Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Much Ado?

When the Supreme Court busted the chops of the school district which disciplined some students for wearing "I Love Boobies" bracelets as part of a breast cancer awareness campaign, I yawned a little. Come on, cut the kids some slack. At least they were thinking about one of the scourges women face.

Today, however, I read an opinion piece by Peggy Orenstein and my face got, well, pink. She suggests, and quite astutely, that this particular "awareness" campaign, while well-intended, really does miss the mark in all sorts of ways.

Last week, a federal judge stopped a Pennsylvania school from suspending two girls from school for wearing breast cancer fundraising bracelets that proclaimed "I ♥ Boobies!" with a nod to their 1st Amendment rights.

Well, score one for free speech.

And zero for breast cancer. ...

Let me be clear here: Young women should touch their breasts. Not out of fear but because they live in a world that continually encourages them to act sexy without understanding their sexuality, to care more about being desirable than about their own desires. Kittenish cancer campaigns reinforce that message, simultaneously pathologizing and fetishizing women's breasts at the expense of the bodies, hearts and minds attached to them. In that way, they actually suppress discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — those of us whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible.

The feminist critique hits the mark, but more importantly, it also shows how even something as devastating as breast cancer can be trivialized by reducing women to walking breasts.

So, what does it take to educate young people, especially young women, and to energize them about breast cancer awareness? Peggy Orenstein has some pretty damned good suggestions:

There's so much young people could do to show they care about breast cancer: They could organize childcare or meals for mothers of small children going through treatment. They could volunteer in cancer resource centers. They could hold fundraisers for affected families whose mothers can no longer work. They could spearhead projects on potential carcinogens in beauty products (which, to be fair, is something "I ♥ Boobies," in the wake of criticism of its mission, has now begun to emphasize). All of that would take effort and time, but it would be more meaningful to women with cancer and, I imagine, to teenagers themselves. Because, among other things, the idea that you are taking action merely by wearing a titillating bracelet is not a great life lesson.

Preach it, Sister!



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