Calling Bullshit on Cancer Memes

// 7 November 2010

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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.

Comments From You

Kirsty // Posted 7 November 2010 at 9:18 pm

Thank you for neatly summing up why I can’t stand these memes! It makes me angry that people attacked you instead of making any effort to enter into a dialogue with you.

Joanne // Posted 7 November 2010 at 11:44 pm

Completely agree. I was uncomfortable with the association of ‘naughty’ female sexuality with cancer awareness. That’s not what awareness looks like. Especially if you haven’t a clue what people are on about when they say ‘I like it on the…’, as I didn’t.

On a side note, I was discussing this with my boyfriend and other male friends t’other day, and whether the testicular (sp?) cancer related Movember thing where normally clean-shaven men grow a moustache in November, is a similarly useless awareness attempt, or better because men involved get sponsorship and thus raise money. I’m not sure. But I’m going to remind my not normally clean-shaven boyfriend that he was intending to re-style his moustache and beard for Movember and is a week late. :)

Lizzy // Posted 8 November 2010 at 12:30 am

Thank you for highlighting this – I wasn’t aware of the Wednesday thing but regarding the bra colour and “handbag” facebook messages I felt exactly the same as you. I desperately wanted to change my status to something like “I like my bag on the chair, but prefer to be on a bed for sex”, but didn’t feel up to dealing with the inevitable repercussions from disgruntled “friends”.

A while ago I read an excellent point about this from another feminist, who pointed out that some women who have had breast cancer have had to have a mastectomy, and as such may not be overjoyed to read their friends’ giggly comments about bra colours.

Rosi01 // Posted 8 November 2010 at 12:58 am

Thank you for this post!

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was never comfortable with these cancer memes and the coy, schoolgirlish tone of it all which really just serves to trivialise the issue. Thank you for putting my frustrations into words so eloquently.

Christa aka Never teh Bride // Posted 8 November 2010 at 1:26 am

I also hated those stupid memes. It’s all well and good if someone wants to talk about where they like it or what color their underthings are, but to cloak it in ‘cancer awareness’ is just a kick in the face to those people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. And yes, I absolutely agree that it reduces women to locker room proportions. After all, when was the last time I saw boxers for cancer awareness or something similar?

Amy // Posted 8 November 2010 at 2:26 am

Thank you for stating what I feel needs to be said. My mother died from breast cancer at age 41, almost 20 years ago. These internet memes do absolutely nothing to help the real, live people in treatment for cancer. If people really want to help, a donation to hospice or a local cancer charity would go much farther than stating that you put your purse on the floor.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 8 November 2010 at 6:01 am

F, yes! I hate these things, that’s why I never do them. Thank god I’m not on twitter. These breast cancer efforts irritate the hell out of me- and I lost my grandmother to breast cancer. I’m high risk too, so it’s one of my big fears. If there were a single useful cause I’d do it, but I refuse to participate in the commoditization and pinking up of a freaking cancer. (Not to mention, I LOATHE pink.) Just do the damn research already and tell us why so many women are getting cancer. And quit tarting up the awareness efforts, people- it’s annoying.

Lindsey // Posted 8 November 2010 at 9:24 am

Your Twitter experiences sound a lot like street harassment: if you get your tits out for the lads everyone approves but dare to refuse and you get heaps of abuse.

*now waiting for street harassers to use cancer awareness as an excuse*

Kathryn // Posted 8 November 2010 at 10:17 am

My cousin recently had a mastectomy, at the age of 25. It was really, really helpful for her to be confronted by a bunch of “Cop a Feel” ‘campaigners’ on the way to work, in Trafalgar Square. Obviously made her feel really supported, and not at all sad, offended, disregarded, angry, upset. It’s getting further and further from the actual issue and doing more harm than good, now. The patients are being erased from the breast cancer industry.

I was so angry about the handbag game and poured scorn and ire onto anyone who unthinkingly sent them my way. I don’t give a shit if they think I’m humourless. Breast cancer is not funny. Cancer is not funny. Breast tumours are not sexy. Radiotherapy/chemotherapy is not fun. This whole thing is bullshit.

sianushka // Posted 8 November 2010 at 12:08 pm

i’m really pleased that there seems to be more of a backlash against these memes this year, i have seen a lot of articles challenging the efficacy and sexism of these campaigns which is a real relief as i felt i was alone in thinking they were awful!

it is all part of seeing women’s bodies as only and always sexual, in my view. that even a cancer that mainly effects women, a horrible disease, has to be sexy to be taken seriously. at least with movember men do it as a sponsored event to raise money, as opposed to ‘raising awareness’ that doesn’t actually raise awareness. and, as kathryn points out above, most of these memes do not support or respect women’s experience of cancer.

the worst example i have seen is hooters raising money for breast cancer research with the slogan ‘i saved hooters’. not ‘i saved women’ or ‘i saved lives’ just ‘i saved the part of a woman’s body that hooters have decided is the most important thing about her’. it’s just horrible.

hopefully more and more women will speak out like you have about this and perhaps we can start raising awareness, money and support rather than being told that titillating men with pics of our breasts is a great way to raise awareness of a disease.

Olly D // Posted 8 November 2010 at 12:32 pm

If I’m honest, I know jack and shit about feminism. But even then I’m struggling to see how not getting your boobs out when bidden by a silly movement or objecting to “Cop a Feel” ‘campaigners’ (although I’ve not heard of those up North) means you’re setting it back.

But yeah, god-damn, these “awareness” memes annoy me. At this point, who ISN’T aware of cancer? These memes don’t even raise money, which at least this Movember seems to be doing. To me it just seems like people are getting an “I did a good thing” buzz without actually contributing anything to the causes. It’s just faffing about on Twitter and Facebook and declaring “FOR CANCER” afterwards to let you pretend that you’re somehow a better person for doing it.

JBK // Posted 8 November 2010 at 12:43 pm

Well BOOBS are about sex and their meaning to men and their bartering value on the trade floor. No boobies. No sex, not sexually attractive. not real woman – non person. I don’t know about you but don’t you find it weird that there is more focus on Boobie cancer than any other cancer. Anyway maybe the news is not out, they found an enzyme that counteracts breast cancer and reverses it. Breast cancer is one the better treatable cancers. The technology is now being transfered to male prostate and testicular cancer. As you know what makes our boobies and bits is what makes mens bollocks and other bits in womb. so one step said this innovation may be relevant to male cancer.

But there are a lot other cancers that are far nastier. Throat, stomach, bone, bowel. Why r we struck on the boobies? Because they are boobies and others can titilate and obsess. Want a picture or my arse? OK don’t answer that because we know some of them do. Fought for this myself. But I think if we did not have breasts or boobies in the title it would never get a notice.

Elmo // Posted 8 November 2010 at 1:26 pm

Totally agree.

Aside from anything else, the handbag meme didnt really make much sense.

Next time one comes up I’m going to hopefully have the courage to post something more useful and relevant to actually raising awareness.

Gary J Laverty // Posted 8 November 2010 at 2:07 pm

Couldn’t agree more. There memes have been appearing on Facebook more and more and angers me to such a degree, I’ve actually stopped talking to some people. All they’ve effectively done is reduce cancer awareness to the level of a Benny Hill sketch. As a man (a real one in my opinion) I feel as if it’s my duty and my right to support real cancer awareness messages (it’s taken a terrible toll on my own family) these memes do more harm than good. Real men agree with the viewpoints raised here. Any man who calls you a feminazi isn’t a real man and probably has a subscription to Nuts or Zoo magazine. Question their motives.

Emma-Louise Hardman // Posted 8 November 2010 at 2:23 pm

I like it … not being a silly, pointless and demeaning game. An awareness campaign that deliberately excludes half the population does not seem all that bright and it’s truly depressing to think that women believe that suggestively talking about the colour of their bra or where they leave their handbag is their greatest demonstration of power.

Thanks – great article!

Joana // Posted 8 November 2010 at 2:57 pm

I wonder why there aren’t any asshole wednesday campaigns were men are encouraged to replace their profile pics with pictures of their arse holes in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer? VERY GOOD POST.

Mary // Posted 8 November 2010 at 3:11 pm

When we’re posting pictures of our toilet paper to raise bowel cancer awareness, then the bra-colour/boob picture people might have a point. Until then… yep. It’s giving attention-seekers an excuse to post their tits in pursuit of adulation.

Shmare // Posted 8 November 2010 at 3:39 pm

THANK YOU. I’ve never liked pink, but these days, I find myself hating it with a passion. Last week, I actually saw PINK TOILET PAPER for breast cancer awareness. Never mind that if I actually used that stuff, I’d have a rash “down there,” faster than you could say “all the proceeds go to experimentally giving cancer to rats and none of the proceeds will go to disseminating information about prevention through, say, GOOD NUTRITION AND EXERCISE.” You rock for having the pink balls to speak the unspeakable and criticise “cancer awareness.”

spiralsheep // Posted 8 November 2010 at 5:22 pm


Alex T // Posted 8 November 2010 at 9:15 pm

Yes! Yes! What everyone else said!

I too hope to have the courage to denounce this crap next time it comes around.

Nelle // Posted 8 November 2010 at 9:38 pm

Very well put. Your point that nowhere do these status updates actually signpost how to donate money to the good causes they are apparently supporting really resonated. In fact, mostly they are just interpreted as meaningless joke memes (I didn’t even know/understand the ‘handbag’ one until I read this blog entry, in fact, despite having seen a lot of women’s status updates with it recently!).

Mica // Posted 8 November 2010 at 10:02 pm

ITA Joana. It will be a cold day in hell before we see testical tuesdays or arse hole mondays where men take personal pictures of themselves in order to raise awareness for cancer.

Melanie // Posted 9 November 2010 at 12:43 pm

Isn’t it also the case that a lot of this bullshit gets money from manufacturers of mammography machines, which is big business! And who also don’t want to reply to points such as ‘if a woman has an annual mammogram from the age of 40, by about 50 she’ll have had as much radiation as someone living within a kilometre of the Hiroshima atom bomb? And is mass screening radiation of soft tissue a good thing?

Helen // Posted 9 November 2010 at 1:18 pm

Please keep making this point, whatever abuse stupid people throw at you! I joined in the first meme (the bra colour one) as I didn’t see any harm in it and it was only after I read a similar article to this that I really thought about it, and now I agree completely that it’s pointless at best, and trivialising and objectifying in plenty of cases. A lot of the people who post this stuff just haven’t really thought about it, and if it happens again I’m linking them to your post. Thank you for writing.

Sarah // Posted 9 November 2010 at 2:57 pm

Amen and thank you for giving me something to link to on my Facebook in retaliation :D

BareNakedLady // Posted 9 November 2010 at 7:52 pm

Totally well said. Next time one of these isn’t-cancer-fun memes goes around I will be linking to this article. Thank you.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 9 November 2010 at 10:21 pm

Hi Jennifer,

According to Cancer Research UK:

“In men, breast cancer is very rare. There are about 300 men diagnosed each year in the UK, compared with more than 45,500 cases of breast cancer in women.”

Hannah // Posted 9 November 2010 at 10:26 pm

Thanks for the great article! Laurie Penny also wrote something equally brilliant on the same topic in the New Statesman, link for anyone who didn’t see it:

As with everyone else, I didn’t respond to the messages I got about this, or to people’s statuses, because I didn’t want to look like a prude or the classic ‘stuck-up feminist’. I find it disturbing to see ‘cancer awareness’ being used as a cover for objectification, harassment and sexually suggestive jokes, to the extent that Nuts could probably rebrand itself as helping men protect their partners from cancer and no-one would bat an eyelid. Reading this article and the comments has given me a bit more courage to challenge these stupid insensitive memes next time I see them.

coldharbour // Posted 9 November 2010 at 10:37 pm

“Well BOOBS are about sex and their meaning to men and their bartering value on the trade floor. No boobies. No sex, not sexually attractive.”

Unless they are not heterosexual men that is, I am I the only one who notices a lot of heteronormative comments about men here? Maybe I should start calling bullshit out on that. If you’re thinking ‘oh dahh poor (even if they’re gay) menz’ don’t bother replying, it was an embarrassing meaningless phrase when it was first used, it’s an embarrassing meaningless phrase now.

Juliet // Posted 9 November 2010 at 11:16 pm

Thanks for posting about this. It’s great to know I’m by no means the only person who has always loathed this kind of crap.

Some of the comments from men on those sites are awful. Can’t they even stop it for something like this? It’s as if they see it as more licence to judge and leer, f.f.s

Politicalguineapig // Posted 10 November 2010 at 12:35 am

Melanie: Are you serious about the radiation levels? If so, that’s just another reason to avoid my doctor. I hate X-rays anyway- always have, always will. I wish I could trust my doctors and pharmacists, but that options’s long gone.

Lorrie Hearts // Posted 10 November 2010 at 12:47 am

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for the supportive and insightful comments – I was expecting a huge backlash to this article, but I really did feel it was something that needed saying.

Already, as some of you have pointed out, there have been some excellent blogs on the ‘pinkwashing’ of breast cancer, but the subject does still seem to be quite a taboo for all but the bravest (read: those people who are in the mood for an online beating) and that needs to change.

There are so many things wrong with these memes – I couldn’t cover them all in the space I had, but you’ve done a pretty good job of rounding up the main villains in the comments.

I did want to give a little follow-up on this. Tomorrow will be another #boobiewednesday and I’ve been in two minds as to whether to drop this article in the tweet-feed. My intention was never to cause trouble, but to offer a different take on these memes and raise awareness of the feminist issues involved.

As I observed the #boobieweds tweet-feed tonight, I saw a tweet by BoobieWed – the official Twitter account for Boobie Wednesday stating that they are collaborating with and, sites which invite users to match women to photos of their breasts and vulvas.

If I needed further indication that these memes are inextricably linked to the objectification of women, I don’t feel that I do anymore. I’ll be posting a link to this article on Twitter tomorrow and would be grateful for any support!

polly // Posted 10 November 2010 at 7:00 am

This kind of thing isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous in that it gives women a false picture of the most prevalent health risks.

Most women think breast cancer is a greater threat to their health than coronary heart disease, when in fact they are 3 times more likely to die of heart disease.

There was a lot of publicity given in the media yesterday to research that women take much longer than men to go to hospital following a heart attack, because they think women don’t get heart disease. That can be a fatal decision.

polly // Posted 10 November 2010 at 7:07 am

Coldharbour I agree with you about heteronormativity, but I think – in defence of JBK – that the remark was being made about a heteronormative campaign, and should be read in that context.

However I don’t want to speak for JBK! And as gay men still have male privilege, I do agree that the focus of a feminist discussion shouldn’t be on male concerns. I’m a lot more bothered personally by the outright lesbophobia I often see on here, but that’s another topic I’ll shut up about now.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 10 November 2010 at 9:56 am

There are a couple of reasons that breast cancer is so high profile- the main being that is the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst women in the UK (with some figures suggesting 1 in 3 of us will get it). As a result, most of us know somebody who has had breast cancer. The second reason is that breast cancer UK (the charity) have a phenomenal marketing strategy that keeps in the headlines- and is no doubt aided by the fact that it is something people relate to.

On the radiation levels, modern mammogram machines exude very low levels of radiation, so even annual screening (which is unusual in the UK unless you are high risk) should do you little harm (after all there is radiation around us in the atmosphere all the time). On the other hand, regular screening is one of the main reasons that breast cancer has such good survival rates today, as so many women are caught early. My own grandmother’s breast cancer was caught during routine screening and, after treatment, she made a full recovery.

On the heart disease issue, one of the reasons women are less likely to seek treatment is that the advertised symptoms for heart disease refer to only one type of heart attack (there are several with different symptoms)- and a type that is much more prevalent in men than women. As a result, many women don’t recognise the symptoms of heart attack and don’t seek treatment.

Emma Wright // Posted 10 November 2010 at 11:38 am

Lorrie, you summed it up so well, as you know I lost my mum (aged 54) to breast cancer three months ago.

Aside from what has been said in the comments above, what really angers me is that the people who join in with these memes don’t seem to get the point. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but when a woman loses her breasts to cancer, it is devastating for her – My mum refused to go out of the house for two weeks after her mastectomy and was constantly worrying about her appearance. However, as time goes on. It becomes irrelevant. It is lives at stake, not breasts. If the cancer starts to spread, and the pain takes hold and, the loss of a breast is insignificant.

I’m all for improving awareness and encouraging self-checks. But this is not what these memes are doing. The only purpose they serve is to encourage people to take ten seconds out of their day to ‘do something for charidee’ and leave it at that.

Breast cancer is about so much more than boobs and using cancer as an excuse to get them out is downright insulting.

Kristin // Posted 10 November 2010 at 1:09 pm

Hi Politicalguineapig & everyone,

My auntie, who is in her early 50’s, got a letter some time ago telling her to go for a mammogram. They even made the appointment in advance, just basically telling her to turn up to some minging van in a car park and take her top off for a boob squishing.

Not surprisingly, she decided she wasn’t completely happy with this. She did some research into mammography. It is big business with knobs on! Even the American Cancer Society get money from mammogram manufacturers, so you couldn’t describe their advice as impartial. Some top specialists have resigned/refuse to have anything to do with the mass screening programme, because they say it does more harm than good, and think that mammography is no more than a diagnostic tool and an imperfect one at that. It’s a no brainer, of course, to go and get checked if you find something, or think you do. But lots of doctors think mass indiscriminate screening is no good idea.

There have been countless reports/studies published on the shortcomings and risks of mammograms. The press recently chose to highlight a study ‘proving’ that they save lives, while completely ignoring an equally recent study that proved they did not, and that for every life that was saved, there would be lots of ‘false positives’ or not picking up things, and all the consequent anguish that would cause the women involved. Of course anguish to women never features high on anyone’s agenda, and this is no different. Basically it’s up to the individual to decide. Some doctors tell you, ‘oh, it’s no more radiation than a long haul flight to Australia’. Bloody patronising, because the radiation during the flight would be distributed all over your body, whereas in a mammogram it’s concentrated all on your breasts. They keep having to revise radiation levels down and down and down. There is no safe limit.

My auntie’s cousin died from breast cancer aged just 58. She was always terrified of getting it, so she had even more routine mammograms than necessary. It didn’t help her at all, she found the lump herself and the doctors said they couldn’t think where it had come from, because you look at the last mammogram and can usually see where it started. When she heard that, she thought, ‘what’s the f*****g point?!

Basic thing remains to get yourself informed and then make a decision. Don’t just turn up and take your top off!

And re. all this charidee bullying of women – if they were really concerned about women, wouldn’t they be questioning the need for mass screening and HRT and calling out all the firms who constantly release dangerous chemicals into the environment with their products? Then we might get somewhere.

Denise // Posted 10 November 2010 at 2:23 pm

Drop it in there, Laurie! And don’t worry. It’s not you causing trouble, it’s the people who are thinking they can objectify and appropriate women’s bodies even in ways like this. It just gets worse, and your response is completely appropriate. I’m so glad you posted this, it gives me courage.

Lady M // Posted 10 November 2010 at 4:12 pm

I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with aspects of the arguments I’ve read here. If I’m honest, my reaction to the bra colour meme a while back was (somewhat frivolously) was that it was a bit of fun but also (genuinely) that I should examine myself more often – maybe because I heard about it by email from a friend. Having said that, some of the recent memes are downright objectifying and unpleasant – I wasn’t aware of Boobie Wednesday until now and certainly won’t be participating. It’s possible, however, that these messages reach some people when other messages might not – which I write as someone frequently amazed by the rubbish that women I know are willing post on Facebook.

The writer Barbara Ehrenreich, a cancer survivor, has criticised aspects of breast cancer campaigning, including ‘pinkwashing’ (not her term) but she also points out however that cancer used to be a shameful secret. I’m sure myself if I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but perhaps ‘awareness’ memes are an improvement on the days when people, women especially, had so little health information and so few ways to participate in their own wellbeing. It would be more helpful if the memes encouraged fundraising, but awareness can raise the issue on the research agenda and in the consciousness of the donating public.

A useful comparison is HIV awareness – anyone around in the 80s knows the ads and the problem, but evidence shows younger people ignore the risks as there are no longer such high-profile campaigns. Awareness can’t be raised just once. I know that the memes don’t deliver approved health messages but women do forget to examine themselves or book mammograms, so perhaps regular reminders, however delivered, add to the message.

p.s. Obviously there are many other health issues where improved awareness is important, but my family history is riddled with cancer, so admittedly I’m biased.

Masayo Quick // Posted 11 November 2010 at 1:14 am

I agree 100%.

masculinist // Posted 11 November 2010 at 9:17 am

i work at a cancer treatment hospital, so this thread is quite interesting.

I do not know what these memes things are and have not seen them, so I cant comment on this particular item , but

on a broader scale , women are so more cancer ‘savvy’ than men.

The awareness, support and fundraising is bigger and better for women than men. I wish there was a national mens race for life , as there is for women.

I know there are some trials of prostrate cancer screening across the UK. Will it be a success as cervical screening ? I doubt it.

I know a lof of companies ask their staff to wear pink for breast cancer awareness month etc …I dont know of any that wear blue for testicular cancer awareness week

Lastly , when fund raising becomes ‘gimmicky’ then the serious message becomes lost. It does not help

anyone who wants to support the cause.

Laurie // Posted 11 November 2010 at 4:01 pm

Actually, Jennifer Drew, men DO get breast cancer. Not in the numbers that women do, but they do.

And these memes do raise basic awareness if the question is asked “what are these?” but awareness is different from actually providing information… I suppose we all know that there IS breast cancer, and I agree that it would be a great next step to talk about what to do to prevent it.

Great post!

Sarah // Posted 11 November 2010 at 7:02 pm

masculinist – As you probably know if you work in cancer treatment – prostate cancer screening is problematic because the cancerous and pre-cancerous changes in the prostate are very common in men over a certain age, and PSA levels vary greatly between individuals – the overall effect is that you’d be likely to get a lot of false positives leading to distress and unnecessary treatment, possibly meaning worse overall harm is done than from not having the screening at all. There’s a similar argument for not offering cervical screening to very young women. In fact this sort of consideration is a very common problem with all kinds of screening – the benefits are not always clear-cut and screening isn’t appropriate for every disease.

You could argue about what you think would be the best evidence-based approach for prostate cancer, but it’s nonsense to say there’s any anti-male conspiracy here.

If you feel there’s a lack of awareness of cancers affecting men, why don’t you start a fundraising or awareness campaign of your own, or suggest to your company that they encourage people to wear the blue ribbon (they might just not have heard of it, rather than being ideologically opposed to it)? Would be more productive than complaining about how unfair it all is.

I think you’re probably right that women are more ‘cancer-savvy’ but that’s probably part of women being more aware of health issues in general and more likely to make use of healthcare services, rather than anything to do with pink ribbons and handbags on chairs.

Meb // Posted 12 November 2010 at 12:44 am

Sarah, I do not see that masculinist is saying there is any kind of ” anti-male conspiracy” or that the difficulties getting men to take their health more seriously are due to “unfairness” -it seems to be your interpretation, not his – only that there is less general awareness of and activism around men’s cancers (I would argue that that is easily demonstrable) and that improving that would be good, whilst acknowledging the potential societal barriers – put up by men’s reluctance as much as anything.

Also, how do you know he isn’t doing what you suggest to improve awareness? Large and possibly entirely unwarranted assumption (and a double standard, methinks) there. One might as well say to the OP complaining about stupid memes that they should just stop moaning and do more to promote proper awareness/treatments etc. There have been enough comments here shooting that sort of thing down in flames [it’s called derailing if aimed at feminists] – or is it OK because he’s one of those unwelcome menz daring to post here? [N.B., I am female, before you jump]

Masculinist – they did have a “wear a badge for testicular cancer awareness” and self-examination training at my son’s school a while back. Since (I believe) younger men are especially at risk, secondary schools and colleges/unis would be a very good place to start. Captive audience :-)

masculinist // Posted 12 November 2010 at 9:18 am


i did not say there was an anti-male conspiracy at all. I was saying men dont help themselves when it comes to

cancer awareness, treatment and fundraising. Women are way ahead in all these departments and its up to men to catch up.

I do feel there needs to be a huge promotion of mens cancer awareness on a national scale. The Everyman charity does some great work, but does every man know about it ????

I do think a mens race for life across the UK would be a great start. It may not get the same publicity or runners as the womens race , but its a start.

Sarah // Posted 12 November 2010 at 1:04 pm

OK, apologies if I misinterpreted what you were saying – though the problems with screening I mentioned do exist independently of either prejudice against men’s issues OR men’s reluctance to access healthcare. And I think it’s a point worth making, because in my experience it’s difficult for some people to understand why screening everyone for everything we can is not necessarily a good thing (even leaving cost issues aside) but it is not. I do agree about men’s cancer (and general health) awareness though maybe a feminist site isn’t the ideal place to discuss that, especially on a thread about awareness of women’s health issues.

I don’t have any problem with men posting here, or anywhere else in fact, but in feminist spaces I think you do have to accept to some extent that not everything revolves around you, and it’s not always appropriate to derail a discussion with ‘but what about men’.

I think there is a men-only event similar to Race For Life, isn’t there (can’t remember the name) though I expect it does get lower attendance and less publicity.

polly // Posted 13 November 2010 at 11:38 am


“”And re. all this charidee bullying of women – if they were really concerned about women, wouldn’t they be questioning the need for mass screening and HRT “”

I take HRT and it certainly isn’t something that’s routinely prescribed – the NHS line is still NOT to prescribe it, unless you insist. And the reason that I take it, is that believe it or not, HRT use is associated with overall health benefits for women under 60. Women between 50 and 60 taking HRT have lower death rates than women who don’t.

HRT is beneficial particularly for those who’ve gone through early menopause, who are at a an increased risk of osteoporosis – nearly 14,000 women in the UK die every year following hip fracture –

more than die of breast cancer. Although experience of menopause is hugely variable, it really isn’t a pleasant experience for a lot of women, and for most of those, HRT relieves symptoms.

HRT does raise the risk of breast cancer, as does a later menopause. It’s simply to do with a longer period of exposure to higher levels of oestrogen. BUT a woman who’s gone through menopause at 40 and takes HRT up to the age of 50, will have a comparable risk to a woman who’s gone through menopause naturally at 50.

The dangers of HRT with regard to cardiovascular disease were greatly exaggerated because of the structure of a large trial that was conducted -most of those in the trial were many years post menopausal when they started treatment with HRT, when in reality women would of course be prescribed it to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Kristin // Posted 14 November 2010 at 1:39 pm

Polly, re your telegraph link: I don’t think we can rely on media reports about health issues, especially given their notorious history of inaccuracy, lies, taking things totally out of context, and either scaremongering or implying there’s no need for concern when there is.

There is absolutely no hard evidence to show HRT has any health benefits whatever. There is plenty of hard evidence to show it does harm. Rates of breast cancer have fallen dramatically since about 2003, when millions of women stopped taking it. Also, HRT can only provide temporary relief of mean ol’ pause symptoms. Not to say ‘only’ won’t mean a big relief to a woman having a tough time, but as soon as you stop taking it the symptoms return, and they’ll just last as long as they last. As usual, there is no such thing as the free lunch.

With any report, you have to look at who is funding it. As I said in my last comment, if the American Cancer Society is getting money from mammogram manufacturers (which they are), it isn’t surprising that their pushing of mass screening (which has been and is being questioned time and again by many doctors) cannot be described as impartial.

Toni // Posted 14 November 2010 at 2:27 pm

Polly, why just pick out PART of one sentence of a post (Kristin’s) and totally ignore all the other very valid points made in it?

Also agree with Laurie, there’s can’t be many women still not aware of breast cancer! We do need more accurate information on it and how to try and prevent it. Not scare stories, which the media of course excel in. I do think, as Kristin says, that a major factor in all types of cancer are the huge increase in ‘background’ chemicals in people’s daily lives. Even more worrying in the case of children who have to grow up with them.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 14 November 2010 at 3:20 pm

Can we try to get the comments back on track to discussing the original post, please? Thank you!

Jehenna // Posted 15 November 2010 at 8:50 am

I think we need to be a little cautious about financial incentives and cancer screening.

There is particular test that can be done on breast tumour tissue (HER2). If certain criteria are met, then there’s a particular drug that can be used in that treatment which is very effective against the cancer. As a result, the company which produces the drug pays the testing laboratory for each test.

In this case, the test is done on tissue which has been removed from the patient, and the test doesn’t negatively affect the patient. But there are still financial incentives for performing the test.

That doesn’t necessarily make it bad.

Back to the memes.

I was very happy to read this, knowing that in fact respiratory and colorectal cancers kill far more women than breast cancer does. But aren’t as ‘sexy’. It’s another very successful strategy to reduce women to the sum of their secondary sexual characteristics.

After all, men get breast cancer, but we don’t see posts advocating they show off their pecs eh?

Which is what makes it all so pathetic.

WotV // Posted 22 November 2010 at 9:35 pm

There are some very vocal cancer survivors who participate in #boobiewednesday activities and while the message is sent out in a more lighthearted manner, the message IS sent. It is every woman’s (and man’s because there ARE men who show their pecs for the cause as well) choice whether or not to take part in the “meme”. I’m not sure why you feel the need to judge this campaign, but this sort of judgmental attitude disguised as feminism just makes you look bad (in my opinion).

Whether #boobiewednesday on Twitter raises any more awareness than a pink ribbon on an NFL helmet, if it is a voluntary activity and brings enlightenment or awareness to even ONE person, who are you – or any of us – to judge?

@chazzyb31 // Posted 22 November 2010 at 9:38 pm

As a supporter of #boobiewed, I have to disagree with many of the comments posted here, and especially the paragraph where the author states “not one single tweet linked to a cancer charity”. That is completely false; the ladies behind @boobiewed post links throughout the day to articles instructing you how to check your breasts properly, many of which are on cancer charity websites. Of course, if you didn’t click on the links, then you wouldn’t be aware of that.

I agree that “The Bra Colour Game” and “The Handbag Game” are completely pointless (I had no idea that either was connected with breast cancer), however #boobiewednesday is ALL about breast cancer, and several supporters, including @boobiewed, encourage fellas to check their testicles and their pecs, particularly @mrseddieizzard, who does it in a light-hearted fashion and brought the campaign to my attention in the first place.

Having known many women who have suffered from breast cancer and more than a few who didn’t catch it in time because they didn’t know what they were looking for, I can’t see why anyone would object to a campaign that tried to enlighten women (and men) who might otherwise be ignorant. The @boobiewed gals have so much support and disseminate so much useful information in their cause, I’m at a loss to see what the dissenters are complaining about.

Ultimately, if you don’t like what they’re doing (or think it’s pointless – after all, breast cancer isn’t something we need to worry about, is it! Is it?), then don’t follow @boobiewed. Nobody is forcing you to.

Meanwhile, if I feel like joining in and posting a pic of my cleavage, along with a legion of breast cancer survivors, then why the hell shouldn’t I? It’s my choice.

JR // Posted 22 November 2010 at 9:43 pm


What the hell are “Nuts” and “Zoo”? I don’t think I wanna know.

Awareness is defined as: having knowledge; conscious; cognizant.

Just because you’re not raising money for a particular group doesn’t mean you can’t make people aware of the cause. Are there better ways to make people aware? Probably. Are there worse? Absolutely.

If someone looks at cleavage and thinks of breast cancer, is that such a bad thing?

Lorrie Hearts // Posted 23 November 2010 at 10:41 pm


My reasons for judging the #boobiewed meme are clearly outlined within the article and don’t seem to have been addressed, other than entirely superficially, by any of my extremely vocal critics.

I object to the dumbing down and sexing up of cancer awareness which, as you can see by the memes mentioned in the article, is aimed primarily at women. These memes, usually focusing around women’s sexuality and/or body parts, are consistently objectifying women – I fail to see how you can deny this, particularly with Boobie Wednesday’s collaboration with porn sites aimed at men.

In these memes, women are being asked (yes, asked – I can’t count the number of ‘calls to action’ that I and my friends have received) to describe their underwear, make childish sex jokes and show their breasts ostensibly as a form of awareness. Men are not asked to do this. This would not be the default ‘awareness meme’ of choice for men.

These memes are specifically aimed at women. Yes, some men participate in #boobiewed but the fact is – and it’s plain for anyone to see should they wish to check – that most male supporters of #boobiewed are not vocal supporters of women, they are vocal supporters of women’s body parts.

Now, the question is whether you see this as an acceptable means to an end: whether you feel that any awareness raised justifies this objectification. I don’t. You ask who I am to judge these memes – I am a woman. These memes are aimed at women, including me, and I will not be intimidated into remaining silent. While I respect the struggle cancer survivors (and indeed victims) are going through and have been through, having this disease does not give a green light on all issues.


At the time of writing this article, all facts were true – I stand by what I wrote entirely, although at this point it’s my word against anyone who chooses to claim otherwise. The vast majority of people who have criticised this article have failed to engage with any of the points made and have, instead, claimed that what I have written is simply untrue. I would give the readers of this blog enough credit to check the story for themselves before they comment – all the tweets I’ve mentioned are public and can be viewed on Twitter or Google.

On the day I observed the #boobiewednesday hashtag, there were no links to any cancer charities whatsoever. The vast majority of tweets were, instead, jokes about groping women’s breasts and comments from women about how they weren’t ‘sluts’ (their word), they were only showing their breasts because it was Boobie Wednesday. The campaign at the level of the participants seemed, and seems, to be far more about exhibitionism than anything else.

Also at that time, the new Boobie Wednesday website was not in operation and a large part of the website (now the blog) consisted of a gallery of women’s breasts.The fact is – and it is a fact – that the Boobie Wednesday website and tweet feed have both become far more cancer-relevant since the recent publicity from this article.

I would not object to a campaign that encouraged women (and men, despite the name ‘Boobie Wednesday’) to check themselves for abnormalities and lumps. However, as stated in the article, I fail to see why these memes are consistently sexualising cancer and objectifying women. There is – as far as I can see – absolutely no need to revert to the age-old, hackneyed and sexist technique of objectifying women to get attention. You are perfectly entitled to show a picture of your cleavage, I would simply question your motivation for doing so. Donating to charity/fundraising/posting links to informative sites would seem much more effective.

You are right, however: showing your cleavage is absolutely your choice. The fact is, however, you are doing so on a very public forum, under the very public banner of ‘cancer awareness’. You cannot reasonably expect other women – at whom this campaign is aimed – to not have an opinion or to agree with your methods without question.

If you are ‘at a loss to see what dissenters are complaining about’, I suggest – genuinely – that you read the comments again. Despite what is being claimed on Twitter, by both yourself and WotV, these comments have not been censored or modified by the “twats” and “asshats” who run this site, and they give many valid reasons to object to these memes. And again, while it has been claimed on Twitter that there is some organised hate campaign led by myself against Boobie Wednesday, I was asked to write this article.

I am not alone in finding these memes offensive and I have justified my opinions clearly and fairly. I do stand by my views: simply claiming that you are doing something for cancer awareness does not give you the green light to objectify women and expect no response.

Kristin // Posted 24 November 2010 at 12:22 pm

Lorrie. WELL. SAID.

Of course your critics don’t engage with any of the points you make. Because they don’t have any valid points to refute them. So instead they ignore you or resort to personal abuse. Or ask ‘who are you to judge?’

Who are THEY to behave like this?! I am a woman too, and I object to it. If you could just not participate and be left alone, your decision respected, that would be fine. But that doesn’t happen, they aggressively target women and subject them to personal abuse (as we see here) if they refuse to play the objectification game. Well, I’m not playing it and neither are a lot of other people. Get used to it.

Thank you, Lorrie, for doing this. Your detractors prove the points you make. The more they don’t listen, the more other people will stop listening to them.

sohcahtoa // Posted 4 December 2010 at 1:12 pm

Sorry to dredge this thread up, but I note a new exhortation on Facebook and feel the need to vent my anger:

‘Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your

childhoodand invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until

Monday (December 6th), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but

an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children’

Is tapping into the limitless childhood nostalgia of the internet generation really going to directly ‘stop violence against children’? This looks like another tasteless trivialisation (cute cartoon pictures!) of a serious issue. Also, am I the only one to find ‘no human faces…

an invasion of memories’ rather sinister, and maybe redolent of child abuse in themselves?

littlestar // Posted 7 December 2010 at 4:46 am

i appreciate this blog so much! and i agree/relate with most peoples’ comments. one thing that has been bugging me for a few years now are those ugly plastic colorful bands that people wear… perhaps they were actually purchased at a place that is donating the proceeds to that particular cause, but all i see are people with a bunch of crappy-looking fashion accessories. if you were just wearing one, i might believe you, but if you’re wearing 5, i really doubt that you’re that committed to all of those different causes…that is if they are even linked to a cause.

is anyone else annoyed by this gimmick?

Matthew Smith // Posted 17 November 2012 at 10:59 pm

@JR – Nuts and Zoo are two of the notorious “lads’ mags” that you can find in British newsagents. Not sure what’s in them as I’ve never read them — the better quality ones have features on cars, technology and some topical stuff along with the soft porn. The names Nuts and Zoo … probably suggest those two don’t.

I hate the “cancer memes” as well. I often find female friends on FB posting cryptic statuses and when I ask what they mean, they say “it’s just for women”. These memes have nothing to do with cancer and are so far removed from the subject matter that it’s difficult to see how they can be any use in raising awareness.

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