The Misogyny and Deplorables* of Pinktober

The wrong kind of awareness.

It’s probably happened to all women. It recently happened to me when I made a homecare visit to a patient’s house, and she introduced me to her son. But the setting could be at the office or at a party. You are introduced to a man for the first time. The man doesn’t meet your eyes, doesn’t reach out to shake your hand, doesn’t say hello. Instead, he first rakes your body with his eyes to check out your legs, your breasts, your physique. It might be unconscious on his part, but he does it anyway. It might be entirely conscious, and when he finally does meet your eyes, they may show an approving leer or a dismissive sneer. You stand there and realize several things at once. You are aware of feeling uncomfortable. You know you’ve been judged, sized up, checked out, based entirely on how you look. Your personhood has been violated and dismissed. You doubt that this man will take anything you say seriously. Whatever redeeming qualities he may possess, you know that, in a fundamental way, he’s acting the part programmed by our culture, which is to act like a sexist jerk, just like the hundreds of other sexist jerks you’ve already met in your life over the years. What is unlikely is that you will say something. You’re used to it, too used to it. You’re busy, you have other things to think about, you have work to do. You try to ignore it and move on. But you store the encounter in that repository of shame, anger, fear, and frustration that every woman lives with from the day she is old enough to be aware of the threat that such encounters represent.

And these encounters are just the tip of the iceberg. In the past several weeks, we’ve all been made painfully aware that the mindset of rape culture reaches all the way from our courts to our presidential election. But its reality is hardly new. Back in November of last year, writer Gretchen Kelly wrote about it in the Huffington Post. She described the ugly truth, that “this is what it means to be a woman. We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men.[…] We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger.”

Recently, a 2005 recording was released in which the GOP presidential candidate demonstrated the depths of his sexist depravity by asserting his belief that he was entitled to engage in sexual assault. Following this, Kelly Oxford invited women to tweet their first experience of sexual assault. A day later, she reported that she’d had over 9.7 million Twitter responses from women, many of whom saying they had more than one story to tell.

What does this have to do with breast cancer awareness?

For eight years, I’ve been speaking out in this blog not only about the corporate merchandising that exploits breast cancer, but also about the sexualizing, objectifying slogans, games, products, and so-called awareness campaigns that reduce a deadly, incurable disease to a prurient party about breasts. And for eight years, many of us can attest only too well that, despite our best efforts, these tone-deaf endeavors continue, and that many men and women, including some who have experienced breast cancer, fail to understand why we object to this ceaseless crap. “Lighten up,” we are told.

And why do we object to it? Why can’t we just “lighten up” and brush it off? Because, people, it’s part of the same culture in which men think they have a right to leer at our body parts and disregard our very existence. It’s part of the culture that produced a presidential candidate who bragged that his star status permits him to walk up to strange women and “Grab them by the pussy.” It’s part of the culture that obscures genuine awareness of breast cancer with exhortations to save the ta-tas, the hooters, the boobies, everything but saving the women and men who will die of this disease when it metastasizes.

It’s part of the culture in which the corporate donors of possibly the best-known breast cancer fundraising organization in this country evidently think there’s nothing wrong with raising money for breast cancer ‘awareness’ by selling sex toys, or by inviting women to show up at nightclubs in pink bikinis. It’s the culture in which that same organization has been loathe to revise the happy, pink image of survival it orchestrates at its fundraising events by including those who will ultimately not survive. And when that organization does finally invite someone with metastatic breast cancer to speak at one of these events, she is advised beforehand that “parts of my speech might ‘terrify’ the newly diagnosed in attendance and those sections should be deleted.”

But we should be terrified. Indeed, we are terrified. When 113 women and men die every day in this country of metastatic breast cancer, when the number of these deaths each year has not appreciably changed in decades, we ought as a society to be not only terrified, but ashamed.

We ought to be ashamed of a culture in which a judge gives a rapist a six-month sentence, stating he was concerned about the impact that prison would have on a man who assaulted an unconscious woman, but not evidently concerned about the impact that being raped would have on his victim. In light of that, perhaps we ought not to be surprised that this same culture can claim that breast cancer is the “sexy” cancer; that people can regard mastectomy and reconstructive surgery as merely “a free boob job;” that a pitiful, single-digit percentage of breast cancer research funding is spent on metastatic breast cancer, when up to 30% of those who are diagnosed with early breast cancer will develop metastases.

But we really must, by now, realize that this is unacceptable. It is abhorrent to define the disease that kills over 40,000 people each year entirely by the breasts in which it may first appear. We must acknowledge that trivializing breast cancer with campaigns and slogans that objectify women is an insidiously cruel, demeaning, perverse form of misogyny. And that we are obliged to reject it, as loudly as we can, as long as it takes to change it.

*Go the this link for the origin of the phrase, “basket of deplorables.”

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This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Sunday, October 16, 2016 at 03:10 pm, filed under Fighting the Pink Peril, Metastastatic Breast Cancer, Nitty Gritty and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

10 Responses to “The Misogyny and Deplorables* of Pinktober”

  1. Yes! Enough! But I despair of ever getting the people who say “lighten up” to understand just how damaging this culture is. Especially the women with breast cancer who embrace the sexualization. Is it even worth it to try to convince these folks? I think I’m just trying to reach the people who are ready to wake up.
    Anyway, excellent. So tired of this too. xoxxoWendi

  2. I don’t know, Wendi. I despair of the human race in general at times. I can’t even wrap my brain around the endless misogyny we already put up with, that led to the nomination of a such an ignorant, narcissistic predator as a candidate for president. The only thing ‘good’ about it is that the outrage that has erupted in recent days helped to crystallize my thoughts about this with respect to breast cancer. Thanks, friend. xoxo

  3. As a man two years post treatment for breast cancer I feel incredibly marginalised. Awareness that guys get this disease is back where is was for women 30 years ago. It would disrupt the pink charities marketing plans to include a few men, so it’s easiest to ignore us and so our later diagnosis is leading to a poorer prognosis. And men with a genetic propensity to this disease are not included in public screening programs despite the likelihood that their lives may be saved by early detection.

  4. You are so right, Rod. It’s sexism of another sort that men are left out of the pink picture entirely, that campaigns about screening programs never seem to mention that men carry genetic mutations as well and have family histories that make it prudent for them to be screened. Thank you so much for commenting.

  5. Dear Kathi,

    Thank you for writing this! This is so powerfully and beautifully written. Now I know where to send people when they don’t get it, when they think I should lighten up, etc. You have such a strong, powerful, and brilliant voice. I love reading what you write.
    Love and peace,
    Lisa

  6. Thank you, Lisa. What a kind, lovely comment! I do hope it does help people understand. xoxo, Kathi

  7. Amen to all you said, Kathi. We live in a world that demeans and objectifies women. It’s horrendous. And all the “save the ta-tas” games and slogans are a symptom of that objectification. Well-said, and I’m wishing against hope that this crap changes, but it won’t.

  8. It really gets old, Beth. It’s the thing that makes me most sick of Pinktober. *sigh* At least some of us are aware of it. xo

  9. Dead on; well said; wonderfully accurate and detailed. Adding a link to this on my Facebook page, if FB allows. As someone with the most aggressive type of breast cancer there is, in the first 3rd of the most aggressive chemo first-timer regimen there is (but not much chance it will make a huge difference in my likelihood of recurrence), I have also experienced additional aspects of the pink candy-coating: Women are continually reminded by well-meaning people that “attitude is everything” and shut down from sharing any real details or dislikes or scary information about cancer–such as that mammograms can miss a cancer for years. Or that wigs may make others feel better, but many are horribly uncomfortable, expensive, etc. Before they can say a negative word, or even share that they have cancer, they hear chirpy comments from those who have learned it, like, “…and you have such a great, positive attitude!” Once I was explaining to a nurse why my cancer was being treated so aggressively, despite being stage IIa. I was having a transfusion because my anemia from just 1 treatment was so severe. She interrupted me to ask what my blood type is, part of the verification process for making sure you get the right blood. When I answered, “B Positive”, she and her fellow nurse grinned and said, “See there!”. I didn’t bother with the rest of my explanation, and neither noticed, having decided (it seemed) that, whatever I have, my good attitude will see me through. Breast cancer patients, like newborn baby girls, are gifted with pink clothing, candy, ribbons, stuffed animals, lotions, PJs and slippers, flowers, cakes, or a donation to the (deep) PINK POCKETS behind the “awareness” campaigns. What is the similarity with being a newborn and having cancer? Or for that matter, as Rod points out so poignantly, between having cancer and being female, simply because this cancer begins in the breast? I’m going to start a blog that will talk about this, and some other not-so-chirpy aspects of having breast cancer, and it will mention and welcome men. It will also mention your wonderful site.

  10. Thank you, Sister P. Nice to hear from a kindred spirit.

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