Save Our Breasts, Stop Our Disease
Phaedra C. Pezzullo’s article, “Resisting ‘National Breast Cancer Awareness Month’: The Rhetoric of Counterpublics and Their Cultural Performances,” takes a closer look at something that many people, myself included, assume to be a good cause without thinking twice: National Bread Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). In order to evince some of the underlying factors behind this designated month, Pezzullo outlines the origin of NBCAM, noting that it was created by one of the world’s top three pharmaceutical companies, Zeneca (now known as AstroZeneca). AstroZenca gave an honest account of its reasons for starting the “early detection is your best protection” themed-month, and no, the motive does not include saving lives (352). In fact, the company initially admitted that it is more cost-effective to catch cancers early, than to treat them in a later stage. Despite the reasons behind NBCAM, though, pink ribbons during the month of October are a given, and company upon company has backed this “early detection” movement.
Pezzullo goes on to describe TLC, the Toxic Links Coalition, which has created a “counterdiscourse” to AstroZeneca’s stance, taking the position that we should “stop cancer where it starts,” by not only detecting cancer early, but drilling down to the root cause of cancer, namely toxins in the environment, and nipping them in the bud (353). Quite disturbingly, TLC makes the claim that AstraZeneca “profits by first producing many of the toxins implicated in the breast cancer epidemic and then by selling the drugs used to treat the disease” (353), presenting AstraZeneca’s motives as even dirtier than they originally admitted. In order to protest this, TLC sponsors one hour walking tours, making stops along the way at institutions that have been found covering up hazardous chemical exposure to the public.S
While NBCAM has less than noble origins, I think that credit should still be given to those who participate in it by buying pink ribbon key chains and donating in various other ways. However, it is hard to wrap my mind around the idea that AstroZeneca uses women’s bodies for profit, and I wonder why more people haven’t spoken out against this. One of the things that struck me the most while reading this article was the brief anecdote about the woman RavenLight, who participated in TLC tours in order to reveal her mastectomy scar. Pezzullo noted that RavenLight could not be arrested for baring her breasts, because despite having her dress open, she did not have a breast to expose. While women have often been reduced to only their bodies in a negative sense, such as being the center of the objectifying male gaze, this episode demonstrates a woman breaking this trend and using her body as a means of rhetoric about the necessity of ending breast cancer.
This incident got me to think about the “I love boobies” campaign, most prominently displayed with rubber bracelets. In doing a bit of research, I discovered that this popular campaign is also based on creating breast cancer awareness, but not preventing breast cancer in any way. According to the Keep A Breast Foundation website at keep-a-breast.org, “By wearing an “I Love Boobies!” bracelet or shirt you are proclaiming, ‘I love my boobies, and I choose to take care of them!’” While this is a clever way of spreading awareness, choosing to take care of your breasts has little to do with whether or not you will be diagnosed with breast cancer, since the odds for women are 1 in 8. RavenLight’s story is a much more eloquent example of why the public should do more to eliminate the cause of breast cancer: not simply because we love boobies, but because countless women have been forced to face the reality of having them removed. It is occasionally nice to make light of a serious matter, turning it into a catchy phrase that gets awareness going, but it seems to me that breast cancer awareness is strong, whereas breast cancer prevention is not.
I was very intrigued by what the author of this article had to say, and I was happy to learn more about NBCAM, which I blindly believed in without ever really looking into the root of it. I think the mission of TLC is a noble one, and I hope that its message can be better spread in order to prevent this horrible disease, but also in order to stop allowing pharmaceutical companies to make a profit off of women’s physical pain.
I’m curious as to what other people think about the origins of NBCAM. Do you think that, despite its foundation as a way for a big-name pharmaceutical to save some money, it is still a worthwhile cause? Or do you think that the TLC movement is more powerful? I am also interested in the way that the female body is openly discussed and debated, from breast cancer to birth control. Do you think that this is inappropriate, or just a necessary evil in order for these controversies to get resolved?
If you are interested in learning more about TLC, here is a link to their main site: