Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tazi’s Corner #62 – Breast Cancer Awareness Backlash

Dear Readers:

This month, I have been promoting the fact that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and have added a page for people to snag a pinkribbon gif for their social media; leave a comment on who they are remembering; and in general encouraging people to talk about this disease in an effort to raise awareness of the fact that breast cancer is a very treatable illness if caught early. In return, I have heard numerous voices in support of these efforts, but also quite a few voicing a backlash against it.

One reader wrote, “Why is breast cancer so special? Why does it get its own month? What about prostate cancer or colon cancer? Why don’t men get their own month? This campaign is sexist, but I doubt you will say anything about it because it is sexist against MEN!”

My response to this rant – and others like it – is that you must be the change you wish to see in the world (Thank you to whoever tweaked Mahatma Gandhi’s words for that eloquent quote). Once upon a time, not that long ago (but well before Johnny used to work on the docks…) it was considered shameful to discuss subjects like breast cancer because the word “breast” has overtly sexual connotations. Women did not give themselves monthly self-exams because such an exam involved touching oneself in an intimate area.

Women were literally dying from embarrassment – the embarrassment of systemically checking their own bosom for changes in shape or unusual discharge; the embarrassment of talking to their doctors about a family history of breast cancer; the embarrassment of speaking about their own health because the affected part of the body was seen as shameful. (Former) First Lady Betty Ford started the movement to end this shame by coming forward and announcing to the world that she was being treated for breast cancer – in 1974.  That’s right; it was not the 1950’s; it was almost a decade after the tumultuous years of the 1960’s got started when women were finally encouraged to come out and speak about a cancer that will infect approximately 1 in 8 American women over the course of a lifetime.

In 1982 the Susan G. Komen Foundation (now Komen for a Cure) was founded – by a woman and in memory of a woman to raise awareness and research monies for a cancer whose victims are 90% female! By comparison, the American Cancer Society has existed for 100 years (it was founded in 1913), yet their drum to champion the cause of this very common cancer (Making Strides Against Breast Cancer) only started in 1993 – eleven years after Komen for a Cure was founded by a woman whose sister died from breast cancer and the lack of readily available preventative information about it, and almost twenty years after Betty Ford pulled back the curtain and brought the illness out of the shadows. Only now that Komen’s Pink Ribbon campaign has raised billions  on behalf of this (predominantly) women’s cause do you cry sexism – against men? For shame!

Women have always had to carry their own banner in the fight for equality. It was Abigail Adams, not her husband President John Adams who fought to see that the Founding Fathers “remembere[ed] the ladies” in the fight for women’s suffrage; it was Susan B. Anthony and her cohorts who organized the convention at Seneca Falls, not their husbands and fathers, and while large numbers of men eventually came to support the cause of women’s suffrage it was only after the cause had become large enough to earn their notice. The same can be said for the fight to fund research for and awareness of breast cancer.

I am not unsympathetic to the men who are fighting, whose lives have been claimed or inextricably altered by the scourge that is prostate and colorectal cancer. However, perfectly healthy men should not expect the women of the world to rise up and start a campaign for awareness on their behalf. Gentlemen, the time has come for you to take up your own banner and make your voices heard. Express your fears about the effects of prostate cancer surgery. Is the possibility of being left impotent a fate worse than death? (I am being serious here…I was neutered before I reached sexual maturity). Are you so afraid that someone is going to question your sexuality because you had a scope inserted into your rectum that you are willing to forego a medically recommended colonoscopy? While it is discomforting, I can assure you that colon cancer is much more painful! By speaking out as one, together you can overcome.

Be the change you seek to see in the world. Every cancer has its own color ribbon; its own research foundation (and no, colon cancer’s ribbon is not brown as my smarty-pants Uncle suggests!). Make a donation. Wear a ribbon and when people ask what it is for, raise awareness telling them! Ask those who inquire to support the cause, too, by making a donation to research or volunteering to assist someone stricken with the illness or by participating in a walk to raise both funds and awareness or to join you in the planning of one. Ask people to do something to earn the right to wear the ribbon!  (Survivors and their loved ones, you have already fought and earned that right). Whatever it is you decide to do, don’t decide to leave it up to someone else to do it for you and then complain when it doesn’t get done. Sexism my left hindquarter!


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.


  1. Thank you Tazi for writing this column. I am studying to be a Cancer Registrar and I feel that awareness for all cancers is very important.

  2. As a response to your male reader who feels slighted by Breast Cancer Awareness Month you could mention the popular "Movember" movement. During the month of November men grow out their mustaches and beards to raise awarness for prostate cancer. Most of the men that I know participate in movember, either offically, by signing up online and taking pledges, or unofficially, by just not shaving.

    1. I have never heard of Movermber, but what a great idea! I will research this and promote it! Maybe some enterprising man will push the cause forward by seeking corporate sponsorship for it...maybe Gillette or Schick would like to be the Official Sponsor of Movember - because when it's over, there are gonna be some tough beards to shave!

  3. Breast cancer is not only a women's disease. Men have a lifetime risk of 1 in 1,000 per the American Cancer Society. And the bulk of research literature for other diseases (cardiac, lung,etc.) has focused on male subjects--only just starting to change. Finally, men are touched by breast cancer when they lose their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. The sexism argument holds less water than an A-cup.

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