Analysis Race

Saving The Boobies Will Not Save Me

Jazmine Walker

Pink ribbons do not help bring awareness to the socioeconomic inequities connected to breast cancer; they commodify the disease and make it “sexy” under the guise of raising awareness.

Published in partnership with the Black Women’s Media Collective.

Cross-posted with permission from Furious and Brave.

As we move through Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink-ribbon-wearing and consuming of pink commodities are in full swing, and I am reminded why the month of October hasn’t sat well for me for the last two years. That was around the time I stopped believing that drinking out of a pink water bottle was enough to address the severity of breast cancer.

According to an article in Cancer Epidemiology, although black women are less likely to develop breast cancer than white women, black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than are white women. Though many researchers have concluded that racial health disparities contribute to these startling numbers, the researchers at the Sinai Urban Health Institute found that residential segregation and lower median household incomes are major contributors to these disparities. Studies have shown that African-Americans who live in isolated communities receive unequal medical care because hospitals serving them have less technology; they live in closer proximity to toxic waste dumps; and they are less likely to have access to recreational facilities.  Segregated neighborhoods are more likely to be poor, and if you barely earn a living wage, you definitely can’t afford health insurance that would cover preventive care (Thanks Affordable Care Act). The pink ribbon does not help bring awareness to the socioeconomic inequities connected to breast cancer; they commodify the disease and make it “sexy” under the guise of raising awareness.

“Saving the Boobies” is a mantra that gets thrown around a lot this month, but it does not properly address how breast cancer adversely affects and ends lives. Talking about breasts as if they are an independent entity, as if it’s the breasts that are worth saving as opposed to the life and body they are attached to is not only patriarchal, but also down right sexist. It implies that a woman’s worth is in her breasts, in her sexuality. There is no “Save the Dick” campaign to raise awareness for penile cancer because unlike dick, boobs are objects of heterosexual male desire. Breastfeeding (another topic for another day) and a little thing called cancer interfere with that. Making breast cancer “sexy” as a marketing device not only undermines the severity of breast cancer but also assumes that women are the only ones with mammary glands. If we cannot have productive conversations about breast cancer without pitting women against their bodies, we will never be able to bring awareness to the early detection of other deadly (presumably un-sexy) cancers like penile cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, lymphoma, and countless others.’

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Though Breast Cancer Awareness Month is necessary, commodifying lives for the sake of “raising awareness” does nothing for creating spaces for a more nuanced and critical discourse around saving lives. It’s also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as a reproductive justice activist, I think about the connections between domestic violence and early detection of breast cancer. Sounds far-fetched, but given how abusers control the whereabouts of victims, there is the potential for an abusive partner to limit the frequency of routine check-ups  

We must approach breast cancer in the same ways that we approach many women’s issues—from the standpoint of addressing the multiple oppressions that are associated with our multiple identities. We must move past awareness and early detection and start having conversations on how to rectify the inequalities that lead to black women dying more often than their white counterparts. We must also start teaching women and girls how to navigate and control their experiences with health care professionals. Dealing with multiple doctors, racist health-care professionals, and multiple treatment options can be confusing and frustrating. “Saving the Boobies” won’t be nearly enough for the woman in a rural community who may lack transportation to her doctor, let alone knowledge of the best possible treatment for herself. The goal is to save lives. We can’t lose sight of that, and if we expect to do that more effectively, we have to focus on the lives instead of the boobs and give more health care advice than simply “get a mammogram.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”