Another October has arrived, and with it has come the endless breast cancer fundraising campaigns. “Save the Ta-tas!” “Save Second Base.” “Save the Boobies!” “I’m Here for the Boobs.” Last week I even saw a bowling tournament named “Spare the Boobies.”
These slogans have been bombarding us ever since people figured out how to make raising awareness of breast cancer “cool.” The devastation of the disease was not enough reason to get attention; clever marketing moguls decided that a little sex was needed. And humor. Humor is probably the most unconscionable excuse for slurring female body parts to promote a campaign. Take a look at the Save the Ta-tas “About Us” page:
The Save the Ta-tas® Foundation and Ta-tas® Brand was created by clothing designer Julia Fikse as a way to fight breast cancer using laughter and fun as a way to fight a serious disease. Her playful line of t-shirts and accessories include messages such as “save the ta-tas” and “caught you lookin at my ta-tas.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I find that fucking hilarious. Comedy gems, right there. I know if I had a mastectomy scheduled, I’d be loudly chortling all the way to the hospital, possibly right up until I was counting backward from ten in the operating room. I sure know my mother, who beat breast cancer in 2010, was just chock-full of bubbly giggles on her surgery day between the awkward silences and worried cheek-chewing before she disappeared behind the double doors.
And wait a minute—what if my ta-tas can’t be saved? Can I still wear the shirt?
While many people find this kind of slogan baiting completely acceptable, perhaps even clever and harmless, I encourage them to step back and look again. Any cleverness in the slogan is trumped by the realization that poorly crafted puns are being used to falsely manipulate dollars out of wallets in the name of breast cancer. And only a small percentage, if any, of sales go toward any real breast cancer research or awareness funding.
As an added bonus, these for-profit businesses are trading on female sexuality for so-called awareness of a serious, deadly, and fairly unsexy disease. Puking in the afternoon after chemo? Scary surgeries to carve up your chest? A very real and present concern over losing a part of your female sexuality when faced with a partial or full mastectomy? None of these things are sexy. However, slang terminology for female breasts—usually traditional male slang-words that we, as women, have unfortunately assimilated into our norm—is considered lighthearted. Men and self-professed “totally cool” ladies can get behind it, relieved that they don’t have to think about the big C-word directly. Best of all, people can purchase and sport cheeky t-shirts that trumpet their support of a valiant cause without having to really think about it. It’s a win-win process that goes like this: 1) buy t-shirt and believe you donated to charity; 2) wear t-shirt so everyone else believes you donated to charity; 3) don’t think about it ever again.
Nevermind that a percentage of breast cancer is male, and usually has a higher mortality rate since it goes undetected. Awareness for male breast cancer is in the gutter—in fact, the very idea of a man getting breast cancer is a little…distasteful. (A man dying of a typically female disease? Perish the thought!) But let’s face it, male breasts just aren’t fun. Why should we be interested in saving them?
To me, awareness, as the word is used today, should be a true awareness of the disease and its consequences. Awareness should be about regular breast exams. It should be about the wide-reaching scope of cancer, the sobering choices that many people face to save their lives, and it should include men’s health, too. Awareness should be more than a slogan about titties that inspires naughty giggles behind hands. Sure, people will be aware of breasts, or something to do with breasts, or just, you know…breasts. But this faux awareness doesn’t offer anything beyond that. No PSAs on early detection, yearly mammograms after 40, or unveiling the mystery of what breast cancer really is.
So is bro-humor really the only way to successfully reach a large audience for a disease that affects women? Sadly, I think the answer is yes. It seems strange to me that ovarian cancer, an exclusively female disease, lacks any kind of sexy marketing. But there just isn’t any hilarious and kinda-vulgar, frat-party terminology for the ovaries. Unless you are Henry Miller telling a woman you’d like to “turn her ovaries incandescent,” there’s really no bro-joke associated with the other internal parts of a female that can be turned into a noble campaign slogan.
That’s where my problem starts and ends. Upon examining why these campaigns are marketing to horny, hetero men and, more importantly, why our supposedly modern society supports it, I find the answer is simple. If you don’t support these campaigns, you are considered a feminazi who hates men, women, AND cancer research. The fact that you support the cause but not the marketing is conveniently overlooked as outrage ensues.
The heated questions roll in: how can you not support any fundraiser that ultimately raises money for the disease? Why are semantics more important than dollars funneled toward the cause? Why do you hate everything?
The reason I don’t support these slogans is because too often they are used in the absence of any real good being done. In other words, I took a look at the fucking facts, and I encourage others to do the same. A fraction of the profits gained from campaigns such as “Save the Ta-tas” goes to actual cancer research. According to their own website, a measly 5% of Ta-tas’ sales go toward cancer research and awareness. The Save the Boobies t-shirt shop claims to be raising “awareness,” but any mention of donating a portion of their profits to anything remotely breast cancer related is nowhere to be found on their website.
The Keep A Breast Foundation, originator of the bowling “Spare the Boobies” fundraiser and seller of the “I Love Boobies” merch, is a nonprofit, and they claim to be donating substantial funds toward fighting breast cancer. However, their 2011 financial report tells us that they donated only 6% of funds to actual cancer research—6% of the $3,000,000 that they received that year. The rest of their income went toward administration, fundraising events, and general programs. To be fair, there are some promising programs they have launched, such as the Non-Toxic Revolution (toward which they spent a mere 11% of their income); however, I still find their reductive marketing slogans disturbing, especially since they are targeting a younger audience. What statements are we making to our daughters and sons when we tell them it’s okay to reduce women to body parts as long as it’s for a good cause?
I would argue that while these organizations make very few valuable efforts to fight the disease, they are making very generous donations toward sexist attitudes in today’s “modern” society.
Of course, there’s always the plain-Jane of them all, The American Cancer Society. No sensational slogan, no cutesy or frat-humor marketing campaign. No breast jokes, which, if you don’t laugh at, make you a bitchy Debbie-Downer. Just a group of people who would like to see shitty diseases that kill people go away. If you really want to help the cause, donate to them. Seventy-two percent of donations will go toward something good—cancer research, prevention, detection and support, and patient services. And if you need a t-shirt to let everyone else know how awesome and generous you are, they can provide that, too.