I've been meaning to write about this for a while but hadn't gotten around to it. I talked about it with the awesome employees at WeddingWire back in October and the conversation was eye opening, and yet I still didn't write. But a recent game that's popped up on Facebook has compelled me to write it about now. What is it, you ask?
In American society, we've come to use the blanket term breast cancer awareness for everything; from pink socks, pink ribbons, and pink hair, to games on Facebook asking you to post the color of your bra or a heart as your status. Is there anything wrong with these things? Absolutely not. Pink socks and tutus are delightful! And who doesn't love a pretty heart. But can we in good faith and conscience call it raising awareness?
Let's talk about it, shall we?
The term raising awareness started off well intended and then slowly over the decades the term has been watered down. It's now the catch-all phrase for anything having to do with breast cancer, and that's unfortunate because it's lost its true meaning and value.
Let's assume (yes, I know what they say about assuming) that a majority of the population in the United States has knowledge that breast cancer exists. If awareness of the disease is at a high, then what, if any, awareness are we raising?
On the flip side, for the population minority who is unaware about breast cancer, why do we think that seeing a pink pair of socks (I swear I have nothing against pink socks) or a pink shirt will suddenly make them aware about breast cancer? The population minority doesn't know enough to make the correlation. It's just pink socks to them. If they could correlate the two then they'd already be aware about breast cancer, which takes us right back to my previous paragraph.
Are you still with me?
So often the actions we take are not actually raising awareness about breast cancer, but rather it's showing support for those affected by the disease. Both raising awareness and showing support are super important! Being accurate about which we're doing is as equally important!
How can you tell the difference? It's simple.
See? Simple. If someone is not learning something about breast cancer by your gesture or action then you're not raising awareness. And that's okay! Just call it what it is - showing support, giving support, raising support - just not raising awareness.
Two quick examples involving merchandise:
This advertisment popped up in my Facebook feed.
Look at these sneakers. Did you learn anything about breast cancer?
Nope. Then the sneakers don't raise awareness. They're simply a way for people who like cool shoes to show their support. That's great! There's nothing wrong with wanting to wear cool shoes that show support. So let's call it "The Sole of Breast Cancer Support" instead.
*Interestingly enough, in the smaller print they mention that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to organizations that support breast cancer fighters and survivors.
I stumbled across this shirt on the internet. Take a look.
Did you learn anything about breast cancer?
Yep. This shirt makes you aware that Male Breast Cancer exists; a fact that sadly many people don't know. (1 in 1000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, in case you're wondering.)
So in this case, the person wearing this shirt is raising awareness, and could be showing his or her support for men with breast cancer.
Now that you understand the difference between raising awareness and showing support, I encourage you to choose the phrase that accurately reflects your gesture. I think you'll find the support for your gesture will grow when people can agree on what it is you're actually doing.
Okay - last quick thing about the newest Facebook game - placing a heart in your status for breast cancer awareness. If you're not aware of how it works, women are encouraged to post a heart as their Facebook status. Only a heart. They're then supposed to message other women to do the same for breast cancer awareness.
Folks, people are well intentioned. People who choose to participate in this game, as prescribed, are not bad people. They aren't stupid. They aren't evil doers who rose from the depths of pinkwashing hell. I promise.
People participating in this game have a connection to breast cancer - they know someone, they lost someone, they are someone who has breast cancer. Or maybe they love your own awareness and support efforts so they're posting it for you. Regardless of their connection, they're making a gesture and it's nice.
That said, we can probably agree (especially after having read this blog post) that the heart (and the private message) aren't actually raising awareness about breast cancer ----- but they can! There's actually an opportunity here.
Play the heart game but change how you play! For example:
Or share a link to a breast cancer topic that is meaningful to you. Maybe you know someone or lost someone to Metastatic Breast Cancer...
If you are compelled to play the heart game, or the bra game, or any other Facebook game for that matter, and you don't want to post a link in your status, then I encourage you to share it in the private message you send to other women. Don't miss the opportunity to truly raise awareness. There's room for both!
If you'd like help with links to reputable sources of information or organizations, just ask me! I'm happy to help you raise awareness in the most meaningful way!
Shannon Moneymaker is the Executive Director of F3S and experiences life in the breast cancer community, not through just her own eyes but through the eyes of others.