Calling Bullshit on Cancer Memes
Guest Blogger // 7 November 2010
This is a guest post by Lorrie Hearts about ‘cancer awareness’ memes.
Another day, another “cancer-awareness” initiative.
This time, it’s “Boobie Wednesday”, which comes bouncing around each week in a flurry of cleavage shots and self-congratulatory remarks. Women are encouraged to replace their Twitter avatar with a picture of their breasts, and it’s all in the name of cancer awareness.
There was recently a ‘Bra Colour’ meme, when I received numerous emails urging me to “do my bit” but not to tell “the boys” what was behind the sudden wave of women posting a colour as their Facebook status. The faux coy tone of the messages encouraging participation reduced posters to giggling school girls, flashing their knickers for the boys. Nowhere, in any of the emails I received, were there links to cancer charities, hospitals, hospices or research centres. But that’s OK – it was totally about cancer.
More recently, we had large numbers of women posting status updates such as “I like it on the stairs!” and “I like it on the kitchen counter!” as part of ‘The Handbag Game’. Again, no explanation, just snippets of innuendo. This time, there was even less reference made to how this meme was going to combat cancer. But it will, obviously.
With #boobiewednesday, although the creators have stated – in the wake of some criticism – that they aren’t asking women to go topless for cancer awareness, the main focus of their website seems to be porn-like shots of supporters’ breasts.
Many of the participants seem able to communicate only in the tedious language of forbidden female sexuality, making bashful 140-character references to ‘naughty’ things.
Some supporters of Boobie Wednesday came over for a bit of a rage on my tweet
feed, and the spin was that they were talking about cancer, self-checks, awareness, lives, damnit!
As I followed the #boobiewednesday tweet-feed over the course of eight solid hours, not one single tweet linked to a cancer charity. The vast majority consisted of approving comments by men, with such side-splitting hilarity as:
“It’s #boobiewednesday! Check yours! Check your spouse’s! Check that chick in accounting… wait. Bad idea.”
As you can see, it was all rip-roaring, wholesome good fun. And totally about cancer. The
good times continued when I criticised the idea of #boobiewednesday on my tweet-feed.
I received aggressive tweets from both co-founders and some of their supporters. In the
same light-hearted vein, I was presented with pictures of post-surgery mastectomy sites
and was told that I had set the cause of feminism back by decades. These messages did not stop until I blocked the senders.
When I questioned (again, on my tweet-feed) why there was no mention of donating or fundraising, I was DMed by a male tweeter and told that the topless pictures were infinitely preferable. When I questioned him on this point, I was soon denounced as a humourless feminazi. The insulting, misogynistic tweets about me continued long into the afternoon.
Similarly, when I objected on my Facebook page to the bra colour game, I was attacked by other women, telling me in no uncertain terms to lighten up and get over myself.
It seems that breasts are now public property and anyone is entitled to encourage me to get my kit off. The normal questions as to whether the whole thing might just be a bit sexist are drowned out by the trumpets of those ‘cancer awareness activists’ who are coming up with, and propagating, these memes. Breasts have been well and truly reclaimed for yet another cause and I, as a woman, have absolutely no right to object.
Well, I do object. I object hugely to the fact that pink-washing in the name of breast cancer has become the ultimate good cause. I object to the fact that cancer awareness has to be wrapped up in fluffy ideas, ‘sexy’ games and childish euphemisms. I object to the sheer arrogance of those individuals who conceive cheap and meaningless memes and then slap each other on the back for their ‘activism’ while doing little or nothing to actually inform women about how to prevent and detect cancer.
I object, primarily, to the fact that the best thing women can do for cancer awareness –
something which is fast being framed as our ‘duty’ to our sisters – is to show our breasts on the internet. Are we as women really so powerless and unimaginative that our bare breasts are all we have to offer? I’m calling bullshit on this one.