Facebook fad hinders breast cancer awareness campaigns

Maureen Darras

In recent weeks, a noticeable trend has developed on Facebook in response to its daily entreaty, “What’s on your mind?” A number of female users have posted statuses that completed the sentence “I like it…” Their responses range from the mundane “in my dorm room” to the more provocative “on the kitchen table.”
Like many users of Facebook, I was unaware of what had initiated these public declarations – that is, until I received an invitation to a Facebook event that urged me to “remember the game last year about what color bra [I was] wearing at the moment.” I vaguely remember that game, although I didn’t play and had no idea who won.
The invitation continued, “The purpose was to increase awareness of October Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was a tremendous success and we had men wondering for days what was with the colors and it made it to the news.”
This year’s game: Post a status stating where you place your purse or handbag when you get home.
The message ended emphatically: “Forward to all your FB female friends to their inbox. The bra game made it to the news. Let’s see how powerful we women really are!!! REMEMBER – DO NOT PUT YOUR ANSWER AS A REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE – PUT IT IN YOUR STATUS!!!”
Dedicating a month to breast cancer awareness is a noble aim. According to the National Cancer Institute website, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, based on rates from 2005-2007. Second only to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the United States. The risk of breast cancer in women increases with age.
If cases are detected early in which the cancer has not progressed beyond the breast, the five-year survival rate of a woman increases from 89 percent to 98 percent, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation.
Evidently, women would benefit from increased awareness of the risks that breast cancer poses, the availability of screenings, the at-risk populations, the steps that can be taken to reduce risk-factors and the implications of the various treatment options. Unfortunately, none of this information fits in the “I like it…” formula.
While the event invitation brags about reaching the news and leaving men wondering for days “what was with” the statuses, it is exactly those accomplishments that I find disheartening – and I am disappointed to see that this campaign is recurring this year.
While breast cancer does not exclusively affect women, the risk of breast cancer in men is significantly lower. I will contend that breast cancer qualifies as a “women’s issue.” But it is counterproductive for an issue that is less common and probably less discussed in a specific population – in this case, men – to be further shrouded in mystery and “feminine intrigue” – especially during a month aimed at promoting awareness.
Undeniably, these statuses are generating conversation, yet I am skeptical of what the conversations are about. I have yet to see a corresponding campaign to educate Facebook users or direct them towards action, nor seen a campaign identifying breast cancer research organizations or grassroots support networks.
I don’t doubt that Facebook can be used as a platform for social activism; in fact, I look forward to seeing it as such. To honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I suggest Facebook status updates along the lines of:
“If you a woman are between the ages of 20 and 39, arrange for a clinical breast exam every three years. Women over the age of 40: have you had your yearly mammogram? Visit ww5.komen.org in order to learn more about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.”
These “I like it…” statuses are furthering an altogether different agenda. The “successes” of last year’s campaign support the notion that the most effective way of calling men’s attention to a women’s issue is by emphasizing a women’s sexual allure. Perhaps if this campaign were intended to empower women sexually, I would be more sympathetic.
Instead, it is perpetuating the idea that in order for women to be successfully heard they must be speaking suggestively. It is implying that women’s issues are only demanding of attention if they are pitched as sexy or cute. It is rallying women behind a purportedly shared identity that includes purses and bras as defining characteristics. Alarmingly, it is supposedly doing all of this in the name of breast cancer awareness.