Cancer as a breast-loving creature?
In light of recent breast cancer awareness campaigns in the media, we wanted to take the opportunity to address an issue surrounding female objectification and the sexualisation of breasts.
We commend campaigns for their efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer and their attempts to get women to examine their breasts, but some more recent campaigns have been neither effective nor respectful. There is a fine line between generating interest with catchy campaign slogans and hashtags and respecting the serious issue of breast cancer itself. An issue as serious as this should not be addressed with insensitive attention-grabbing headlines or other sensationalist methods.
There is no doubt that female objectification runs rampant in our modern consumer culture, but to see such blatant objectification and sexualisation in a cause that masquerades itself as being ‘for women’ is unacceptable. The general trend to anthropomorphise cancer as a breast-loving creature is a strange oversimplification of breast cancer.
October 13th has been hailed #NoBraDay to raise awareness for breast cancer. The description of the event was rife with sexist and sexualising language. “Women are magnificent creatures, and so are their breasts. Let us spend the day unleashing boobies from their boobie zoos.” The only mention of breast cancer itself was in the final line, as if an afterthought, with the line “**Breast Cancer is something you should take seriously and be checked for.**” By reducing women to her anatomy (in this case, her breasts), sexualised breast cancer awareness campaigns have attempted to make breast cancer an issue that can appeal to the larger public. But at what cost?
A frightful thought is that this campaign does not stand alone. Countless campaigns use this kind of sexualised route of appealing to the public to save breasts rather than the women they are attached to. Campaigns like this continue to be disrespectful not only to women with breast cancer, but to women as a whole. For patients and survivors of breast cancer, there are already countless social barriers and self-esteem issues linked to dealing with cancer. By focusing a breast cancer awareness campaign on a part of a woman’s body that she might have lost is insensitive and frankly, shows a disregard for those dealing with the cancer, in favour of creating controversy and a catchy slogan.
These campaigns seem to equate a woman to her breasts and do not seem to acknowledge and that their self-worth and value is much greater than their breasts. A campaign of this sort supports the notion that women who are experiencing damage and trauma due to the treatment of breast cancer are less important than their sexual appeal.
Sexualised breast cancer awareness campaigns support a social cause primarily for women while undermining women’s status in society to the value of her breasts is counterproductive. Moreover, this kind of sexualised image does not stimulate thinking on the issue. Instead, initiatives like this succeed only in creating sensationalist and controversial campaigns that spreads their own name rather than any real and effective awareness on breast cancer.
There are many creative ways to generate awareness and interest in a positive way that empowers women and urges them to take control of their bodies. Don’t take away our agency and humanity. Stop reducing women to body parts.
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) provides social work and counseling services for domestic violence survivors and advocates for women’s human rights. Call our counselling line at 03 7956 3488 or SMS TINA at 018 988 8058 if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. Together, we change lives.
Sekheena Deslorieux is a half-Malaysian student of Classics at the University of Edinburgh who grew up in Kuala Lumpur until leaving for university. For two consecutive summer holidays back home in Malaysia, she has volunteered and interned at Women’s Aid Organisation. With a strong passion for feminism, Sekheena hopes to continue standing up for women’s rights in Malaysia and across the world.