Friday, October 8, 2010

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

And I am feeling ambivalent. Obviously, I am not *anti* breast cancer awareness. One of my first jobs as a high school kid was working as a medical secretary at a breast-surgeon/oncologist's office. Some of the women who came in were only a few years older than I was (I was 17 at the time.) We even had one male patient. The clinic was on East 72nd street in Manhattan and catered to upper-class women. We had patients who were wives of famous men, broadway stars and at least one lady who sang at the Met. It didn't matter what these women did or who they were or how rich they were when they were sitting in the waiting room. They were all terrified.

So I wouldn't say that I am anti-breast cancer awareness. It's just that a lot of the stuff makes me cringe. I feel like the people who have designed this campaign have made certain assumptions about femininity none of which apply to me or any of my female friends. For example, I'm pretty sure we all hate pink.

I guess what's bothering me is that when an actual women's-issue gets airtime it does so with certain assumptions that don't apply to me or most of the women I know (including the stay at home moms.) It seems to me that the people in charge of the marketing campaign have sold it to the rest of the world with an overdose of cuteness (teddy bears and pink ribbons.) Um, neither I nor most of the women I like qualify as cute unless your definition of cute includes "has fangs." I realize that pink was the obvious color to choose for breast cancer ribbons but I feel that there's a "cutsie" meme pervading in the Breast Cancer Awareness culture (for lack of a better phrase.) And that make me angry. It makes me feel like some people felt that there the best way to make people think more about breast cancer (make women do their self breast examinations, make lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies spend more money on finding cures or early detection/preventative medicine) was to make the whole thing cute. Let's not have angry women demanding that we do something about this disease-let's make them sweet and cute.

I say this knowing that for breast cancer awareness to have gotten as mainstream as it has several angry women (many of them with no hair and single or double mastectomies) must have done some work in the past. I do not mean to belittle what they've done. And

In the end, however mad it makes me, I can forgive the cutsiness factor, and the lowest common denominator factor (ladies-don't you all just want chocolate?) to a certain degree because I feel it's intended to remind us all-survivors and other women that we are all women-no matter how many breasts we have and we all share some common interests-like making sure that legislators, doctors, and heads of pharmaceutical companies do the math on prevention, early diagnosis and least invasive/heroic healing of breast cancer.

That's far more important than where you like to leave your purse.

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