Sex Sells...Awareness?

The ever-brilliant Kate Harding brought this train wreck to my attention via her post on Jezebel:

If you were paying attention, you’ve learned the important and timeless lesson that a woman should be valued primarily (if not solely) based on her body and sexuality.  It’s a classic and tired message used in advertising, movies, television, mainstream ladies mags (not to mention ‘gentlemen’s publications’) and so on, but this time, it’s got a bit of a spin; it’s not used for profit, but rather to raise awareness (and promote the charity organization’s Boobyball fundraiser).

Here’s an excerpt from Kate Harding’s post, in which she sums up the problematic nature of campaigns like this one:

This boobtastic Rethink Breast Cancer ad “and a couple more like it,” according to the LA Times’s Dan Neil, “seem to answer a question that must have nagged breast-cancer-awareness advocates: How to get men to care? With rare exceptions, men don’t suffer from breast cancer. The earnest, sad-violins spots invoking moms and grand-moms of the past probably haven’t gained much traction among men.” Of course not! Why would we ever expect men to care about their moms and grand-moms dying of cancer if the issue isn’t marketed to get their attention? (And they say feminists have pathetically low expectations of men.) Says Neil on behalf of Dude Nation, “These ads make the equation explicit: More breast cancer equals fewer awesome breasts. Brilliant. Where do I send my check? The only people who could object to such ads are advocates for other kinds of cancer awareness. “

Setting aside the implication that the average straight male has thus far been too fucking stupid to connect the dots between breast cancer and “fewer awesome breasts” — what was I saying about low expectations? — there’s actually a pretty good reason to object to the ads, regardless of any affiliation with other cancer awareness projects. However devastating mastectomies may be, the somewhat larger point here is that breast cancer equals fewer awesome women. And if that point is lost on Dude Nation, the problem is not with the ads, it’s with a culture that says women’s primary value lies in our sexuality. I mean, seriously, is it even possible to illustrate that any more clearly? Dead human beings of the female persuasion = meh. Lost tits = crisis!


Of course, ReThink Breast Cancer, the Canadian charity that created this viral video, isn’t the first to use sexy boobies in a sad and male-gaze-based attempt to get people to care about breast cancer, and more specifically, the loss of said sexy boobies that may accompany it. There’s the 14-month-old Ta-tas Brand, which sells women’s tees and tanks with phrases like “Caught you lookin’ at my ta-tas” and “Save the ta-tas,” bro-tastic men’s tees reading “Ta-tas are awesome” and “Save a life/grope your wife,” and of course kid’s tees and baby onesies, so the whole fam can show their support of ta-tas. According to the brand’s site, “5% of all sales of ta-tas Brand products will be donated to The Save the Ta-tas Foundation,” a 501(c)(3) non-profit which “will continue to support outstanding organizations that lead the way in the fight against cancer.”

A Google search of “save the [insert slang word for breasts here] t-shirt” brings up an impressive variety of apparently for-profit breast cancer awareness tees proclaiming “Squeeze a boob, save a life” and “Support my rack.” A couple years back, the breast cancer awareness group at my (Catholic) university encouraged their peers to “Save Second Base.” Ya know, because what else are boobs (or women) good for?

Few would argue against breast cancer awareness, prevention, research and the like. And of course breasts may be a part of a woman’s sexuality. But when awareness campaigns such as Rethink Breast Cancer’s Save the Boobs reduce cancer to its possible effects on a woman’s perceived sex appeal, the result isn’t educational, motivational or inspiring. The Save the Boobs campaign may bring in money for a worthy cause, but there are certainly other, less offensive means that could be just as monetarily successful, without reducing women to sets of “awesome breasts.”

by Malori Maloney
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3 Comments Have Been Posted


This ad just absolutely disgusts me. That is all I can say. It dehumanizes women, it ignores the agony and despair associated with breast cancer and in a way plays it down to make it seem like a frivolous problem based solely on whether or not that pair of tits may someday not be walking by the pool. But what can we do about it?

So...breasts define the woman, is what that ad is telling me?

This post has hit upon a problem I've been discussing with my friends/family/mother for years. As a woman in a long line who've had breast cancer, I end up doing a lot of walks for the Komen foundation, etc. At my university, I've noticed an influx of fraternities and sororities getting involved in BC awareness. That's great. However, the entire "save the tatas" or "I love boobies" branding is deeply distressing. What are we saying about the entire cadre of women who have lost one or both breasts to this disease: do they not count anymore? If it's all about the breasts, doesn't that mean it's not about the women? Do they really think that the only way to "get men to care" is to point out they'll have fewer women to ogle on the streets? It's insulting to EVERYONE. I nearly confronted a young man wearing a shirt on campus, sponsored by his fraternity, that read "If you don't check them, I will." Right. Because nothing says "I care" more than the threat of sexual assault. Something tells me the point is getting lost...

"a young man wearing a shirt

"a young man wearing a shirt on campus, sponsored by his fraternity, that read "If you don't check them, I will." "

What? There are situations when that's appropriate. I can think of exactly three times when that shirt is not threatening.

1. As a nightshirt
2. In a very specific group of people who know the wearer and that the wearer is not serious.
3. As a shop rag

While I have certainly considered the 'save the boobs' campaigns to be marketing genius, and perhaps an effective way to get non-traditional demographics involved in breast cancer awareness, this example crosses over into the category of truly bizarre.

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