Cancer runs in my family, so much so that the idea of developing it has kept me up many times. Soon I’ll reach the age at which it will be advisable to start regular screening for some types of cancer, due to a genetic predisposition, and I’m already changing more and more aspects of my life based on avoiding certain activities that are linked to them. Still, I know that in the end it might just get me and that, regardless of what I do in life, maybe I just lost in the genetic lottery.
It is perhaps because as a kid I saw my father and my grandfather wither away and die, and because of the many times in which I have been scared of receiving the results of a doctor’s exam, that I feel that I need to step away from my usual metal-related commentary. You see, October is “breast cancer awareness” month… and it sickens me.
Breast cancer is a horrible disease that affects millions of men and women around the world. Over 11 million people, mostly women, will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone, and over half a million will die. Even though it is not the most common type of cancer-related death, it is the second most commonly diagnosed one, second only (and barely) to lung cancer.
Although the seriousness of this disease (as well as of cancer in general) cannot be overstated, it is sad and shameful to see what commercialism has made to a once idealistic social movement.
1. Misogyny and The Sexualization of a Disease
Have any of your friends on social media shared something like this:
Congratulations, your friend is a fucking asshole!
The biggest problem with this type of campaign, other than the absolutely obnoxious slacktivism of “raising awareness” by “being aware of the fact that cancer is a thing that exists” (God forbid you actually get off your ass and donate some money) is that it demeans the victims. While nobody would say that we should “fight” nose cancer because faces are cute, we somehow accept as absolutely normal using “tits are nice, am I right guys?” as the reason why breast cancer is terrible.
In what can only be defined as society’s free-fall into outright idiocy, we are objectifying a horrible disease, pretending that the reason why it should be combated is because of our interest to continue seeing a perky pair of breasts. In other words, it’s not that women (and men!) are dying of cancer, it’s not that many people (although, sadly not all) can benefit from early detection and avoid the misery of dealing with this disease, it’s that we like tits.
2. Commercialism and Pinkwashing
During “breast cancer awareness month” you’re bound to see plenty of crap with pink ribbons on it, or painted pink. From the absolutely inane to the bizarre.
Although there is nothing wrong with a company trying to promote themselves by means of co-opting a social campaign (quite the contrary), there are two big problems with this practice:
First, and as has been thoroughly documented, some companies will paint their garbage pink in order to profit on the “pink hysteria” of this month, without actually planning to donate anything to any established charity. Second, and perhaps worst of all, some charities are happy to just let any brand use their “pink ribbon” crap, even if they are selling products that are linked to cancer.
3. Changing the Face of the Victims
According to polls, people think that most breast cancer victims are young women. This is not surprising, considering that the image that we get from “awareness” advertisements is that of young women (with perky breasts).
This is how (and why) we are supposed to develop compassion and empathy towards the victims: They are young and beautiful. And yet, the median age of diagnose of breast cancer is 61 years of age, and the highest incidence rate occurs among women aged 75-79!
Although you might think that there’s nothing wrong in finding young and pretty people to advertise “awareness”, the problem is that it is actually dangerous. Since we have created the perception that breast cancer is a “young woman’s disease”, most women believe that their risk decreases with age and, as such, are less likely to take pre-emptive measures.
4. The Era of Slacktivism
We live in an era of slacktivism, where we like to convince ourselves that liking a Facebook post will change the world, or Retweeting some marginally witty “progressive” comment makes us revolutionaries. We feel morally superior when we tell others on Facebook how progressive or charitable we are, even if we don’t actually do anything but talk about it on social media.
We think that we do enough by stating the obvious, that bad things (like cancer) exist, and leave the hard work (or the spending) to others, convinced that our “raising awareness” is enough. Of course, our conceited ideas are wrong, as what is desperately needed is much more than good wishes (or prayers, for that matter).
I’m not here to tell you what to do with your time or your money. I’m not going to give you a list of volunteering options, or a list of charities that you might want to help in the struggle against cancer. Let me just give you something to think about:
The first things that cancer victims need is dignity and respect, and the commercialism and sexism that has, sadly, become part of “breast cancer awareness” does not deliver that. Do not cheapen the struggle of those who live with cancer, or those who have died of this horrible disease. Chances are that someone in your family or in your group of friends will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Do you really want their disease to be a commodity?