Doing it the right way

Breast cancer awareness campaign on Facebook trivializes disease

By Alison Howard

I have a friend who likes it “on the bed,” another who likes it “on the table,” and a third who likes it “wherever it lands.” I’m not particularly close to any of these friends, so these proclivities are far from the small talk we normally cover when we pass each other on the quad. However, since they are my Facebook friends, these are their Facebook status updates; and since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they’re sharing it with everybody.

In case you don’t have a Facebook account—or you do and haven’t yet been driven to Google “I like it on the floor Facebook”—then I’m going to hit you with some knowledge: When Susie Stevens from the seventh grade posts that she likes it “on the counter,” she means that she often sets her purse down on the counter. And somehow, with the insinuating “it” actually referring to her purse, she is spreading awareness about breast cancer.

Part of the game is that only girls are supposed to play. As was the case with a similar meme that went around a few months ago—in which girls posted their bra colors as their status updates, also ostensibly to spread breast cancer awareness— the whole shebang was supposed to be kept a secret from the fellas. I think the logic here is that women have purses and women get breast cancer. To me, this seems a bit shortsighted. After all, men can have both purses and breast cancer. Sure, most men don’t have either, but they do have moms and sisters and friends who might, and money to donate to the cause—the cause in this case being breast cancer, and not purses. If this disease is something we’re serious about fighting, it’s counterproductive to pit boys and girls against each other.

And then there’s the basic fact that most of the statuses don’t make sense in the actual context of purses. I may just be too persnickety, but it is probable that no, you do not actually like your purse on the table or on the floor or on the bed. After all, when you leave your purse in these places, you don’t have room to set your plate down at dinner, or you trip over them, or you can’t get a proper nap in the afternoon. I would guess that most people only actually like their purses in places where they’re easily accessible and not liable to get lost. But I guess this kind of honesty is not very alluring. After all, saying you “like it on a hook in the closet,” or worse, that you “can never seem to find it,” just isn’t very sexy.

In any case, the problem here is not the innuendos themselves. Innuendos are funny (well, I think so, and so do at least six of my Facebook friends). In fact, I would encourage them to be in more status updates. Regardless, strategies like this one, that is to say, the posting of statuses only tangentially related to breast cancer, are completely insensible ways to actually do something about raising awareness. I would guess that most of the people who post these “I like it” statuses aren’t thinking about how their status is raising breast cancer awareness. BCA Month is more like an excuse to sanction such silliness, and that’s where the real problem comes in. Breast cancer is a serious illness, something that people lose sight of. We don’t fetishize other types of cancer, like colon cancer or pancreatic cancer or skin cancer, because cancer isn’t sexy, and most of the body parts it affects aren’t, either.

It’s just a little status update, right? It’s just Facebook. Well, like it or not, Facebook is a powerful tool that people use every day, often several times a day, and it’s a major presence in the social fabric of our generation. As such, it is an entirely plausible means of raising awareness about a whole slew of issues. However, posting silly innuendos in the name of breast cancer trivializes the disease, not because they are frivolous innuendos, but because they have nothing to do with breast cancer. There just has to be a more clever way to do it.

Alison Howard is a third-year in the College majoring in English.