Have Some Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns Gone Too Far?

As some of you might know, I was recently asked to participate in a radio discussion on an NPR affiliate radio call-in-talk show called, “HearSay with Cathy Lewis,” the subject being some of the provocative breast cancer awareness campaigns/ads that continue to dismay almost on a daily basis it sometimes seems. This invitation came about as a result of my recent article on Huffington Post called, “Where’s the Feminism in the Awareness?”

Here’s the link to the whrv/npr HearSay talk-radio discussion. Simply click on the download episode link further down on the page. The whole show is 50 minutes or so and well worth a listen, but granted, I am biased of course. I was impressed by the other two guests, the host and the listeners who called in as well.

If you don’t wish to listen to the whole thing, I’m on at around the 7:55 minute mark the first time, the 29:45 minute mark the second time and the 50 minute mark for closing remarks (which I did a really poor job of by the way…oh well, it is what it is, as they say…).  Since this is my blog and you’re reading this, I’m assuming you want to listen to what I had to say, though again, the entire discussion is worth a listen.

If you choose to do so, thanks for listening. Just for fun, you can click on the radio to listen too!

And I have to ask:

Does the end justify the means?

Note:  Gayle A. Sulik, Ph.D. and author of Pink Ribbon Blues, has written two compelling essays for Psychology Today which delve into this issue far better than I can here. The first is called, “Do Sexy Breast Cancer Campaigns Demean Women?” Her follow-up essay, “Sexy Breast Cancer Campaigns Do Demean Women. So What?” takes things a step further by explaining why it does matter. If you want to learn more about this issue, check them out.




19 thoughts to “Have Some Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns Gone Too Far?”

  1. Nancy – you did an excellent job with your interview. Good work on helping to continue the discussion past October. It will only be through continued discussion and education that we will be able to make some changes.

    1. Dr. Attai, Thanks so much for taking time to listen. I know it was sort of lengthy. Thanks for your kind words too. I know you do tons of interviews, so your praise means a lot!

  2. Nancy, thank you so much for continuing to speak out on this issue. I agree that these ads trivialize and objectivize women, and that they’re harmful for a number of reasons, as you explained so well in your interview. I also think these ads do nothing to foster the awareness that womens lives continue to be lost to breast cancer and that in fact mortality rates have only declined slightly over the last twenty years. Another aspect of using this strategy in ads to get attention is that it seems the ads over time need to get more and more “sensational” just to attract attention.

    1. Lisa, Thank you so much for taking time to listen. I really appreciate it. The sexualization of breast cancer awareness campaigns is disturbing for so many reasons. I’m grateful the conversations about this are happening more and more frequently. I thought it was interesting that this particular radio host mentioned that they had reached out to several of these “questionable campaigns” to also take part in the discussion and they all declined. Says a lot in itself don’t you think? Thanks so much for your comments. You make some great points.

  3. Great hour of radio! Bonus – one of my buddies, Vernal Branch, was on the show as well.

    When I first joined the BC Warriors Club via my dx in December ’07, I wasn’t as tuned in as I have become to the undercurrent of “pink” – the language of which seems more about saving boobs than the women thereunto attached.

    I wrote a book about managing medical care based on my cancer journey, and I went for the funny on as many pages as possible. I’m not in any way uptight. As a comedy writer, I’ve walked right up to the “how far is too far?” line and leapt past it. But my support for messaging that includes IDing breasts as the purpose of the exercise, and not the woman whose breasts they are, has disappeared.

    **** pink.

    1. Mighty Casey, It’s probably safe to say most of us were not as tuned in prior to diagnosis. I’m not uptight either and I also love comedy, but as you said the messaging of some campaigns seems far too often to primarily focus on saving breasts rather than lives. Thanks so much for listening and commenting. I sure appreciate your doing both.

  4. Listening now….. Love that the first caller brings up those lawsuits and protecting the trademark ribbon! Love hearing your voice…. well done… I think from listening to the callers, it seems we still have MUCH work to do. The greater good is served? As you and I well know, we have barely inched pass the starting block. Thank YOU for bringing up the fact that the objectification of women crosses many diseases….. Also close to my heart.

    Some of the commenters are excellent…..And your closing remarks are definitely On Point….. You did great.. Thank you for being our voice during this conversation.

    1. Ann Marie, Thank you for listening. You’re a dear! I thought the callers made thoughtful comments, even those who did not agree, but yes, we still have our work cut out for us clearly don’t we? Thanks for the support. It means a lot

  5. I enjoyed listening to the radio show and I think it’s so important to continue educating the public by showing that women are being trivialized in these campaigns that have nothing to do with the harsh realities of breast cancer. On the one hand we wanted awareness but the way that breast cancer has been portrayed as a sexy disease moved the public in to the wrong picture of what the disease is really about. I loved your closing points. It’s so important that we continue to chip away at the problem so we can really see a change in exposing the truth about breast cancer with finding a way to prevent it, while we do everything we can to emphasize the issues and research needed for MBC. Great work Nancy! Thank you.XoXoXo- Susan

  6. I’ve only now had a chance to listen. Very well done, Nancy! Terrific that she chose to focus on this issue for her show. A lot of good and thoughtful comments from all the guests and callers. It’s so important to have these conversations.

    1. Julie, Thanks so much for listening. Yes, I thought it was terrific that Cathy Lewis took on this topic too. She seemed very well informed on the subject, too, I thought. Over all it was a thoughtful and very respectful conversation, which is always good. Thanks again for the time you took to listen and comment as well.

    1. Kathi, Discussion is always good. Thank you so much for listening and commenting. I have some improving to do in this kind of thing, but… Thanks again. xoxo

  7. Thanks for sharing your interview, speaking out and writing about this important issue. I recently came across this ad/promo done by a legitimate radio station in Florida: http://youtu.be/jjgJuj7J8EE It shows one of its DJs promoting an upcoming Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. He says that raising money to find a cure for breast cancer is important because we all want to save “second base.” Second base? Really?? While he seems to be stuck on the adolescent baseball/sexual analogy, what about saving third base and home plate? Does he support finding a cure for cervical and prostate cancers, too? Who are the marketing boobs that approved of this ad? Someone should cut them off the payroll or at least cry foul against this absurd public announcement. This radio station probably thinks its little video is funny and cute, but those of us who’ve been diagnosed and profoundly affected by breast cancer (and that includes both women AND a significant number of men), will find it disgusting, sexist, completely misleading and spreading false information. It ignores the grim truth about breast cancer statistics and perpetuates the presumed role of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in saving breasts and lives. Can this video be for real, or is it some kind of parody done in extremely bad taste? Please tell me it’s just a bad joke.

    1. Cate, I know what you mean… too much emphasis on saving boobs, not lives. It’s another tacky ad. Sadly, I think it is for real. Thanks for listening to the radio discussion and for taking even more time to leave a thoughtful comment.

  8. Great job, Nancy, and it was wonderful hearing your voice again. I was thinking, “I actually met her!”

    Regarding the discussion, it was thought-provoking and intelligent, and I liked the way people for and against these campaigns called in and contributed to intelligent dialogue.

    You sounded really good, and I totally agree with you. Demeaning ads demean women, not save their lives. Also, demeaning ads harm men, too, for it is their loved ones whose lives are not being saved.

    1. Beth, Thanks so much for listening. Overall, I thought the discussion was pretty good. It was all very respectful, which counts for a lot these days. Thanks for saying I sounded good, I think you are probably a bit biased! And yes, trivializing women or a deadly disease can never be acceptable. That’s the bottom line. Thanks for commenting.

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