Boobs: Breast cancer’s most tragic victims

A press release for Boobiethon ’06 made its way into Feministing mailboxes this week. Wait, you ask, didn’t we already participate in Boobiethon ’06? But no, this is an annual event that “features bloggers showing their (covered and uncovered) breasts in order to raise money for charity during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

There will be a separate, passworded “pay-per-boobie” page for bare-breasted photos, which will be available to donors of $50.00 or more.

At the risk of being labeled “anti-boobie” (which I’m definitely not), I say: Ugh. I’m no fan of breast cancer, and I’m certainly not ashamed of my body, but I won’t be participating. Is this really the best way to raise money and awareness?
Broadsheet called it “objectification for a good cause.” Then Boobiethon founder Robyn Pollman writes in comments, “I happen to think sending a message that “if our breasts are worth looking at, they’re worth saving” is very empowering.
And I think that gets to the heart of what’s unsettling to me about this campaign. I don’t like the implication that certain parts of women’s bodies are “worth saving” because they’re sexy. Boobiethon is sending a message that breast cancer should be stopped because it claims beautiful breasts as its victims– not because it’s a horrible disease that’s killing women. I’d almost prefer a website that featured women naked from the belly button up, and showed their faces. Because at least then you can see that this disease affects real women, not just disembodied breasts.
Then take a look at where the Boobiethon proceeds are directed. You’ll note that the effort benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which lends its pink ribbon logo to help sell M&Ms, Kitchen Aid mixers, Yoplait, Lean Cuisine frozen meals, Avon products, on and on and on. The foundation also focuses its efforts on finding a cure rather than searching for and exposing causes of the disease.
This is a perfect opportunity to plug what looks like an amazing new book, Pink Ribbons, Inc., about the market-driven industry for breast-cancer survivorship. (Twisty is a fan. And you can check out an excerpt here.)

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23 Comments

  1. Posted September 29, 2006 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure their intentions are good, but isn’t this the exact same horseshit Althouse and company pulled? Trying to reduce intelligent women who have so much more to offer to a cause like this to their anatomies? It just seems sick and creepy to me.
    On a more practical, one doesn’t really need to pay $50.00 to see naked breasts on the internets, does one?

  2. EG
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    On, come on. If they were raising money to fight testicular cancer, would they be approaching male bloggers for ball-shots? One shudders to imagine these people’s ideas to raise money for genital warts research.

  3. Posted September 29, 2006 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Recently Twisty reported that, at a country club pool that her sister took her to, they insisted that Twisty cover her mastectomy scars as “inappropriate”.
    If raising public awareness of breast cancer is the POINT, I think allowing mastectomy scars to be seen would be a step in the right direction.

  4. Posted September 29, 2006 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your insight. I stopped buying pink kitchen gadgets and things that make money off breast cancer. I have written Avon asking them to consider that the “walk for Breast Cancer,” is a crap name – why not walk for a cure? walk for health? The very idea of marketing cancer (pink M&M’s?) and diagnosis with no cure is diabolical.

  5. Posted September 29, 2006 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Ugh. I’m no fan of breast cancer, and I’m certainly not ashamed of my body, but I won’t be participating. Is this really the best way to raise money and awareness?
    C’mon, do all ways to raise awareness have to be “the best”? Are we going to spend our time nitpicking about multiple channels into the consciousness, like people have with your banner logo?
    If they were raising money to fight testicular cancer, would they be approaching male bloggers for ball-shots?
    Would it raise money and awareness? I don’t see why not, then. However, I suspect there’s more overall appreciation for a lovely breast than there is for a sagging, hairy testicle. Nope, I have absolutely no data, but then, I’m betting neither do you.

  6. NBarnes
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Ugh. They don’t make a model much more pro-porn than I am, but this rubs me the wrong way.
    NTodd, the entire idea that there’s a market for pictures of breasts but not one for pictures of testicles is exactly the point. I’m not sure that ‘raising awareness’ of breath cancer with softcore porn is precisely the awareness that ought to be being raised, in context.
    One of the reasons that I’m okay with porn in the basic sense is that I believe not that porn is harmless, but that I believe that the harmless aspects of porn, in production and in consumption, are not intrinsic to it being porn, but part of how we handle it in our culture. This project is not, IM terribly HO, approaching the issue correctly and does seem to be presenting female writers and bloggers as body parts rather than as complete human beings. This level of breast fetishism seems to me like it can’t be gender progressive.

  7. NBarnes
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Model == version, not model == fashion. I shouldn’t try to be wry and eloquent at 3:48 am.

  8. Posted September 30, 2006 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    NTodd, the entire idea that there’s a market for pictures of breasts but not one for pictures of testicles is exactly the point. I’m not sure that ‘raising awareness’ of breath cancer with softcore porn is precisely the awareness that ought to be being raised, in context.
    Why not? If it can help raise money, what good reason is there not to do it?

  9. Alecto
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Alon Levy, go read Twisty’s post on the consumerism of breast cancer here:
    http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2006/09/19/crunch-for-the-cure/
    Also go see the Bad Girls of Breast Cancer (http://www.bcaction.org/index.html). They have a lot of info on the detrimental effects of corporate “breast cancer awareness”

  10. dhsredhead
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    This could be positive if it was done in a more classy way. Like if they invited breast cancer survivors to pose nude in a calendar and had a corresponding gallery showing in order to raise money for research. This idea just seems tacky. I don’t agree with the idea posted above that we should do anything to raise money for a good cause. If PETA started selling hot dogs to raise money, I think people would be equally disgusted as I am with this idea. Breast cancer research is supposed to be pro-women and selling shots of women’s boobs for 50 bucks online is not very pro-women at all.

  11. EG
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    “If it can help raise money, what good reason is there not to do it?”
    Because it promotes a commodified view of sex in which women are passive objects of consumption.
    Lots of things make money. That doesn’t mean they’re socially responsible or morally acceptable.

  12. michellejm
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    As a two time breast cancer survivor, Boobiethon certainly doesn’t “empower” me. Is having “breasts worth looking at” what cancer research is about? Instead of celebrating the fact that I am ALIVE, should I mourn because I’ve not been offered cash for a photo of my reconstructions?
    Others have written eloquently about the cult of the pink ribbon, but I’d like to add this: whenever a well-meaning friend gives me a piece of pink kitsch, I can only think “Oh joy, another souvenir of the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
    Please, if you’d like to do something useful, donate directly to medical centers researching prevention and treatment, or to organizations providing mammograms and information to the underprivileged and uninsured.

  13. Posted September 30, 2006 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Breast cancer research is supposed to be pro-women and selling shots of women’s boobs for 50 bucks online is not very pro-women at all.
    Breast cancer research is supposed to be pro-curing breast cancer. It shouldn’t be used for sexist purposes, but that’s true of everything; singling out breast cancer research is pointless.
    There’s more to scientific research than promoting your political agenda of choice. Saving lives is good enough on its own, regardless of the gender implications.

  14. Sally
    Posted October 1, 2006 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Breast cancer research is supposed to be pro-curing breast cancer. It shouldn’t be used for sexist purposes, but that’s true of everything; singling out breast cancer research is pointless.

    I have a bunch of thoughts about that.
    1. Breast cancer research isn’t being singled out. This is a feminist blog that applies feminist analysis to all sorts of media campaigns and issues surrounding women’s health. Breast cancer awareness products shouldn’t be singled out for feminist condemnation, but they shouldn’t be exempt from feminist analysis, either.
    2. Feminists pioneered breast cancer awareness. Back when feminists were the only people talking fearlessly about breast cancer, that discussion was informed by radical, feminist (which is not the same thing as radical feminist…) analysis. Now, the breast cancer awareness movement has been coopted by the mainstream, and that radical, feminist analysis is almost completely gone.
    Instead, breast cancer awareness products promote a pretty retrograde version of femininity. Everything is pink, and among the pink breast cancer awareness products you can purchase are pink vacuum cleaners, pink Lean Cuisine diet frozen meals with a special pink carrying case to transport your lo-cal frozen lunch to work, pink Jimmie Choo shoes, and lots and lots of pink makeup. Now, I have nothing against makeup or painful shoes or frozen dinners, but I do think that the cutesy, hyper-feminine breast cancer stuff conveys the wrong message.
    This vision is also apolitical. You’re supposed to support breast cancer research by buying stuff. There’s no mention, for instance, of voting for policies that will help seriously ill people or of trying to figure out whether there are environmental reasons that breast cancer is becoming more prevelent.
    This is especially problematic because the “breast cancer awareness” movement seems to be providing the template by which all women’s health issues get discussed and funded. For instance, there’s the new “red dress” campaign about heart disease, which is similarly cutesy and apolitical.
    3. Companies sell these products as supporting breast cancer research, but in fact they often donate very little to breast cancer causes. They very rarely donate all of the profits from the breast cancer awareness products, and it’s often only a very small fraction of the profits. Most of the profit goes to the company. Therefore, “breast cancer awareness” products use women’s real pain to shill merchandise for large corporations.
    4. “Breast cancer awareness” products make a mockery of the concept of support. You want to support someone with breast cancer? Don’t rush out and buy a pink lip gloss. Instead, offer to drive a woman to chemo appointments, or offer to bring her dinner when she isn’t up to cooking, or offer to spell her partner or kids at the hospital when they badly need a break. My best friend’s mom recently died of breast cancer after a brutal four-year battle, and it became clear to me that, even as the number of “supportive” products has risen, a lot of people have no idea how to be genuinely supportive. Or maybe they just don’t care enough. “Support” is not a consumer choice. It’s a willingness actually to make an effort to be helpful. Wearing a pink t-shirt isn’t going to cut it.
    5. I think the October pink extraveganza can actually be a bit cruel. My best friend dreads October, because it’s all breast cancer, all the time, everywhere. She says that, for the past four years, she’s been really happy when she could spend a half an hour or forty-five minutes thinking about something other than breast cancer. All the ostentatious support products get in the way of her ability to do that.

  15. Ann
    Posted October 1, 2006 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Many amazing points, Sally.
    This is especially interesting:

    This is especially problematic because the “breast cancer awareness” movement seems to be providing the template by which all women’s health issues get discussed and funded. For instance, there’s the new “red dress” campaign about heart disease, which is similarly cutesy and apolitical.

  16. Posted October 1, 2006 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    This vision is also apolitical. You’re supposed to support breast cancer research by buying stuff. There’s no mention, for instance, of voting for policies that will help seriously ill people or of trying to figure out whether there are environmental reasons that breast cancer is becoming more prevelent.
    That’s not specific to breast cancer. Political activity is about the most efficient form of charity.
    For example, it probably won’t cost more than 2 billion dollars to dragoon the US federal government to increase development aid and fatal disease research funding by several times as much as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can spend every year. But spending a few dollars on a cause is seen as purer than spending a few dollars on convincing other people to spend many more dollars on the same cause, so philanthropists do what will make them look good rather than what will help people.
    The same principle applies to breast cancer. Purity is always about symbolic acts, and most people, even most activists, are concerned with purity more than with results. So buying a pink breast cancer product is preferred to donating money to breast cancer advocacy groups, just like buying fair trade products is preferred to buying cheaper things and donating the difference to the a pro-fair trade lobby.
    In any case, subordinating breast cancer research to feminist politics is counterproductive. BC politics should best consist of pushing for more funding of BC research, better health coverage, and better preventive care, and of public education campaigns.

  17. Vervain
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t like this. The underlying message (intentional or not) seems to be “Save the boobies!” rather than “Save the women.
    And that’s just…not good.

  18. Scarlet
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Does it mean that if your breasts are not “worth looking at”, you deserve to die of breast cancer???

  19. Posted October 2, 2006 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    My mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer in both of her breasts last year. In the winter, she had two separate mastectomies. Then this summer, because of fears about ovarian cancer (which is genetically tied to breast cancer) given her ovarian cysts and uterine cancer given her fibroids, she had a hysterectomy. Since the mastectomies she is trying to learn how to live as a 49 year old with no breasts. She and my father were talking about taking a vacation to Disney World sometime soon and she told me her first thought was “We can’t do that! I can’t go to Disney World without my breasts…”
    Somehow I suspect that she wouldn’t enjoy such a campaign. Given she doesn’t have any breasts, I guess she can’t participate? Kind of funny that a campaign trying to raise money for breast cancer has implicitly excluded lots of people who have actually had breast cancer!

  20. Posted October 5, 2006 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I just did an interview with Samantha King, the author of Pink Ribbon Inc. on CFUV Women on Air. She spoke about some really interesting stuff.

  21. Posted October 7, 2006 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I think that Roybns heart is in the right place. You people really need to get a grip.

  22. labcoats4me
    Posted October 11, 2006 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Pink Ribbon fund raising is simply a marketing strategy designed to get people, mostly women to buy stuff. The amount of money that goes to breast cancer research is pennies not on the dollar, but on the hundreds or thousands of dollars of sales revenue. So, yeah, pink ribbon campaigns use a disease that kills women to sell stuff. I would call that exploitation.
    Furthermore, there is no central clearing house for tracking results of breast cancer research to insure that studies are not duplicated and that funds are allocated in such a way that forward progress is made. Plenty of scientists, mostly male, have gotten tenure and promotion because their scholarship is funded by breast cancer research money. I am not saying breast cancer research isn’t important, but until we have a “Marshall Plan” to control this disease which is increasing in incidence the research isn’t going to fix the problem.
    Breast cancer is big business for drug companies, companies that engage in breast cancer themed cause related marketing, and for science. I guess I think that this is enough exploitation without having women expose their breasts for the cause of breast cancer. I want women to feel that having no hair and no breasts means that they are warriors, not that they need to be “saved” by other women with breasts, or by pink stuff, or by men in lab coats doing obscure research that will benefit only a handfull of the more than 40,000 women who will die of this disease.
    When I suggested to my health care provider that pink ribbons should be replaced by camo ribbons to signify the fight against breast cancer the receptionist said that camo wouldn’t be “as pretty”. So there I was with no hair and one breast and I needed to worry about pretty…
    Enough is enough.

  23. susanb
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    i raise money for breast cancer through pool tournaments. This is the way to raise money for breast cancer. I am unsure what they were thinking when they were raising money for a good cause.
    peritoneal mesothelioma

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