You are not your breasts
The "Save Second Base" campaign presents breast cancer research as an effort to save women's breasts, rather than their lives, and in doing so, reduces women to their mammary glands.
Cross posted at Skirt! Magazine
Every year at Princeton University, the student group Princeton Against Cancer Together (PACT) holds an event called Manicure for the Cure,
where they bring in beauty school students to do manicures for
Princeton students in the days leading up to spring formals. Formals
are this weekend, so advertisements for Manicure for the Cure are all over
To advertise, they’re using the slogan "Save Second
Base." The phrase "second base," in case you don’t know, refers to
foreplay involving breasts, as in "I kissed Jenny under the bleachers
and made it to second base." "How far did you let him go, Jenny? To
second base?" If it sounds antiquated and ridiculous… that’s because
Anyway, "Save Second Base" is a slogan that’s used nationwide
by breast cancer research fundraisers. And it rubs a lot of people the
wrong way. After all, curing breast cancer isn’t really about saving
breasts, it’s about saving women’s lives. So it annoys people, but
there was no reaction on campus when Manicure for the Cure used the slogan
last year. I think people mostly made their peace with the
slogan, figuring that at least it was raising money for a good cause.
But this year is different. This year, the organizers
of the event, in an attempt to include men, are offering massages in
addition to manicures. To advertise these services, they made posters
that said: "Gentlemen: Save Second Base."
And that is when the proverbial poop hit the fan.
woke up yesterday morning to find that an anonymous feminist had
created a counter-campaign, with slogans like "Ladies: Save the Male
G-Spot – support prostate cancer research," "Save Tittyfucking" – the
first of which was designed to point out the sexism inherent in using
sex to sell research for women’s health, when prostate cancer is
considered an important cause in and of itself, and the second designed
to demonstrate the logical extension of urging men to donate to
research in order ensure that breasts would still be available for
their sexual use. And there were more serious slogans: "Does your
women’s organization objectify women?" "I don’t need your manicures to
save my mother’s knockers," "Second base is not the goal: women, love
your mind, body and soul." The posters had been plastered, in a kind of
quilt formation, all over the huge noticeboards outside the campus
student centre, around the original posters, which only served to
enhance their effect.
The organizers of the event are steamed, and are
accusing those who object to the original posters of a number of
things. We don’t care about women, we don’t care about curing breast
cancer, we want women to die of breast cancer, we can’t take a joke and
see the humour in the original slogan, and so on. They’re calling us
angry feminists, humourless feminists – pretty predictable stuff,
really, and not particularly valid, given the spot-on, hilarious irony of the
The people heading up the Manicure for the Cure campaign have defended their
use of the slogan in a couple of ways, the most notable of which is
that it was coined by a breast cancer survivor. This gives the slogan a
little more legitimacy, but also doesn’t take into account that what’s
funny and acceptable to one cancer survivor might be offensive and
supremely un-funny to another, especially when that slogan reduces
women’s lives to their breasts, which, sadly, many cancer survivors
have had removed. Also, the fact that a woman came up with it doesn’t mean it’s not sexist.
I’m happy to report that Equal Writes,
the campus feminist blog I started last year, had nothing to do with
this – happy because it’s good to know that there are other feminists
on this campus who are speaking out about sexism and objectification of
women’s bodies. The more feminist voices, the better. While I had
nothing to do with the counter-campaign, I do have a number of
objections to the "Save Second Base" campaign. From talking to other
women and men on campus, the main objections are as follow.
1) Women are not their breasts. Presenting breast
cancer research as an effort to save women’s breasts, rather than their
lives, reduces women to their mammary glands. Like I mentioned above,
this becomes particularly problematic for women who have survived
breast cancer by having one or both breasts removed.
A mosaic made of 32, 000 Barbie Dolls, by artist Chris Jordan.
Selling sex to men and health to women. The most offensive posters
specifically encouraged “gentlemen” to save “second base” (which could
be interpreted as either breasts, or sexual contact involving breasts).
The posters targeting women, on the other hand, focused on the health
and prevention angle of breast cancer research. Apart from being
heteronormative, using sex to sell only to men totally
ignores the fact that women also enjoy the experience of “second base.”
There’s no reason that sex couldn’t have been used to sell to women,
too. The failure to take into account that fact that women also enjoy
foreplay involving breasts (be they their own, or another woman’s)
plays into and reinforces outdated views about men wanting sex all the
time and women never wanting it.
Furthermore, while women are
more likely to care about women’s health than men are, surely the
health angle is one that could effectively sell breast cancer research
to men. Surely we underestimate men if we believe that the only way to
get them to care about women’s health is by striking into their hearts
the fear of a dwindling supply of boobies. If we’re going to use sex to
sell a cause (that’s an “if” for another day), then we should do so
equally for male audiences and female audiences, just as if we’re going
to sell this cause from a women’s health perspective, we should do so
equally with male and female audiences.
3) Breast cancer is simply cancer that happens to
attack the breasts. The brilliance of the “Ladies, save the male
G-spot” poster is that it points out the huge difference between how we
think about prostate cancer and how the “Save Second Base” campaign
would have us think about breast cancer. We care about prostate cancer
because it’s cancer, and it’s deadly, not because it attacks the male
sexual organs. We care about men’s lives, and no one’s trying to sell
prostate cancer research by warning women and gay men that prostate
cancer will make certain sexual acts impossible. Breast cancer, which
attacks a highly sexualized part of a woman’s body, is also
life-threatening. We should care about it because it claims women’s
lives, not because it claims their breasts.
I want to stress that I think that raising money for
breast cancer research is incredibly important. I think the goal of
this campaign is an admirable one, and one that both men and women
should support. Some have suggested that the correct way to respond to
the Manicure for the Cure advertising is to boycott the event, but I
don’t think that’s productive. Instead, the counter-campaign posters
sent a strong message that objectifying women, even if it’s for a good
cause, is unacceptable, and the message, it seems, has been received.
But a good cause is a good cause, and we shouldn’t miss this
opportunity to raise money for something that impacts the lives of so
many men and women.
As I write this, the people responsible for each of the
respective campaigns are working out a compromise and are drafting a
joint statement that anticipates dialogue between those who were
offended by the “Save Second Base” campaign and those who supported it.
Ultimately, I think this dialogue will not be about breast cancer, but
about feminism. And there are important questions to ask: is it ever
acceptable to objectify women? Does the campaign really even objectify
women? What does it mean to care about women? Can jokes like “Save
Second Base” be funny, even to feminists?
And most importantly, since it’s no longer 1962, and since we’re not 15-year-olds, and
since baseball is quite possibly the least sexy sport in the world, can
we please finally stop referring to touching a woman’s breasts as