The Problem with Breast Cancer Campaigns

This morning, I opened my email and saw this, sent courtesy of Hungry Boiler at Purdue:

Cup Size Matters

Who's best interests are being served by such campaigns?

Who’s best interests are being served by such campaigns?

From a feminist perspective, what’s the problem with such campaigns, despite what seem like good intentions (i.e., breast cancer research).

There’s a theme here, as with other “cutesy” campaigns that attempt to make breast cancer a crude joke (e.g., the pun on “cups” here).

For starters, a huge part of the problem with such campaigns is that breast cancer isn’t fundamentally about “saving boobs,” but about saving women’s lives. And what kind of message does this send to women about why they should get regular breast exams? The message here makes getting a breast exam into a frat boy joke, some sort of titillating exercise where a woman protects her “boobs” because she wouldn’t want to lose them (never mind her health or her life). But of course, for those who are diagnosed, breast cancer isn’t funny at all.

The other problem, of course, is that breast cancer can also be found outside of a woman’s breasts, for example, on the chest well or pressed against the ribcage. Perhaps most harmful of all is the fact that such campaigns – pushes for “creating awareness” that start with preventative tests that can be prohibitively expensive for many women without insurance – prevent us from looking for underlying causes, like environmental pollution, industrial agriculture, and a diet of increasingly process and genetically-modified foods – all of which contribute to rising rates of all cancers.

Notable Current Events for Your Journal

As you’re working on your Current Events journals, I wanted to share a couple of recent articles, which you may or may not have already stumbled on yourselves. These are certainly timely and might be of interest to several of you.

Number 1: The Winter Olympics in Sochi

“Why the Olympics are a Lot Like ‘The Hunger Games'”

Number 2: Healthcare and the LGBTQ Community

Next week, we’ll start talking about sexuality and sexual identity, as well as sex education, so this article seems rather timely: “Idaho Bill Would Allow Doctors or Cops to Refuse Service to LGBT People on Religious Grounds.”

Number 3: The Purdue Women’s Archive

For those of you who really enjoyed your trip to the archive, here’s an excuse to go back: you can use one of your Current Events Journal entries to discuss something you look at in the Women’s Archive. Remember that you need to email an archivist, like Stephanie, ahead of time so they can retrieve the materials for you. Click here to view what’s in the archive before you request material.

Historic 1913 Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.

Lawyer Inez Milholland led the march on a white horse.

Lawyer Inez Milholland led the march on a white horse.

The march was quite theatrical, with women dressed as figures such as Liberty.

The march was quite theatrical, with women dressed as figures such as Liberty.

Delegations followed, women grouped by professions (including garment workers and scholars), by ethnicity and/or citizenship status (e.g., immigrant women). Delegations carried hastily-stitched homemade banners made from bedsheets or scraps of fabric. Other delegations carried garlands or wore sashes to identify themselves.

Delegations followed, women grouped by professions (including garment workers and scholars), by ethnicity and/or citizenship status (e.g., immigrant women). Delegations carried hastily-stitched homemade banners made from bedsheets or scraps of fabric. Other delegations carried garlands or wore sashes to identify themselves.

A sketch showing the order in which the delegations marched in Washington, D.C.

A sketch showing the order in which the delegations marched in Washington, D.C.

Former slave, Ida B. Wells, the journalist who forcibly desegregated the march by stepping into its midst with a delegation of Black women.

Former slave, Ida B. Wells, the journalist who forcibly desegregated the march by stepping into its midst with a delegation of Black women.

The film Iron-Jawed Angels (2004) portrays this historic march in one scene, including a sampling of delegations marching and the heckling and violence inflicted on the women marchers by the (largely male) crowd that attended the march. The scene also shows newly-elected Woodrow Wilson arriving at the train station to almost non-existent fanfare (because everyone was at the march).

Hilary Swank plays Alice Paul, who marched in her academic gown, Julia Ormond plays Inez Milholland, who leads the march on her white horse, and Adilah Barnes plays Ida B. Wells. (FYI: the background music becomes chant composed by 11th century German abbess, writer, composer, mystic, and activist-in-her-own-right Hildegard von Bingen).

 

CONTINUING THE FIGHT

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, the two radical American suffragettes who organized the march, and many other suffragettes continued working to gain the right to vote after the march, picketing the White House in 1917 until President Wilson had them arrested.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul

A suffragette with a poster challenging President Woodrow Wilson's hypocrisy (c. 1913) in being alarmed at the Germans' lack of freedom while overlooking women citizens' lack of freedom in his own country.

A suffragette with a poster challenging President Woodrow Wilson’s hypocrisy (c. 1913) in being alarmed at the Germans’ lack of freedom while overlooking women citizens’ lack of freedom in his own country.

Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others picketed outside the White House in all weather to pressure the president to grant women suffrage.

Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others picketed outside the White House in all weather to pressure the president to grant women suffrage.