I like it on the desk. I like it on the backseat. I like it on the middle of the floor. Guess what? I like it when breast cancer awareness campaigns focus on women instead of sexual innuendo.
You’ve probably seen the status updates. Maybe you’ve posted one yourself. Some of you might even have participated in last year’s campaign, which encouraged every woman to post her bra color as her Facebook status. A Facebook email in support of the viral campaign called last year’s efforts “a tremendous success, and we had men wondering for days what was with the colors in our status, and it made it to the national news.” This makes perfect sense. I know when I’m raising awareness about breast cancer, my main goal is to confuse and titillate men. The email went on to detail the specifics of this month’s campaign. “This year’s game has to do with ‘where we put our handbag the moment we get home – for example “I like it on the couch,” “I like it on the kitchen counter.’” Just put the answer as your status with nothing more than that – let’s see how powerful we women really are!!!”
See, it’s funny, ’cause everyone will think we’re talking about doing it (tee hee!) but we’re actually talking about our purses. Which has, you know, everything to do with breast cancer. The most glaringly obvious problem with this “game” is that no one would actually phrase a sentence that way if she were actually referring to her purse. “I like it on the table”? If you’re going to make a sexual innuendo, at least have the decency to use parallel structure.
A more important concern–how exactly is the success of these campaigns measured? Yes, they were featured on the national news, but so are waterskiing squirrels. Has anyone actually reacted to her friend’s admission that she likes it “on the chair at the office” with a donation to the Breast Cancer Research foundation? Or even a mammogram? How many people have simply reposted the status, steeping in the pride that emanates from those who raise awareness? While overall effectiveness is a common criticism of campaigns designed simply to raise awareness, the “I Like It” campaign deserves criticism for being grounded in a sloppy matrix of sex jokes that ultimately revolve around handbags. One popular campaign page on Facebook entitled “I like it on the floor” includes an info section reading “Wether [sic] you support breast cancer awareness or you just like having fun, this page is dedicated to you.” Well, as they say about today’s Republican party, that’s a big tent.
Sexualizing breast cancer is hardly a new strategy. The “save the ta-tas” campaign has thrived on it since 2004, releasing a–well, stimulating ad campaign that reminded men of cancer’s devastating effects on bouncy, beautiful breasts. While not focusing directly on young chests, the “I like it” campaign also sends the message that breast cancer is only a problem as it interferes with male pleasure. Presumably, male Facebook users who are not in on the game will be “wondering for days” why women have become so sexually open, only to find out that gosh, we were just talking about purses, and oh yeah, breast cancer. Not only is this campaign nonsensical, it’s heterosexist in its assumptions that participating women will love tricking their male Facebook friends into imagining them having sex. And furthermore, only in a puritanical culture like ours would the campaign gain this much traction–they weren’t really talking about, well, you know. They were talking about purses, which makes it all okay, because God knows we’ll find the cure for breast cancer before we can have an honest discussion about sex in public. Even the media coverage of the campaign frequently skirted around mentioning the word “sex,” reducing the whole issue to winks, nods, and condescension.
Breast cancer is not sexy. Breast cancer is breast cancer. Try spreading that message. Let’s see how powerful we women really are.
This article originally appeared in the Muhlenberg Weekly the week of October 11th, 2010.