From Pinktober to Movember: My Thoughts on Gender Politics of Cancer Awareness

movember pinktober sexualization of breast cancer


Today is the last day of Pinktober, and already we are seeing Movember messages for men to grow moustaches in support of prostate cancer awareness.

You might have come to the same realisation that I have — it’s time to discuss the problem of the above described phenomenon: ‘the sexualization of breast cancer’. Now, this might be considered a norm, but it is NOT okay in my view.

And here’s why.

Reason #1: Using sex to sell cancer awareness is objectifying the patient’s bodies and not focusing on saving lives.

There seems to be a common underlying theme. When it comes to breast cancer, the focus commonly is on the ‘booby’. This year, there were several of these types of campaigns — Save the Ta-TasFeel Your BoobiesSave 2nd BaseBoobies Ball — you name it.

The message is clear — it’s more about saving the appearance of healthy pre-cancer stricken breasts (body parts) and less about saving the cancer patients (the people) who are suffering breast cancer. People who donate in the name of ‘boobies’ are more concerned with the pleasure from saving a sexual body organ over the lives of breast cancer patients — and I personally find that both disturbing and wrong.

Reason #2: Focusing on breast bring up painful memories of patients who had gone through mastectomy.

Being exposed to younger models flashing their naked breasts constantly during the month of October is traumatizing and can trigger painful memories for mastectomy patients and their loved ones. The insensitivity of neglecting such emotional pain for cancer patients does nothing but outrage many, who have actually endured the process.

Who would want to be constantly reminded of the fact that you were once healthy and whole. And now, because of cancer, you have lost the body part that defines your femininity. If having cancer is not bad enough. Being reminded that you are disfigured by cancer is the worst emotional burden cancer patients have to bear.

Reason #3: Harassing women in the name of cancer is simply criminal. Period.

You might have seen this video last year on the internet, “Motorboating Girls For Breast Cancer Research” madness. A group of YouTubers known as‘Simple Pickup’ decided to fondle women’s breasts on behalf of breast cancer awareness. With a camera crew, they approached several targets, pressuring women to allow three men to ‘motorboat’ them publicly. Of course, these videos were post, shared and went viral.

Let’s all try a quick thought experiment.

Imagine we used the same ’sex sells’ tactic to raise awareness for prostate cancer. The result wouldn’t be just growing a moustache for Movember — it would involve women publicly confronting men (along with the pressure of a camera crew) and asking them to stick something up their asses for money. Since that idea doesn’t fly, as explained in this clip by Joel Stein on Bill Maher’s show. It is important to remember: both breast cancer and prostate cancer are two equally deadly and serious illnesses. Both cancers kill thousands of men and women each year.

But currently, they are not being discussed in the same thoughtful and respectful manners. By respectful I mean, we need campaigns that don’t involve flashing any sexy body parts; don’t include pink drill bits; and don’t incorporate and celebrate giant pink bra sculptures.

Because we still haven’t yet seen such change occur, it’s imperative to keep donning your critical-thinking hat as a Dirty Thinker. Be fully aware of the unsettlingly different narratives in women’s and men’s health. Until the day when both cancer awareness campaigns are being run respectfully for breast cancer patients (mostly female) and prostate cancer patients (only male), the work on achieving gender equality is still not finished.

And that’s my closing thoughts for October. Happy Halloween!



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