Right intentions, wrong methods

The well-meaning “Breastival” trivializes realities of breast cancer.

By Emily Kaiser

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the University of Chicago chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) has filled this week with events and fundraising to help save one of the more important things in this world…. Breasts.

Not lives, not dignity, just breasts. “Breastival” included a Wear Pink Day at the Pub, games on the Quads, and various other “Booze for Boobs” events. In what could have been an honest effort to face a real issue with a real response, CAC’s breast cancer events reduced the issue to crude high-school humor. The chalking, flyers, and T-shirts referenced nothing but overly sexualized, tongue-in-cheek methods to make money.

While I admire CAC for the events, I can’t help but think they’ve missed the point. What does “Save Second Base,” a T-shirt donned with appropriately placed baseball mitts, actually suggest? It suggests breast cancer is a problem because it results in the loss of a woman’s breasts, primarily sexual objects for the pleasure of men or other women. So all you men out there should donate because, hey, don’t you love breasts? The gender orientation of Breastival was loudly male, in fact. Fundraising games on the quad included a mock beer pong set up, as large pitchers of beer help to show your support for the cause. It’s embarrassing and does nothing to provide supportive and serious discourse about breast cancer, among men or women. Instead, it invites us all to giggle like sixth-grade boys in the back of sex ed class and to forget about any other aspect of the issue.

Before the feminist movement of 30 years ago, breast cancer was a disease no one talked about, especially not publicly. The sexuality of “breast” was hushed along with efforts to eradicate, raise awareness, and open communities for sufferers and survivors. We’ve come a long way since then, but the realities of a devastating cancer are still hidden behind the cloak of sexuality, albeit a very loud cloak. It’s true that breast cancer rarely kills anymore…unless you’re poor, a minority, or don’t have health insurance to pay for early detection. There is a real, difficult experience behind cancer, any cancer, but for some reason, femininity still holds us back. There is a lack of serious support and effort in this type of campaign. At least in their campus initiative, CAC’s Breastival offered no concrete information about the realities of breast cancer, no local operations in our community, and no real initiatives or ideas beyond donating proceeds to the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides. It’s as if wrapping us up in pink ribbons will make everything better. Breastival does nothing but buy into the over-pinking of women’s lives.

Even with private insurance, bankruptcy plagues many women because of the burden of co-pays…and this is after they survive cancer. There is a lack of knowledge for even the simplest of practices to help prevent or detect breast cancer. The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program provides free screening to women living in Illinois without health insurance. We’re an educated university, so why did I hear more about nipples than this program? If you really care about breast cancer, fight for health care reform, fight for access for all women regardless of race or means, or create a community in Hyde Park outside of pitchers of beer at the Pub. Or, if you really care about women, fight for the cure of the most serious, but decidedly less easily sexualized, cancers that we face: lung and skin cancer. Don’t give me a teddy bear and tell me to think positively. Don’t ask me to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a cup for the sake of a dollar. And don’t tell me that the only thing that’s valuable about eradicating breast cancer is my breasts.

Emily Kaiser is a fourth-year in the College majoring in sociology.