The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

If you were a member of Facebook in October 2009, you might recall your female friends posting statuses that simply stated a color (i.e. “Katherine Proctor red”).

In October 2010, you might have noticed statuses proclaiming where their authors preferred “it” (i.e. “Katherine Proctor I like it on the floor”).

Thankfully, this annual breast cancer awareness month fad seems to have ended. Its premise was predicated on a gender-wide inside joke. 2009: a woman was to mysteriously write what color bra she was wearing at the moment. 2010: a woman was to mysteriously write where she liked to leave her purse.

Besides its use of a deadly disease as a springboard for bad comedy, this trend had several problems.

There was its reduction of all potential breast cancer victims to banal indicators of femininity. (We’re girls, so we wear bras and carry purses!)

There was also the “battle of the sexes” sentiment behind the posts (Let’s not tell the boys what we’re talking about — that will confuse them and also make them more aware!) as though breast cancer is an issue of women vs. men rather than people vs. malignant tumors.

Though to my knowledge the fad is no more, its attitude abides. Generally, breast cancer is a disease contracted by women (male breast cancer cases, though rare, do exist).

But this fact doesn’t necessitate the way it’s branded in symbols (pink ribbons) and in rhetoric as a “women’s health issue,” separate from the world of men and “health issues.”

Of course raising awareness about breast cancer is a worthy cause. I’m only one of countless women, men and children who have up-close experience with it, and it’s important to provide information and foster regular discourse about previously marginalized matters that affect a figurative ton of people.

But in creating that discourse, it’s equally important to avoid condensing such matters into an arsenal of cute, narrowly gendered memes and taglines — especially when, in the case of breast cancer, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

Breast cancer doesn’t affect women: a subgroup that must be represented using lipstick and lingerie. It affects women: half of the world’s population. And it also affects the non-women in their lives.

We say this is common knowledge, but contemporary culture and political platforms indicate otherwise.

Another October has arrived and so has another National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please: run the 5Ks, donate the money, get screened, show your support for victims and survivors.

But I’d also like to see awareness efforts that aren’t so founded on traditional standards and markers of femininity and instead treat the disease as a universal health issue.

I’m not saying, “Don’t wear the ribbon.” But I am saying, “There’s more to support than pink.”

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