Giving Breast Cancer Awareness Month The Pink Slip

Earlier today, while at work, I was reminded of a event that I always thought was very important. This college-age gentleman came into my store, and when he handed me his money I noticed on his wrist a pink, faded bracelet. I saw the word “Motorboat” on it, and instantly, I felt sick.

Created in 1985, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was created to promote awareness, self-exams, and getting mammograms on a regular basis in order to minimize the risk of breast cancer – not to make a spectacle of a horrible thing that takes lives. At this point, it has devolved into not much more than objectification of, at best, the breasts, and at worst, women everywhere.

Of course, everyone is familiar with the pink ribbons. Ribbons, especially the magnetic ones a lot of us stick on our car, are pretty big business. I’ve seen everything from supporting the troops, all sorts of awareness and activist designs, all the way to silly jokes about supporting zombies. I’ve never been the type to put a bumper sticker on my automobile, but I can get behind buying a product that donates some of their proceeds to a good cause. It’s weird, because it seems like a lot of folks who won’t outright donate money to something, even something they feel strongly about, will gladly shell out a few dollars for something that tells the world they really care.

As time went on, I started noticing more marketing. Going to the grocery store in October, I started seeing more and more items had exchanged their normal package colors for pink. I noticed that some of these products say on the box that they will donate a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research if purchased. People, of course, will buy these products, even if it isn’t their preferred brand, because we really want to help people, and we want to make sure people know we’re helping. Don’t get me wrong, I know some people actually believe they are doing good here. I don’t want to discredit them. But a lot of these products don’t actually donate any (or very little) to the causes they lead you to believe you’re supporting by picking up the pink toilet paper instead of your normal brand. You can read more regarding this, as well as some other more frightening facts over at Think Before You Pink.

And then came the bracelets. I remember when I first saw one of those bracelets. Bright pink with a fun font, it said, “I ❤ Boobies.” A co-worker was wearing it, and eventually curiosity got the best of me. As we were nearing the end of our shift, I asked about it.

“It’s for breast cancer awareness,” she explained. I was sort of surprised that a marketing team would be so light-hearted and ambiguous in their bold choice that would ensure everyone would either have to ask the meaning behind the bracelet, or just assume that the wearer was, well, really into “boobies.”

This is where I started to realize just how misplaced the effort is. It’s gone from “Make sure you get your exams, ladies!” to an excuse to sexualize and objectify not even the whole woman, but to reduce her to just parts, to further push the idea that a woman is nothing but the body she’s in.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer killed 40,030 people of the 234,580 men and woman who were diagnosed with it in 2013. By comparison, lung cancer killed 159,480 of the 228,190 people diagnosed and colon cancer killed 50,830 of the 102,480 people diagnosed.

However, according to NCI, breast cancer receives nearly double the funding ($602.7 million in 2012, $625.1 million in 2011, and $631.2 million in 2010) when compared to lung cancer ($314.6 million in 2012, $296.8 million in 2011 and $281.9 million in 2010) and colon cancer ($256.3 million in 2012, $265.1 million in 2011, $270.4 million in 2010).

Prostate cancer, which kills 29,720 of the 238,590 people diagnosed, was funded by $265.1 million in 2012, $288.3 million in 2011, and $300.5 million in 2010.

This past year, October 13th was declared by some dick on the internet as “National No Bra Day.” What could this possibly do that would benefit cancer awareness? No one is asked to donate money while bra-less. I haven’t even caught a single post on any form of social media where any depraved souls have sworn that they’d throw any cash to any research or awareness organization for every “ta-ta” they may see, other than the bozos who swore they’d donate a dollar for every woman who allowed them to motorboat her. As it turns out, those guys had more problems than just being misogynist dicks.

Also, what could this no-bra day do to help the victims? Much of society makes it a point to make sure that women know they are judged by appearance. We all know this. Clearly there is a ton of pressure put on women to make sure they look as perfect as they can at any moment, otherwise they’ll never be happy, never find love, etc. A woman who has lost her breasts or portions of them because of cancer and the treatment that follows suffers in a lot of ways. The physical pain and emotional trauma is something I can not fathom. It takes a lot of strength to get to a place where you’re just OK after something like that. You can do a lot to help family members and friends. What doesn’t help you along this path is someone walking around with their breasts clearly displayed, simultaneously rubbing the physical loss in the face of survivors and trivializing something that kills. That, to me, would be the pinnacle of insensitivity, and really shouldn’t be a thought, let alone something that’s encouraged.

Another aggravating aspect is that the language used in this marketing seems to be school-yard vernacular. Most people who know me know I’m not above making an immature joke. At times, I will use the same words children may use when I’m talking about serious topics because I think it’s funny. If I’m having a barely serious discussion on sexuality, depending on the other members of the group, I may use the word “wee-wee” when I mean “penis.” But if it’s a serious topic, like, say, cancer, I think it’s probably the best practice to refrain from that sort of behavior. However, when it comes to breast cancer marketing, it seems like the only way to go is fourth grade. It’s all “Boobies,” Ta-tas” and “Knockers” as far as the eye can see or the ear can hear. Hell, my usual hangout, a place that I never would have thought would stoop to that level (they just seem a touch too classy) had an artist come in and paint their front windows with a whale and the words “Save the boobies, the whales are doing fine.” Ugh.

I have a hard time believing this is what the creators of this movement had in mind. So here’s an idea. Let’s do our best to get back to the roots. Women, do the self-exams. It’s incredibly important. Start early, and make sure you keep a schedule. Get mammograms. And instead of buying ribbons, bracelets, and everything pink you can get your hands on, throw that money at an organization that will actually put it to good use. You’re already on the Internet, friends. Here’s a site I found very quickly, but I’d encourage you to do your own research. You’ll feel much better about your donations going to a worthwhile organization than throwing money away on another pink coffee mug and hardwood floor cleaner. I promise.

Author: William Russum is a co-founder of the Popular Outcasts Productions Network, and co-host of Popular Outcasts, Serving Ice and Delusional Loners. He is also a frequent contributor to, as well as an aspiring stand-up comedian.

(Justin Strawser contributed to this report.)

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