Friday, July 09, 2010

Save the chubbies (by Suzie)

My local newspaper reported on a boy who wore an “I (heart) boobies” wristband to middle school. No, he was not proclaiming his affection for stupid people or tropical seabirds. Nor was he saying that he liked women’s breasts in any sort of sexual way. His mother made that clear when she said school authorities “should get their minds out of the gutter."

Instead, he said, he just wanted to show support for breast-cancer research.

A teacher told the boy that the wristband was inappropriate for school. On the next school day, he wore it again and wouldn’t take it off. He got a one-day, in-school suspension for insubordination. An assistant principal told him that it was the same as if a girl wore a wristband that said “I (heart) (slang term for penises),” as the newspaper put it delicately. The principal later made his assistant apologize for the remark.

Actually, it’s not the same. Our society gives status to males for sexuality but penalizes girls. If a 14-year-old girl wore a wristband that said, “I (heart) cocks,” some would consider her a slut or say she was inviting harassment. A boy is just being a boy, you know?

Some of you may argue that a woman’s breasts are not genitals, and thus, penises aren’t an equivalent. But that would be hard to tell in our culture. In your local sex shop, if there’s a coffee mug with a penis on it, you can expect a coffee mug with breasts.

Let’s say a boy wears an “I (heart) pussy” bracelet to raise awareness about vaginal and vulvar cancers. Even then, he would be viewed differently from the girl with the cock-loving bracelet.

(We do need to raise awareness about gynecologic cancers, by the way. How many of you can rattle off the symptoms of ovarian cancer, for example?

Straight women will wear tight, low-cut T-shirts proclaiming, “I (heart) boobies,” because it shows that they are fun and sexy. We’d never get straight men to wear tight shorts proclaiming, “I (heart) cocks.” They might wear ones saying “I (heart) my cock,” although that goes without saying.

Zazzle has I (heart) cock merchandise, although it doesn’t appear to benefit penile-cancer awareness. Learn from my mistake: Don’t search for such merchandise unless you (heart) big photos of erect penises on your screen. Ditto for I (heart) pussy merchandise. Oh, and here’s some Zazzle humor on prostate cancer. Before his surgery for prostate cancer, a friend suggested the title of this post as a slogan to raise awareness of prostate cancer; its treatment can make it harder for a man to get hard. I have a couple more: “Detection saves erections” and “Get it up – fight prostate cancer.”

There’s a real organization to raise awareness about male genital cancers called Save the Tadpoles. (People are going to be making plays on the original “save the whales” slogan long after whales are extinct.) The Tadpole site says: “The struggle against men's cancers is where the breast cancer awareness campaign was thirty years ago.”

In those decades, our society has gone from acting like a woman who lost a breast lost her sexuality to making breast-cancer awareness fun and sexy. Is this how we have to sell it? Loving women isn’t enough; men will have to make it about themselves? They’ll have to reinforce their masculinity by declaring that, yes, they love them some boobies? Women don’t care enough about themselves, but they’ll shop and party in pink? Do we care more about saving breasts than saving women’s lives?

Last year, Erin Chapman commented on a video gone viral that features a woman in a bikini to raise awareness about breast cancer. Please read her column because she makes a lot of good points (which I swear I was working on before I found her writing. Curse these last-minute searches!) Campaigns that emphasize the love of healthy breasts may hurt survivors who already feel self-conscious from their surgeries, Chapman says.

I planned to end this post with righteous anger. But time passed, and I thought of all the ways that people, including me, try to raise money. I briefly considered selling shoes with my foot imprint on eBay for my nonprofit. At a medical conference, another patient advocate asked, “Who do I have to blow around here to get some respect?” I replied, “If only it were that easy.” I guess we’re stuck with bake sales and T-shirts and who-knows-what-else until we have a better system for health care and research.
Next week: More on raising money to save ta-tas and other body parts, with a happy ending.