Many women have been fighting against sexualizing breast cancer. They are saying:
‘Sexualizing breast cancer reduces the serious disease to the realm of popular trends and reducing women to the quality of their physical appearance (again!). It probably implies that a woman without breasts is not a woman at all, making it so vital that her breasts be saved. It also implies that only women are the victims of this merciless disease promoting the misnomer that only women possess mammary glands and are susceptible to breast cancer.
Breast cancer campaigns use sexuality because breasts are constantly portrayed in the media as sexual entities. There is a something a little erotic about a woman being prescribed by her doctor to feel her breasts on a regular basis. Breast cancer, however, is not sexy nor is it fun. It is not the pink ribbon sporting, fun loving, laughing beauty in the advertisements. Its scary and sterile. Its full of hospitals and doctors and uncertainty.
The focus on breasts as sexual objects and breast cancer as the mortal enemy of breasts is demoralizing to women who get breast cancer. It emphasizes an elevated status that a woman’s breast has over her person and it reinforces importance that society places on these physical objects.
It is important for diseases that affect women be researched and studied. Breast cancer is incredibly important and needs public support, however that support should not come at the expense of women themselves’.
No other cancer is sexualized the way breast cancer is sexualized. Breast cancer should be taken equally seriously like other cancers.
Please raise awareness for all cancers, not only for breast cancer. People have been suffering from many different cancers and dying young. Some cancers can be prevented, and treatment works best when cancer is found early.
tony goddard says
I think the title of this piece is misleading. Much better would be
“Did you ever think about sexualising prostate cancer, Dude ?”. In fact prostate disease is one of the most common afflictions of men over 50,
and both benign and malignant forms of the disease can be quite debilitating.
Among famous sufferers are Timothy Leary, Harold MacMillian (British PM who resigned over this), and Primo Levi.
In 2012 there are many men living in the world who do not know what prostate disease is. Despite medical research the choices of teatment on offer are rather alarming. for many men.
Former Tory cabinet minister Edwina Curry has written some readable
political novels about adultary amongst the political elite and she describes the way that trouble “Down There” makes a man useless as a lover.
Thanks Tonny. I just wanted to talk about a visible sex organ.
I’m not sure why pictures of women’s more or less covered breasts sexualise breast cancer all that much — it does affect breasts after all, so they’re the logical body part to show.
I also think that the “check your breasts regularly for lumps” message, and also the ancillary “don’t be squeamish about looking at or touching breasts, it could help save your life” is important and useful for many women, as I do seem to notice tendency to see breasts as taboo balls of plastic, e.g. by the need to visibly wear a bra in order to qualify as non-naked, or by the total ban nipples (even through layers of clothing), and I’ve heard “I’m not going to fondle my own breasts, that’s gross!” often enough. And the “you’re just as much of a woman without breasts” message should be much more out there, too.
There have been 3 cases of quite aggressive breast cancer between my 2 grandmas which they only survived because they found the lumps (during self-examination) in a very early stage, and an aunt died of hers because her first priority keeping her breast instead of making sure that all cancerous parts are gone.
So, YES PLEASE awareness that breast cancer needs to be detected early and taken seriously.
However, I do agree that this fluffy pink world of happily smiling brave survivors, their narratives of battle and self-improvement and the ritualised pink ribbon stuff is not exactly what “taking a disease seriously and trying to catch it early” mean. I guess a rational and informed approach to one’s own health is not seen as feminine and attractive enough to promote. 🙁
I’m not sure why pictures of women’s more or less covered breasts sexualise breast cancer all that much.
Really? So you think it’s primarily thin teenage models who’ve never had kids that get breast cancer?
No? Then why do you think they’re the ones chosen to represent The Breasts We Need to Save (So Other People in Pools Can Leer)?
It’s not only super-skinny teen-age models. Actually, most of the breasts featured are of the larger variety, so they most likely don’t belong to all that skinny women. And by the way, not having children and not breastfeeding are factors that raise the probability of developing breast cancer later in life (possibly due to a lack hormonally regulated controlled maturing of mammary glandular tissue). But this is completely beside the point.
Which is: Breast cancer has to do with breasts. When breasts only get attention for the purpose of male pleasure and are otherwise taboo, hidden and ignored, women are more likely to die from breast cancer. So yes, I think it’s important to encourage women to actually pay attention to their own breasts, and it also doesn’t hurt if people get used to seeing breasts without automatically associating some sexual context. Even “pretty” ones.
Question for you guys. Would you rather want them not to use these tactics and receive less donations?
Seriously. You’re going to get a lot more people just averting their eyes and ignoring the problem if you put up pictures like the last several. People have an innate aversion to obvious visible disease (for good reason!). And yeah, if you don’t use attractive people in marketing campaigns you get less money. Like, way less. It’s why pretty much everyone on TV is unusually attractive, often even the ones who aren’t supposed to be. I guess it’s a problem but it seems to me that letting more people die of cancer would be a bigger one so I just can’t get that worked up about it.
No Light says
Ah yes, a man brings up the old “You should be grateful you’re being sexualised! ”
I’m rather amused that you actually believe the money goes to cancer research.
I completely disagree. I come from a family where we have a surgical oncologist and you know what?
No one takes breast cancer as a joke. Infact it is treated with deadly seriousness. The problem being that people assume Breast Cancer is ALWAYS fatal.
Not so. The so called sexualisation of breast cancer has resulted in a frankly massive improvement of treatment and clear rates. Due to the rapid diagnosis and awareness of these “sexualised campaigns” 85% of women in the UK have a Five Year Survival rate (AKA they are considered clear of cancer). At stage 1 and 2 of the carcinoma the survival rate is a whopping 95 to 97%.
In the 70s and 80s it was just 25%. We have come a long long way. To the point where people on TV still treat breast cancer as an amazingly fatal disease, not something most people actually beat.
Yes, many women consider breasts as part of their sexuality. And you know what? The sexualisation of breast cancer is not for the sake of men. It’s for the sake of women. (Being accused of patronising in 3, 2, 1…). You see, everyone worries about how they look for the most part. Many women consider the surgery with fear that their scars and loss of a breast (or two) may make them ugly. For many women to know that they won’t lose a breast is enough to improve their mood and indeed give them hope and encouragement.
For a western woman mere survival is not enough. She wants the life she once had and that involves being attractive. Showing pictures of actual cancer without the patient’s involved makes people think that we only treat the afflicted organ rather than the entire patient. Reconstruction surgery makes women who have breast cancer feel better and quite honestly they deserve a little “feeling better” after having fought off cancer.
We don’t treat Livers, Lungs, Breasts and Testicles. We treat people and those people are benefitted by being told that they will be attractive, that the changes to the body will be corrected and that they can survive. That they too can be the pink ribbon sporting, fun loving, laughing magazine women and be as beautiful as they used to be. It’s like claiming that Brad Pitt/George Clooney/Harlequin Romance Fabio isn’t attractive by showing us a pictures of his spleen, lungs and brain under surgical lights.
And whoever thought doctors and hospitals are sterile places with no sense of warmth and humour and companionship have never seen a proper doctor do their job. It may be scary but we do not tell our patients that and we go out of our way to crank down the fear because fear doesn’t kill cancer.
I think it is important to be healthy and to have a thinking mind rather than just to be physically attractive. People are insanely influenced by the commercials made by the multi billion dollar fashion and cosmetic industries. Sexual objectification is not considered wrong anymore. Sexual exploitation of women is now women’s sexual freedom. Sex-trafficking is a fastest growing multi-billion dollar criminal industry, it influenced shitheads to believe that whoring is a noble profession. Patriarchal misogynists brainwash people with a shitty idea that a woman’s greatest asset is her beauty.
I disagree to an extent.
Every person is born with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. I don’t have a problem with a person capitalizing on those strengths to get ahead in life.
If a beautiful woman wants to make a living purely off her looks – bartender, stripper, model why is that wrong? Why is she required to reach the pinnacles of academia when she has other marketable talents? And before this gets twisted I’m not talking about prostitution and especially not sex-slavery.
The same goes for the jock with great athletic talents. If he can dominate on the court, why is he obligated to become an academic?
So yes, sometimes a woman’s greatest asset is her physical beauty and there’s nothing wrong with that. The same goes for the male athlete who is extremely physically gifted.
You play the cards you’re dealt in life and for some people that’s the physical beauty card.
Or the male underwear model, or the male stripper, or the male prostitute, for that matter. Objectification is not solely the purview of female bodies.
The problem (that both of you seem to be over-looking) is that beauty is a requirement for women and an option for men. Do you really think that the presence of male underwear models proves that the amount of male objectification in populat culture is equal to objectification of females?
@mynameischeese, nope I don’t. And I certainly oppose any discrimination against anyone based on their appearance, wherever appearance is not an actual requirement for a position (as in the case of models or whatever). That this may happen to women more often than men means that awareness and anti-discrimination efforts should probably be focused on women, but not exclusively so, because the problem is not exclusive to them.
I would also argue that appearance is not actually optional for men, in general. We definitely don’t face the same amount of sexualization or appearance-discrimination as women, to be sure. But men are still discriminated against if they are short or unattractive or bald, with taller, more-attractive men getting more job offers, higher pay and more promotions than short, unattractive ones. Men probably do have more options for working around the discrimination in many cases than women do. Not having experienced both sides of that coin I obviously can’t comment on what it feels like from the other side.
I am not trying to trivialize the experience of pressure to conform to idealized beauty standards. But I really don’t think that we live in a world anymore where women have to be attractive to get jobs, or to achieve in academia, or in business, or wherever. I just don’t see that as the reality anymore. Maybe I am blind to it. But when I Google “top executives” or “top female executives” or the like, the pictures I see look like regular women and men. They’re all well-groomed and wearing suits, they all look middle-aged and a little wrinkled and a lot of them are kind of fat, just like most middle-aged Americans. Neither the men or the women are particularly ugly or attractive.
Maybe it’s the case that really ugly women have a harder time than really ugly men. I wouldn’t be surprised, and if it is the case then that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I just like to see data rather than assertive opinions before I decide that “something must be done”.
“Maybe it’s the case that really ugly women have a harder time than really ugly men.”
Really, you think?
If you want to see the data, go through a popular science magazine and look through the articles on gender and appearance. There have been quite a few on gender/attractiveness/social visibility. There was even a fairly recent one that added race into the mix and suggested that black women were more socially invisible than white women (participants watched a video conversation between a group of white men and women and black men and women. After, they were more likely to forget the names of the black women and more likely to misattribute what the black women said).
There’s been plenty of scientific experiments done on beauty and gender/race if you’re really interested.
Can you explain how it’s a requirement for women to be attractive? Like in what scenario?
In the workplace? According to studies I’ve seen women who deem themselves too unattractive to find a man are more career driven and tend to succeed more.
In finding a mate? Sure men are much more driven by physical looks but women choose mates for superficial reasons as well.
Actually, far from excelling career-wise, the ugliest women are excluded from the workforce. In fact, the ugliest married women (the ones who are rated in the lowest 6 percent lookswise) are 8 percent less likely to look for a job than married women in general (Hamermesh, Biddle. “Beauty and the Labor Market”).
And of the women who do enter the work force, ugly women earn less than beautiful women. The full extent of the ugly penalty vrs. the beautiful reward varies from country to country. [Men also have a beauty bonus and ugliness penalty, but keep in mind when comparing the two figures that 1. the ugliest women don’t even enter the workforce and 2. men outearn women in general.]
And there are other ways that ugliness is penalised in women, but not men. First, “ugly women tend to attract the lowest quality husbands (as measured by educational achievement or earnings potential).” And then there is social visibility. People look at women first, then make a decision about whether or not to listen to what comes out of their mouths.
There’s a reason why the cosmetic industry is geared toward women in a disproportionate way. A women’s looks are so important in her lifelong earnings, that using cosmetics or having plastic surgery correlates with increased earnings.
“Patriarchal misogynists brainwash people with a shitty idea that a woman’s greatest asset is her beauty.”
This is certainly true in some cases. But for some people, male or female, their beauty IS their greatest asset. A gorgeous person with a winsome smile, an IQ of 75 and no athletic talent is probably going to be best off in life by using their beauty to get ahead just like an ugly genius will be better off relying in his/her brain for success.
The problem comes in telling women they MUST use their looks even when they have other things going for them which they would rather use. In other words, the problem is denying women agency and self-determination, which is a problem when it’s done to ANY person.
Seems like there’s a conflict between convincing women that breast cancer survivors can still be beautiful whilst using models who are airbrushed to an impossible (for most) standard in the awareness campeigns.
Also, a lot more happened in the last 20 years in medicine and in public health than just the sexualisation of breast cancer (um, for instance, free screenings available!). So it’s a little bit misleading to claim that the improvement in the survival rate is mainly down to the sexualisation of breast cancer.
Lastly, sometimes sexier/glossier/prettier = more money. But sometimes there’s a line that gets crossed. Like when that pink ribbon becomes more of a gimmick to sell other things: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_ribbon#Criticism
No Light says
This. The pink ribbons are not a fundraising tool, they’re a marketing gimmick.
OK, I hadn’t actually watched the video that Taslima had posted until just now, and yeah, it’s incredibly over-sexualized and certainly promotes the idea that the reason we should be fighting breast cancer is to make sure that horny sailors and flubby gawky guys floating in swimming pools continue to have sexy flesh to stare at. And that the tragedy of cancer is that it takes away boobs, not that it kills women in the prime of their lives.
No disagreement from me that this kind of advertizing is in totally poor taste and is not very helpful.
Erista (aka Eris) says
I don’t have much to say, just that I agree with uncephalized in that I looked at all of your sexualized/young/healthy breast pictures, and only made it through like like two of your diseased body part pictures before scrolling past them.
I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong to use sexualized/young/healthy breasts to try to do something about breast cancer, just that advertizements with the diseased photos you posted are unlikely to do much for me because I’m unlikely to see much before I look away. Right or wrong, that’s how it is.
I agree that pictures of actual tumors wouldn’t help much with fundraising or awareness, because people wouldn’t look at them. (Though it doesn’t stop leprosy charities to use pictures of disfigured people in their pamphlets and ads, maybe on the principle that if you make watchers feel guilty about their own health, they’ll give you money to bandage their feelings?)
But I’d like to see breast cancer awareness ads featuring women as *persons*, not as model-type bodies under sexy lighting, with their nearly denuded breasts as the focus.
Great video on sexual objectification:
For crying out loud, Taslima! Put a warning before you post cancer, burn victim, and deformed people pictures. I’m really not trying to be a pain, and I know as a physician you’ve got a more solid handle on your emotions when you see graphic body images, but I experience intense anxiety looking at that kind of thing. And furthermore, sometimes I’m at my university library when I visit at your blog and I can’t just suddenly let out a scream.
This has been an…enormously stressful reading.
I agree. I would appreciate a trigger warning or content note for violent imagery or pictures of blood and illnesses. It was a little triggering for me.
Ms. Nasrin has a habit of writing for maximum shock value. Her titles, her gross over-generalizations, her extreme opinions – they’re designed for maximu, shock effect. Hence the cancer images. Same thing.
I’d guess Ms. Nasrin likes to be controvesial, and likes as much controversy as possible.
One thing, she said:
“I think it is important to be healthy and to have a thinking mind rather than just to be physically attractive. ”
I think Ms. Nasrin comes at most issues with this view. In her world view, please correct me if I’m wrong, people are valued principally for the content of their character and how they can add to any action or wha tvalue they can bring – in a work/cerebral context.
This would explain her resistance to women even having the choice to be prostitutes (her refusal to consider that any woman chooses this as a better option than others she has), to indulge in porn, to engage in sex for the purpose of sex itself and to commercialize it–
And hence, her dislike of women and the fashion industry, “lookism” generally, and an apeparance-based culture.
The thing is, this ideal view of humanity is unconnected to actual human life.
Most people live lives governed by social status and the quest for social status. It defines everything: Why we study, what we study, what jobs we have, competition with others (the key motivator for almost all humans), and everything else we do.
If a woman values her attractiveness, basically, she’s seeking social status. A more attractive woman is a priori more valuable than a less attracive woman.
The sexual marketplace, which is essentially an exchange mechanism for mating, governs almost all human activity, including everything connected to socila status.
Ms. Nasrin, like an idealist, wants men and women valued equally for the precise same things.
I’d like that, too.
But, alas, on the raw mating market, men and women are valued differently. it’s based on what men and women are programmed as animals to be attracted to. One is not more shallow than the other – standards are just different.
Women want to be attractive because it gives them social status among other women, as well as men. Men want power and wealth for the same reason, as being attractive is less relevant for them.
Alas, humans are shallow beings. I’m beginning to understand why Ms. Nasrin dislikes “lookism” generally.
In this case, she’s correct: but many women won’t get breast surgery because they want to maintain their sexual identity and power.
it’s not easy for women to discard this. It’s like a man giving up his job, money or status; most men are defined by their work. it’s what makes them human, attractive, or male.
This is just how life is. We are animals; hear us burp and roar.
I suspect we’ll hear more from ms. Nasrin about this kind of thing from many angles. Most of the issues will likely coalesce around this more or less consistent philosophical point she has.
Not to say that this point is relevant or possible in the human world we have.
She’s assuming we’re much more cerebral and theoretically pure beings than we are. She’s assuming women are exactly like men and want the same things, and desire a world in which they’re considered identical to men. I may value this, but I’m under no illusions that women actually think this in any number.
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Short Man says
I’m a 5′ 6″ guy who’s had to struggle through a lot. I’ve been discriminated a shit ton. Even though I come up with most of the ideas for our group, I’m usually not allowed to present them. Our tall individual gets to do it. It’s not even that he takes care of his body more than I do. I work out, eat healthy, and take personal hygiene just as much as the other guys but I’m discriminated regardless. Am I complaining? Well kind of… but am I campaigning to have something done about it…? No. It’s fine. We were given our bodies and we have to make do. You can’t fight with what 1000’s of years of evolution has programmed us to like or dislike. Don’t give me the height isn’t the big deal. It’s the biggest deal. Most women are there are very superficial. Personality? Haha, doesn’t matter because all the girl will be thinking about is OMG, how do I show this guy off to my friends…Anyways, women, just make do with what you have and work hard. Embrace the difference. By the way…I don’t care about what women have to say about ugliness or being overweight…those things can actually be controlled atleast to SOME degree. Height is almost 100% polygenic inheritance (aka genetic). Yet I’m not petitioning for some change. Grow up women…
Short Man says
Moderator…don’t post this never mind…it’s obnoxious.
I see the merits to your argument, but shouldn’t the benefits of the sexualization of breast cancer outweigh the negatives? My own grandmother had a double mastectomy. She was a stronger, prouder woman without her breasts. She also had no qualms with how sexual breast cancer awareness had become. Shouldn’t these strong, proud, feminist women–if they are so strong–be able to reconcile the benefits of preventing this horrible disease with their own femininity? It is horrible that women have had to lose breasts, just as it is horrible for men who have lost penises. However, the huge advantage that this gives women should not be thrown out based on feminist principle.
I’ll finish this by saying I am 100% for gender equality, though pragmatic approach should be taken in situations such as this. Of all the obstacles that gender equality faces, this is not THE ONE issue that will take us backwards.
Please don’t think I am trying to start an argument, merely a civil discussion on the matter.
Mervin Wirt says
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