Hey readers, this is your long-lost blogger, Michelle. Sorry for my lazy-blogging last semester. It is one of my new year's resolutions to actually blog when I say I will. So, here I go, letting off a little steam about the latest facebook meme.
I started noticing last week that many female friends of mine were posting colors on their facebook status. Upon a quick google search (ah, internet!) I found out that this phenomenon is a viral-campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer. How? Well, the colours refer to the color of bra that one is wearing, and you know, bras hold up our boobies.
Let me set something straight: I am all for people being aware of breast cancer, for funding research on breast cancer, and for supporting women and men who have breast cancer. That's right, men can get breast cancer too. However, I am entirely sick of the sexualization of breast cancer. Whether it's the Save the TaTas campaign, or the Save the Boobies campaign, it seems like the logic behind many breast cancer-awareness goes something like this: Boobies are nice to look at. Breast cancer treatment often necessitates mastectomies. A world without boobies is intolerable to the (heterosexual) male gaze. Therefore, we must end breast cancer.
The problem? There are real women attached to those boobies, women who I care about for reasons beyond their racks. I want to prevent breast cancer because, you know what, breast cancer fucking sucks. The greatest injustice of breast cancer is not the loss of breasts to the male gaze, but the loss of women and men whom are loved and cherished by their family and friends.
Now, the bra-colour-posting meme, to me, is a cocktail of discomfort. First and foremost, I don't see how anyone imagining me in my underwear is going to raise awareness about breast cancer-screening. Imagining a bevy of facebook freinds in "lacy black" bras might raise certain things *ahem*, but it certainly doesn't "raise awareness" in any clear way.
Some people have defended this meme as an "awareness-raising" campaign. I've heard this approach before: such-and-such product or so-and-so celebrity is raising awareness about global warming, Aids, poverty etc. However, having the intent of "raising awareness" (as vaguely defined as that is) does not alleviate one from accountability for the effects of one's methods in raising awareness. There are different ways of "being aware" of any phenomenon, and no way is apolitical or ahistorical. One can "be aware" of global inequalities such as poverty, but that doesn't necessarily mean that one situates poverty within, for example, colonial legacies and the capitalist market system. Instead, for example we could "be aware" (as people often are) of poverty as something cultural, an inherent quality of the exoticized and Othered "African." World Vision infomercials offers us images of black children with bugs in their eyes, black bodies with distended bellies, and then juxtaposes these images with images of a white woman extending her hand to black youth, white men distributing rice. After watching these infomercials, are we really more "aware" of any "situation"? Do we truly understand the complexities of the image being offered to us? No. This infomercial operates to appeal to our already preconceived notions of African society as a homogeneous "culture of poverty" and of white bodies as the benevolent agents of social change. It offers the "western" white viewer the psychological satisfaction of being subject of social change, but not in anyway implicated in the oppression of others. No structure or policies are implicated in such representations of poverty, instead poverty appears to be some abstract, ethereal substance that somehow diminishes once white people shine their benevolent gaze upon it. (Please read in my sarcasm).
We often prematurely assume that "we are aware" of a situation simply by consuming images or numbers about said issue that are offered to us in marketable forms such as a white "end poverty" bracelet, a well-edited infomercial or a "save the tatas" t-shirt. There is nothing inherently wrong with "raising awareness," but we must be aware and accountable for the implications of specific awareness raising initiatives. "Raising awareness" is not enough. We must critically engage with the messages offered by initiatives such as the bra-colour meme. This means asking critical questions like:
What gendered assumptions underlie the success of this bra-colour-meme-campaign? Why is this sexualized tactic often used for "breast cancer" but not prostate cancer? (possible answer: we often define women as objects of male gaze, and value women based on their attainment of aesthetic or beauty standards.)
What are the possible effects of "save the boobs" and similar campaigns? (possible answer: narrowly mapping breast cancer's impact on the breasts itself, rather than the social reality of individuals and families living with breast cancer.)
What do you think? Do you have any feelings on the facebook meme, or "raising awareness"? Please share!