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B-b-but it’s raising awareness!

June 8, 2011

Oh, look: From the “edginess and originality in marketing and graphic design” files, here’s somebody using breast cancer awareness as an excuse to ogle women’s boobs!

The charge is that Adam Turman’s ‘Save Second Base’ campaign for breast cancer awareness is crass and demeaning to women. That’s what several women have said on Twitter, anyway. Turman has been producing the shirts for more than a year, and selling then [sic] for $25 on his web site.

I don’t have a great deal of time, because we’ve got a date with Dolores in a few hours (yay!), but this story reminded me of an exchange I had with Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Dan Neil a couple years ago, after he wrote an article in praise of the similarly novel “Save the Boobs” campaign for the Los Angeles Times. Here’s a slightly shortened transcript of our correspondence, which covers most of the same points we’d be discussing in relation to Adam Turman’s “Save Second Base” shirts, since all the “fight breast cancer so men can continue enjoying boobs” campaigns are essentially alike:

Oh, Dan.

I’m a faithful and eager reader of your columns, and I’ve pointed friends and family members across the country to your work. But today’s column is a slap in the face, a surprisingly uncritical and insensitive examination of the new (where “new” equals “actually just a tired rehashing of a very old theme”) trend in fighting breast cancer. There’s nothing original, edgy, or progressive about this ad campaign, or about your enthusiastic endorsement of it, which seems to boil down to “Boobies! Yay!”

“The male tendency to objectify the female body is put to good use”? Wow—that’s a startling example of the end justifying the means. The message of these ads seems to be that women’s breasts (never mind their lives) are worth saving because we’ll be in dire straits without body parts for men to leer at. Call me paranoid, but I’m leery (oh, hey, pun) of any movement that links the value of my health to the sexiness of my body; that’s a slippery slope that’s already reinforced in a thousand ways in this world, and it’s insulting and dehumanizing, not to mention perilously constrictive. Are the non-sexy parts of our bodies worth saving, too? What about those women who are elderly or disabled, or who otherwise fail to cleave (hey! another one!) to the narrow definition of sexiness these ads embrace? And I wonder if you stopped to consider the ads’ impact on women who have already lost breasts to cancer; I suspect many of them were already struggling with feeling unattractive or undesirable, and this campaign ought to reaffirm that sentiment neatly.

“The only people who could object to such ads are advocates for other kinds of cancer awareness”? Uh, no. I object to them because I understand that sexism for a good cause is still sexism.

“These ads make the equation explicit: More breast cancer equals fewer awesome breasts. Brilliant. Where do I send my check?” Yeah, Dan, call me a humorless feminist, but I’ve seen too many women in my life beaten down not only by cancer, but by the way this society objectifies and infantilizes cancer-stricken women—and you know what would be great? A rewrite of this sentence that went something like this: “More breast cancer equals fewer awesome, intelligent, funny, interesting, loving women. Brilliant. Where do I send my check?”

Thanks for reading.


Four things.

I wish the male animal were perfect. Tis not so. And young men have been totally disengaged from the fight against breast cancer.

People dont pay attention to psa’s generally. Esp true these days. These PSA’s have to live on/to compete in the free-broadcast realm of viral video. PSA’s are generally low budget affairs and awareness is indexed by eyeballs. More is better.

The writer and director of this ad is a woman — actually, the woman in the white bikini, which in itself is kind of amazing.

If these shock PSA’s save lives — and I think they will — then they are worth the affront to gender politics.

All best,
Dan Neil

Thanks for the reply, Dan. Four quick reactions to your four things:

1) I wonder whether you’d spent many sleepless nights fretting over the problem of “young men” being “disengaged from the fight against breast cancer” before these ads came along.

2) Yes, yes, the end justifies the means, and you can’t help it that the system works the way it does….of course, you didn’t use your column to say “What a shame that the only way breast-cancer advocates think they can get men’s attention is to flash ginormous breasts in our faces and hope we’ll be unable to resist the urge to repost them on our Facebook pages,” did you?

3) Is it your position that women, by definition, cannot be sexist or promote misogyny? Phyllis Schlafly and I are sharing a good belly laugh over that. (And why would you find it amazing that a woman who’s probably been ogled all her life for her big boobs would produce a commercial that capitalized on those big boobs?)

4) I assume you meant to start this sentence with “In my opinion” or “I believe that….”, rather than just making a grand pronouncement and nullifying my thoughts and experience with one fell swoop. For the record—and I’m someone whose family history means I will likely have breast cancer someday—they’re not “worth it” to me.

Yours truly,

By the way, “Don’t let breast cancer steal second base” is a stupid slogan, because stealing a base doesn’t mean making it disappear; if you steal second base, you get to second base. That’s not Turman’s fault—how was he supposed to find time to learn about baseball when he’s devoted so much of his life to drawing pictures of buxom women?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 11:57 am

    What a great post. Thanks for writing it and for pointing me this way. It’s so nice to know that there are people out there who GET it.


    • fearlessleader permalink*
      June 8, 2011 12:19 pm

      Katie, that’s just how I felt when I read your work, too. Thanks.

  2. June 8, 2011 12:28 pm

    i absolutely loved reading this post. Thank you so much for writing it. I could not agree more. I have yet to blog about this particular “cause” but this post gets me fired up to do so. Thank you!

    • fearlessleader permalink*
      June 9, 2011 5:30 pm

      Thank YOU. Share a link when/if you do!

  3. June 8, 2011 12:42 pm

    Oh my god – I think I love you!

    THEY JUST DON’T GET IT – but those of us who have found ourselves down on our knees when the biopsy came back positive DO get it. And so do you.

    • fearlessleader permalink*
      June 9, 2011 5:31 pm

      Right back at you, Joan! 🙂

  4. June 8, 2011 12:50 pm

    Fascinating, and thank you for sharing this!

    In response to some of those comments above… In general, our culture is misogynistic, so women and men both operate within those confines. The fact that a woman would take part in oppressive systems is not surprising. But does equality of sexism suggest equality or a useful public health strategy? No.

    Sexualizing a cause to get attention does not necessarily do a good thing for the cause. Unfortunately, it may not save lives either. Many of the boobies campaigns spread misinformation, trite information, and they also divert funds from things that might actually have an impact. Why waste money raising ‘awareness’ that is faulty, uninformed, and potentially harmful? We’re smarter than that. Men included.

    Here are two pieces I’ve written about this boobies trend that you and your readers might find useful.

    “Boobies. I Said It. Now, May I Have Your Attention Please?”

    “Boobies, For Fun & Profit!”

    Thanks so much for engaging this issue.

    Gayle Sulik

    • fearlessleader permalink*
      June 9, 2011 5:34 pm

      Great articles, Gayle—thanks. In my online debates with a handful of clueless dudes yesterday, I also referred a number of readers to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Welcome to Cancerland” (, which I think is one of the most complete and incisive critiques of the breast-cancer industry yet written.

  5. June 8, 2011 2:12 pm

    It’s terrible for the same reason this is:

    Objectifying women “for their own good” is bullshit.

    • fearlessleader permalink*
      June 9, 2011 5:35 pm



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