I like it underneath my huge “BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH” poster.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way people communicate and connect with each other, and the “Internet meme”, has fast become an efficient tool for quickly spreading small doses of cultural information between users. Obviously the implications for charitable campaigners are huge – there’s never been a better way to spread their messages amongst so many people – but they tread a fine line and there’s also plenty of potential for their meaning to be subverted and for messages to be lost. Take the recent Facebook “campaign” for breast cancer awareness month. If you weren’t already aware, this is why some of your female friends might be adding status updates that say things like “I like it on the couch” and “I like it on the kitchen table”. They’re not talking about sex – actually they’re talking about where they put their handbags, and the idea behind it is to intrigue other friends (particularly men) and get them to ask what it’s all about. But is this really good advocacy for breast cancer awareness, or just an unfortunate case of “badvocacy”?

The campaign has been criticised from many angles – the insensitivity of sexual innuendo as a means of getting people to think about breast cancer, the unrelatedness of places where people prefer to put their handbags (or have sex) to anything to do with breast cancer, the belief that people are already aware of breast cancer and don’t need reminding through annoying status updates and the fact that the whole meme is gender discriminatory (boys get cancer too you know). All of these allegations seem to have some ground, although at the same time, the “haters” have also been criticised for having no sense of humour, and trying to stop women from having a little bit of cheeky fun in the name of a good cause.

Now, I’m all for women having a bit of cheeky fun, and I do think that by using innuendo the creators of this “campaign” have pretty much ensured it’s viral status – very clever. However, I’m also all for breast cancer awareness – in fact, I’m all for cancer awareness in general – and unfortunately I don’t think that the “I like it” campaign capitalises enough on the opportunity to promote what it’s supposed to promote. So the girls have got the boys guessing, and everybody’s very pleased with themselves, but how likely are any of the targeted participants to think beyond “LOL, now I want to confuse my male friends by making dodgy inneundos” to the point of “LOL, now I want to confuse my my male friends by making dodgy innuendos right after I’ve examined my breasts for lumps”? The trouble with the “I like it” campaign is exactly that – there is no relevance to breast cancer, and no information about breast cancer attached. It’s one thing to make a viral meme happen, but quite another to make it have some meaningful impact, and it’s not enough to rely on people going away afterwards and doing their own research – memes are about short, sharp bursts of information and if a meme is to be meaningful in that way it has to do the work for the people. It doesn’t have to be much – just a link would do – but without that the meme goes little beyond being a vacuous double entendre about handbags.

Breast Cancer awareness month poster
Breast Cancer awareness month poster

So play the game if you want – memes go viral because they’re fun and people like to participate. But if you do, please think about why it is the game started, and don’t just leave it as an empty statement. Post a link to the Breast Cancer Awareness Month site, or the Cancer Research UK site, or somewhere else that’ll guide people to some real information. And give your own breasts a check (or your testicles if you’re a boy – no need to feel left out) and make sure you do it regularly. Because awareness shouldn’t just be for the duration of a silly Facebook campaign boys and girls, it should be for life.

6 Replies to “I like it underneath my huge “BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH” poster.”

  1. The effect these memes have on me is actually to alienate me further from the alleged cause every time I see them posted; I find it nothing short of irritating to come across otherwise intelligent and well-educated women gleefully jumping on the manipulation bandwagon. I’ve never appreciated being treated as if I’m a dumb animal to be led around by my genitals, yet these pseudocampaigns are capitalising on the fact our culture condones women doing just that.

    Secondly, they’re ineffectual precisely because they attempt to appropriate sex. I don’t have any memory of what the “post the colour of your bra/knickers” meme that went round Facebook some time last year was actually selling at all; what I can recall in crystal detail is what my more attractive friends said they had on. Sex gets the attention of both men and women – so well, in fact, that any other message is lost in the noise. The whole meme rapidly becomes a vapid flirtation game – insofar as it wasn’t already, of course. I find it eye-opening to consider the implications of breast cancer campaigners resorting such tactics; is there nothing else to recommend their cause, and if not, why not?

    Well, in short, because of another point you make. I agree very heartily with the objection that cancer is not a women’s issue. I don’t think gender politics belongs in medicine full stop. I don’t donate to breast cancer specific charities both because they’re inherently sexist and because there is no equivalent focusing on cancers that affect men. I do, however, give a lot of my old clothes to my local Cancer Research shop. No gender there; just lives.

  2. Gosh is that what that irritating meme is about? I thought it was just boring schoolgirl innuendo so I deleted all the messages. Which kind of illustrates your point…

  3. @Felix – Interestingly, I tried to find out who had initiated the campaign, and all the sources seem to point to the Facebook Moderators themselves. I’m not sure whether that info can be relied upon, but it does look like whoever it was probably wasn’t officially acting on behalf of a breast cancer charity.

  4. Hey Gillian: how are you? Are you still in Manila? If you’re still here, we shuld meet up some time at least before you leave 🙂

    1. Hi Prime,

      I am still in Manila, but only for another three weeks! It would be great to meet up again before I leave – I’ll send you a facebook message 🙂

Comments are closed.