Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Save breasts, rescue lives, and preserve the male gaze.

I know, I know, I said I would write my thesis but this campaign is too incredible to not share with you all! I present to you the Rethink Breast Cancer movement.

From what I can gather from their website, they cater to a younger (or youngish) audience, because breast cancer affects younger women differently, according to their research board of doctors and oncologists. As a primarily health, but also women's movement, they also want to differentiate themselves from the 'older' movements, which involved pink ribbons, bureaucratic charity structures, and fear-mongering.

Young people like cute drawings.

The differentiation they want to make is also seen in how they clearly distinguish themselves from these older, boring, breast-cancer movements. They use a handwritten, cursive (alive!) font, complete with little doodles of 'fun' cartoons like hearts and stars. I don't understand the resentment against pink ribbons though -- their entire website is still pink?! The colour pink has become associated with breast cancer and this can be a problem.

It's great that they try to include men (there's one working on the team) both in their work and in their target audience, because that has also been a problem of previous marketing. And so they created an iPhone App called Your Man Reminder, so a series of strong, muscular, heterosexual guys can remind you to give some TLC to your breasts. In the video a man checks his own 'breasts' (pecs? man boobs?) to demonstrate how a woman should do it to her own.

Wow. At first I thought this video was a parody -- it's such a caricature (like those Old Spice commercials!) of the male gaze and the quintessential hot guy that it's difficult to find the message (check your breasts regularly) and to take it seriously. Even with a disease that affects only women, they still manage to make men the focus of it. And let's not even get started on the fact that these guys are virtually caricatures of heterosexual masculinity, with women tripping all over themselves when they walk by.

To me, this video is implicitly saying:

  1. Hot guys love your boobs.
  2. Check your breasts so you can save them.
  3. Hot guys can continue to enjoy your boobs. 

Even the catchphrase of breast cancer campaigns is 'Save Breasts, Save Lives'. Um, breast cancer is cancer -- it can kill. I've always thought it was weird that saving breasts was mentioned first. There should be breast cancer campaigns that normalise women who had to undergo mastectomies and now have one breast, or none at all. It should not be a big deal to lose what we think constitutes femininity, if you survive cancer and stay alive. (On a side note, here's a website that has non-sexualised pictures of normal breasts, and more analysis on it.)

It's also strange that a man's body with his non-existent breasts can be displayed. A man has no breast tissue and he will never get breast cancer -- why is he demonstrating Touch, Look and Check? It's ironic that female cleavage is for public consumption everywhere we look, but we can't use it in a non-sexual way, in a fun campaign to promote self-checks for lumps. Women's bodies on the other hand, are only shown in breast cancer campaigns in Singapore when it's for the purpose of ridiculing women and their frivolity.

I love the fact that this campaign tries to be different with a fresh, new approach to marketing and fundraising. But so many elements remain the same: heteronormativity, rugged masculinity, and the eternal male gaze. With videos like these, men are still constructed to be the focus of women's lives and women still continue to feel that they have to save their breasts in order to remain attractive.

Why do YOU check for breast cancer? How can you help the women in your life prevent and/or survive breast cancer?

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