you smart thoughts about things that could potentially affect you. In fact, I’d argue that a man who has had cancer of any kind is more likely to have insight into breast cancer than a woman who simply has a pair of breasts.

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