When I was in 10th grade some friends and I started a campaign to raise money for breast cancer. We’d all been affected by the disease in some way or another and thought it’d be a fun way to give back. We stocked up on pink shirts and bracelets that said “Save the Boobies” or “I love Boobies” to sell to our classmates. We set up our booth in the cafeteria and waited for lunch to start. We expected to have no problems. I mean after all, who wouldn’t donate to breast cancer research? But things weren’t going as expected. We had made it through half of the lunch hour with only a handful of donations. So being the little marketers we were, we decided to switch tactics. My friend Jess and I tightened the straps on our newly acquired padded bras (that made us feel so grown up), pulled down our shirts to maximize our cleavage, and walked around flirting with all the guys in sight. We’d lean over the table saying things like “You like boobs right?” to which the guys would stammer “uh..yea of course.” Then we’d whip out our collection bin and ask them for cash to protect the boobs they just admitted to liking so much. It worked like a charm. By the end of the week we’d made hundreds of dollars. We were proud.
The problems with this story should be obvious and I wish I could say it’s something you’d only find in a high school cafeteria. But this obsession with women’s body parts is so pervasive in our society that it’s disturbing. The “Save the Boobies” campaign is one such example. Although this campaign means well, removing the person behind the disease is damaging. Furthermore, I’m not sure this would happen with a disease that didn’t primarily affect women.
Some argue that this is just a slogan but that’s hard to buy when the implications of it are seen outright. Take Angelina Jolie, who yesterday announced that she will be having a double mastectomy as a preventative measure to protect herself from the same disease that killed her mother. Instead of showing her support, or congratulating her on her bravery, people have instead been mourning the loss of her breasts. Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing with people who feel bad for Brad Pitt because his soon to be wife “is ruined.” People predict that Brad will cancel the wedding or cheat because Angelina has removed such a vital part of what makes her attractive. I mean, who wants a woman who cut off her breasts?
Look, I get it. You can find all kind of crazy people who say crazy things on the internet. But I’d argue that this isn’t just a small group of trolls. This is, however, another example of how in this society women are only as good as their attractiveness. Even in sickness (or in Angelina’s case, to prevent sickness), women are talked about through their body parts. So much so, that even the campaigns that are meant to help us, objectify us in the process.
It’s not about saving the valued lives of women; it’s about saving our valued body parts.