Sassy retail campaigns have sprung up everywhere, purporting to “support the cause.” There is Save the Ta-Tas (a line that includes T-shirts and a liquid soap called Boob Lube), Save Second Base, Project Boobies (the slogan on its T-shirts promoting self-exam reads, “I grab a feel so cancer can’t steal,” though the placement of its hot-pink handprints makes it virtually impossible for them to belong to the shirt’s wearer). There is the coy Save the Girls campaign, whose T-shirt I saw in the window of my local Y.M.C.A. And there is “I ❤ Boobies” itself, manufactured by an organization called Keep a Breast (get it?).
Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”
There’s no question that many women, myself included, experience breast cancer as an assault on our femininity. Feeling sexual in the wake of mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation or chemo is a struggle, one that may or may not result in a new, deeper understanding of yourself. While Betty Rollin acknowledged such visceral feelings about breasts, she never reduced herself to them. And in the 1990s, the fashion model Matuschka’s notorious photo of her own mastectomy scar (published on the cover of this magazine) demanded that the viewer, like breast-cancer patients themselves, confront and even find beauty in the damage.
By contrast, today’s fetishizing of breasts comes at the expense of the bodies, hearts and minds attached to them. Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.
Rather than being playful, which is what these campaigns are after, sexy cancer suppresses discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — the ones whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible. It also reinforces the idea that breasts are the fundamental, defining aspect of femininity. My friend’s daughter may have been uncertain about what her bracelet “for breast cancer” meant, but I am betting she got that femininity equation loud and clear.
I hate to be a buzz kill, but breast cancer is just not sexy. It’s not ennobling. It’s not a feminine rite of passage. And, though it pains me to say it, it’s also not very much fun. I get that the irreverence is meant to combat crisis fatigue, the complacency brought on by the annual onslaught of pink, yet it similarly risks turning people cynical. By making consumers feel good without actually doing anything meaningful, it discourages understanding, undermining the search for better detection, safer treatments, causes and cures for a disease that still afflicts 250,000 women annually (and speaking of figures, the number who die has remained unchanged — hovering around 40,000 — for more than a decade).
As for me, I bear in mind the final statement that a college pal of mine who was dying of breast cancer (last October, in the midst of all that sexy pink) made to her younger brother. She was about to leave two young sons to grow up without a mother; her husband to muddle through without his wife. She could barely speak at the time, barely breathe. But when her brother leaned forward, she whispered two words in his ear: “This sucks.”Continue reading the main story
Lynn Peril presents an essay carefully chosen from the introduction of her book “Pink Think” about the chauvinism of the 1940’s to 1970’s as “a set of ideas and attitudes about what constitutes proper female behavior” (pg. 281). Women of the pink think era were persuaded by “advice [that] ranges from rather vague proscriptions along the lines of ‘nice girls don’t chew gum/swear/wear pants/fill-in-the blank,’ to obsessively elaborate instructions for daily living” (pg. 280) as guides of achieving ideal femininity. “Pink Think” wrote by Lynn Peril offers an assortment of brilliant evidences and facts, witty humor, and resilient opinions on sexism present from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, creating a comical, yet realistic view of the pink think era for readers.
Peril presents a collection of examples of pink think or things which encourage women to groom themselves to be appropriately girly to fulfill their potential. For example, “a teen girl’s focus should be on dating and getting a boyfriend” (pg. 283). It is mesmerizing to read about the development of feminine modesty, which Peril illustrates throughout the essay with abundant factoids highlighted with bullets within the text of the essay. “Betsy Martin McKinney told readers of Ladies’ Home Journal that…sexual activity commenced with intercourse and completed with pregnancy and childbirth” (pg. 280-81). This particular bulleted point precisely offers an excellent view on sexual intercourse and how girls of the think pink era were taught to think. “[A] new game for girls called Miss Popularity (“The True American Teen”), in which players competed to see who could accrue the most votes…for such attributes as nice legs…[and] a constant’s figure, voice, and type” (pg. 281), once again is used an additional bulleted fact to emphasis the magnitude that was taken to influence girls and women on how to be an impeccable woman. “Pink Think” is extraordinarily fascinating to read about the books,...