Save the women, not the hooters

Mackenzie Bush

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is starting to wind down. As we end another October full of pink sports uniforms, trash cans and yogurt lids, I think it’s important to reflect on what the movement is currently doing, and how it can improve in the future.

Last week in Kirkhof, I was shocked to see Grand Valley’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer selling black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Save the Hooters.” Admittedly, they were employing other awareness tactics as well, but this one stood out, and buying the T-shirt was the main way they presented to support the cause.

I think that the use of the slogan “Save the Hooters” very starkly illustrates the issues inherent in some of the breast cancer awareness support strategies. Using the word “hooters,” which is most strongly associated with a restaurant whose main draw is the waitresses’ cleavage, inherently sexualizes breast cancer. It sends the message that the goal of this fundraising and breast cancer awareness is not to save the lives of women, but to ensure that their mammary glands remain intact.

This isn’t anything new. In middle school, I remember many of the boys wore bracelets that said “Save the Ta-Tas,” and the slogan “Save Second Base” has been making the rounds, too. And if that’s not convincing enough for you, in 2012, a porn site tried to bring in traffic by offering to donate one cent to breast cancer charities for every thirty views on its videos. Breasts are often used as marketing tools, and they’re being used as a draw for breast cancer awareness, big time.

But what if, in the end, a woman afflicted with breast cancer must have a mastectomy in order to save her life?

Often, her support vanishes. When Angelina Jolie made the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy, tweets floated around the internet like, “may watch Tomb Raider tonight to commemorate the passing of its greatest legacy,” and “floating a pair of chinese lanterns down the east river in memory of angelina joliee’s (sic) boobs. rip.”

Although Jolie encountered a great deal of support, there was still a lot of speculation going around, wondering whether she could still receive roles and continue her career as an actress.

This focus on breasts rather than health extends to everyday survivors as well. Many doctors request that husbands be present during surgical consultations regarding breast cancer treatment, and some single women are even advised to put off the procedure until they have found a stable, supportive relationship.

In addition, if you scroll through a breast cancer support forum, you can find many women struggling with a lack of support and sexual affection from their husbands after they receive a mastectomy. One woman wrote, “Even though my husband said he doesn’t care whether I have 1 boob or no boobs, we have only been intimate 1 time since my surgery in 2009. He doesn’t even look at me naked anymore…It hurts so much to feel as if he doesn’t see me as sexy anymore.”

Somehow, these two extremes are allowed to coexist. Breast cancer is being inherently sexualized, with the emphasis put on breasts and their value to men, while breast cancer survivors receive the message that they are not sexy and have lost something intrinsic to being a woman.

Breast cancer awareness campaigns need to put the focus back on saving the lives of women, through whatever means necessary. They need to support survivors and avoid alienating them through sexualized, demeaning advertisements. Breast cancer awareness should also be focused on women’s health, emphasizing the importance of self-checks and mammograms. This sort of campaign against breast cancer will have a more positive impact on our society, save more lives and more consciously portray the weight of the disease.