Sexy Cancer

One friend likes it on the coffee table. Another friend posted that she likes it on the floor near the couch. Then there’s one who like it on the desk. And no, these statements aren’t related to Karen Owen’s sex “thesis”—these are actual status messages on Facebook by my female friends.

First reaction: Um? Second reaction: Read the comments for similar reactions—here are some (in no particular order): “TMI” the ever-so useful “LOL”, “Wow—what would your mother say! hahahaha” or just “hahahaha” “no, no, the door is way better.”

What is “it” several commenters, including myself, asked? Not important. Kind of. “It” is a purse, but I’ll get to that in a minute. These sexually charged posts are part of a viral campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer. Oh, here we go again. In January I read status messages about the color my friend’s bras. “Turquoise!” one poster said. No comments, no explanation. It was a secret sorority I was not invited to join until one gentle soul took pity on my “????” comment and then stated it was for awareness. Yeah?

WTF? Is this what consciousness raising has come to? So you’re saying by telling my FB friend the color of my bra I am contributing to breast cancer awareness? How many women on FB, as the result of reading that so-and-so’s bra was turquoise  (with an exclamation point), had an aha moment and a) decided to do Internet searches about breast cancer or b) finally decided to learn how to do a self breast exam or get a screening?

Oh, so back to “I like it” and “it” being the purse. A purse. I can’t verify officially. But The Huffington Post quoted Melissa Bell of The Washington Post on that. I don’t know whether I should be torn—are the memes a jumping-off point for discussions about breast cancer awareness or just titillations for the cravers of FB comments and attention? All I know is that breast cancer awareness is rooted in the feminist movement and making it sexy belittles the whole goal of raising awareness for a disease that will kill almost 40,000 women this year.

How about we use FB for some legitimate consciousness raising. Try “liking” Think Before You Pink. Or if you need a sexual innuendo for your status, at least include some information more useful than the preferred location of your purse. How about: “I touch myself here.”

Photo from Flickr user Kira_Westland from Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Oh my goodness!!!! TOTALLY!!! I couldn't even continue the email I got to make me "aware" of this game… I mean, really? Is it a cute, trendy process… raising awareness of a life-threatning disease? THANK YOU for writing this.

  2. And using a photo of an airbrushed, too-skinny young model doesn't help. Breast cancer is not, as I understand it, generally a disease of young people. Why not show a woman more typical of cancer patients, please?

  3. msmagblog says:

    The point of the photo is sadly ironic: how the pink ribbon can be stuck in anything and everything, including a ridiculous "sexy" photo of an overly airbrushed young woman …

  4. Scribbling Dame says:

    Amen sister! Can we avoid being sexualized for at least a couple of minutes?

  5. The photo is supposed to be ironic I thought.

  6. I really think that the breast cancer awareness campaign has gone overboard. A few years ago in Brazil, the statue of Cristo Rei was lit in pink for breast cancer awareness month. I mean, seriously? Is Susan G. Komen now more famous than Jesus? In October, everywhere you go there is someone wearing a pink ribbon, someone asking for donations, someone putting up a poster. Excuse me, but October is ALSO Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And while 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer, 1 in 3 will experience domestic violence. In fact, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths COMBINED. Other research has found that HALF of all women will experience some form of violence from their partners during marriage,
    and that more than one-third are battered repeatedly every year. It's an epidemic. However, it's an epidemic that carries a stigma, that cannot be treated with drugs, that does not hold the same inherent "survivor's honor" as cancer. Pharmaceutical companies aren't going to dole out millions to support domestic violence campaigns the way they will for breast cancer. And while the general public sees women beating cancer as noble, they still tend to blame women for not leaving abusive relationships. It's no wonder there isn't a purple ribbon in sight. I will be so relieved when there's finally a cure; not only will it save millions of lives, but maybe someone will start giving a crap about domestic violence.

    • Susan G. Komen or the Cure is only just not this popular. It took years of silence and stigma that Nancy Brinker fought through and then years more of hard work and women dying to get to where it is today. Yes, domestic violence is a human issue, like breast cancer it does not only apply to women. However, it takes a person with time, money and absolute dedication to work it the way Nancy Brinker has worked the pink ribbon. If you feel so strongly about it, be that person.

    • Thank you Ms Magazine for this article!
      Also, thank you Sarah for this comment. I have posted this quote on my FB "October is ALSO Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And while 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer, 1 in 3 will experience domestic violence."
      Breast cancer is horrible but so is domestic violence and we shouldn't forget it, ever.
      How many of us have said "it won't happen to me, I'll leave" but couldn't when it happened?
      How about we make a month for "women's health and security" awareness? Then it'll encompass both.
      Still, why just a month? Security and health should be priorities all year round for everyone, women and men.
      But I digress…

    • WORD.

  7. I don't really have a problem with the "I like it…" campaign. Though most people know about breast cancer, we can still educate, and the campaign has the potential to lead to deeper conversations. But even when it doesn't, it does get people talking–it's provocative, which is the point. And I don't even find its "sexiness" to be a problem, because I like that it is letting women express sexuality. That's kind of refreshing in our culture, where only celebrities are "allowed" to be provocative and where "good girls" don't own their sexuality. Plus, people are more likely to listen if they're approached in a new way, or a fun way, or a relaxed way–which is what this campaign does. And for those of us who already know, it serves as a reminder.

    I do agree, Sarah, that we need more awareness about domestic violence. That is also problem that affects men as well as women. It's harder to get people to listen, because they don't want to think about the ugly things. Also, while breast cancer has been widely demystified, there is a lot of uncertainty and mystery that still shrouds domestic violence. In some ways, because breast cancer was a medical issue, it was easier to demystify and de-shame. That's not so easy with domestic violence, because it is so deeply personal. That's not to say we should stop trying–it's to say the opposite: we need to keep trying, keep working on the underlying issues as well as the surface issues, to tackle the problem and bring the rate down.

  8. krystalimage says:

    What does "where you like" your purse to be have anything to do with breast cancer, anyway.

  9. I think she's a spoilsport. Put another way, why can't men OR women why have some fun with a innocuous phrase with sexy overtones? "Supposedly" you have to be 15 to even BE on Facebook. Even "more so" why can't women who have suffered from breast cancer have this fun?

  10. WTF indeed? WTF with this picture? This is the saddest thing I have ever seen, and I am horrified that I am seeing it here. The text of the post was actually what I had hoped someone would say – but hey, a picture is worth a thousand posts.

    So – if it was supposed to be ironic, the only irony is that someone who would write a great post would be this much of a hypocrite to allow this picture.

    Badly done.

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  12. Having just come home from the Facebook movie, I'm wondering whether there's some kind of bad karma (!) hovering around an institution that started in roots that, like the movie, hardly evince respect for women. In the era I write about, women stood up for themselves but could barely bring themselves to speak of their own lives, never mind broadcast them. Reticence: an old-fashioned virtue?

  13. I think Martha is making way too big of a deal about it. It did what it was supposed to do. It got her attention and the attention of others on fb. I personally use it as a reminder to call and get a mammogram scheduled just like I have been reminded to do so for the last three years (bra color, where you like it and shoe size) so guess what? It worked.

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