Monday, February 9, 2009

Gearing up for Operation Feel Your Boobies

I’ve just learned about a breast cancer awareness organization called “Feel Your Boobies.” As the name probably suggests, the target demographic of this group is young women. Here’s what you learn by visiting their website:
Feel Your Boobies® is a breast cancer awareness non-profit organization whose mission is to utilize unexpected and unconventional methods to remind young women, to "feel their boobies."
I learned about Feel Your Boobies through Facebook, when a friend joined the cause online. The upside, I guess, of using the name is that it piques interest; while I normally pay little attention to similar notifications, I did notice this one. I checked out the Facebook group, then I went to the website. Then I started writing.

I gotta say, I'm not a fan of the name, however positive the effects. After all, isn't the fetishizing and sexualizing of female body parts a piece of the problem? Let’s face it: We’re really freaking immature when it comes to talking about breasts. Culturally, we treat them as dangerous; unless they're on display as sex objects, we don’t want to see them at all (for more on this, google “breastfeeding in public”). We’ve imbued the breast with so much sexual power that serious cultural conversation about diseases and dangers is difficult, at best, to carry on. It was only through great struggle and the loss of many great women to breast cancer (and, I suspect, a parallel rising awareness of the dangers of prostate cancer) that we got to the point where we could begin having frank discussions about tactics for diagnosis and prevention.

That’s why calling a campaign “Feel Your Boobies” doesn’t quite work for me. I get the point, I really do--kind of a 'reclaiming,' a 'taking back,’ a clever usage of the language of the target audience. The organization and its name may even have some impact, raising awareness among young women and perhaps leading to some early diagnoses (the site provides some testimonials to this effect). I do wonder, though, what the longer-term effects may be. No matter how “postfeminist” we believe our society to be, the reality is that we’re walking around in a heteronormative culture designed through a partriarchal lens. We continue to agree to think and talk about the world in male-friendly ways. On the one hand, “Feel Your Boobies” may make men (and lots of women, I’m sure) productively uncomfortable: Sexualizing breast self-exams, increasing awareness through the promotion of a kind of autoerotic call to action. On the other hand, the name seems to perpetuate the kind of socio-sexual power breasts have in our society. “All hail the great Breast,” right?

I’d rather see us take the sex out of self-exams. I’d rather see us work to divorce breast cancer research and breast cancer awareness from the cult of the breast. My sense is that Feel Your Boobies may increase awareness—and that’s good—while continuing to worship at the altar of the breast—and that’s not so good.


Richard T. Anderson said...

Your point is completely valid. I definitely see where you are coming from.

I have to say though, in my mind, at least, the word 'boobies' isn't the least bit sexy or erotic. To me it's the playground word for breasts. It's the word that makes kids giggle, not the one that you use while writing a spicy sex scene in your novel.

Had the organization called itself, "Feel your tits." I'd be more willing to come on board with you assessment completely. I don't think you are completely wrong about this, I just don't think it's perpetuating the socio-sexual power breasts as much as you do.

Boobies is just to silly of a thing to worship. Tits are too really, (see George Carlin and tater-tits, the new Nabisco snack). I'd say most slang terms for breasts are not very sexy really. Bazoombas, knockers, etc, non of them are highly erotic.

This culture does fetishize too much, and we do worship breasts. I'm just not so sure the word 'boobies' is the problem. In fact the silliness of the word may actually work the other way in deflating the godliness of breasts just a bit.


Anonymous said...

I am inclined to think your point about the word, "boobies", and how it makes kids giggle only further reinforces Jenna's point that we're really freaking immature when it comes to talking about breasts. We're either over-sexualizing them, ashamed of them, or have to use words that makes us giggle in order to refer to them. You can't just say, proud and in charge, brrrrrrreast, being sure to roll the 'r' while opening up your shirt for all the see in a completely inane sorta way.

leigh hurst said...

As the Founder of Feel Your Boobies, young survivor, and certainly post-feminist in my thoughts -- this is hands-down the best piece written in opposition to our name. I appreciate the time you have taken to so eloquently express your point of view, thank you. With Respect, Leigh

Anonymous said...

May the Feel Your Boobies cause offend you to the point that you and your readers check 'yours' regularly. And if you should find a lump, may it be small enough, and slow growing enough that treatment is effective. May you live many more years, and write many more blogs about offense taken at the term Feel Your Boobies.

Clearly, in this case the means justify the ends. Save all the ta-ta's-- sexualized, unsexualized, whatever. Really, cancer is the offender here.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know if Ms. McWilliams has been personally affected? Has she lost a loved one to breast cancer? Was her mother taken by the disease when she was only 11 years of age and her mother only 42? Did she witness her mother courageously battle cancer (losing hair and breasts!) until it finally defeated her?? Is she raising children of her own who she wished knew the unconditional love of the grandmother they'll never know?

If not, then I honestly don't feel she has any right to judge this cause or the name it goes by!! Rather than focusing on the negative and being so narrow minded, why not welcome a cause that might reach out to those who may not be aware. Three words for you Ms. McWilliams... GET-OVER-IT!!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous commenter on February 26th at 2 am,

I think Ms. McWilliams is saying exactly that: GET-OVER-IT. Except, in her case, she is using Feel Your Boobies as a metaphorical vehicle for discussing an otherwise taboo subject, which we can see is obviously vexing to so many considering the wide range of comments she has received thus far.

I don't think this article is critical of the Feel Your Boobies movement, per say; rather, Ms. McWilliams is criticizing the way in which we, as women, have been taught to view our breasts as things that should be covered/hidden, which in turn causes even ourselves to ignore them; which thereby allows an undiscovered cancerous lump to grow in a breast that under different circumstances may have otherwise been discovered early had we not been so ashamed of our own body.

She's criticizing society at large--not Feel Your Boobies.

Anonymous said...

Would you feel better if the name was Touch Your Titties?

Anonymous said...

I think the name does the opposite of what you suggest. It acknowledges how silly we are when it comes to sex and the female body. The best way to "grow up" about something and normalize it is to talk about it. I was reading the Facebook campaign page and thinking how far we've come in 20-30 years. Imagine the response to this campaign 30 years ago. Or how about 50. 1958... the name would have sent spasms through ever "decent" person. Ugh. When I read that somebody was blogging *against* the name, I immediately thought it was some "old biddy" who was offended by the sight of her own body and mortified at the thought of taking pleasure in it.

I applaud the name. Bodies are normal. Sex is normal. Pleasure is healthy. Carry on...

Kaveri said...

The fact that you would write a blog about it and generate so much interest, is in itself very good, and I don't think anyone who has commented here, is either aroused sexually by this, nor do they seem to be giggling about it!
WHy should this group's name have to sound glum and gloomy, to be taken seriously? I take it seriously, and it seems to me that everyone else here does too!
This is case of obsessing so much about language that the message gets lost. Language is about communication. Communication is in the message you get across. I am far more offended by someone calling me a "chick" than by Leigh Hurst telling me to "feel my boobies"!
Thank you for the reminder, Leigh!

Anonymous said...

I do agree that, in general, people are ashamed of breasts. As a breastfeeding mom, I have been asked many times to cover up or remove myself to the bathroom. I have heard rumors of a woman who was thought to be "easy" and "slutty" because she wore deep V neck shirts or no bra (she was completely the opposite). Why do men have to make comments about a woman's nipples being seen through a shirt because she's cold??

At first I didn't like the name. I thought it was another way to turn people against what breasts are for, Mother Nature's way of providing for babies, even if there was a great cause behind it. But now that I've thought about it and honestly shed a few tears, I think if my mom had heard this slogan back in 1997, maybe she would have felt her own boobies and discovered that lump that claimed her life five years later, at the age of 49. She had only met one of her now eight grandchildren.

It is something that every woman needs to do, no matter how they are reminded to do it.

Anonymous said...

I have boobies and I feel them at least once a month! Thank you Leigh!

Anonymous said...

I have to say I didn't think of a sexual connotation at all when I read this name. And I'm not post-feminist; I'm 52 and grew up in the Germaine Greer/Betty Friedan era. The purpose of the group is to get women to think about breast exams. We've heard "do a monthly breast self-exam" for so long we don't think about it anymore. This cute name catches our attention enough to remind us that we haven't done one. I do think the author is reaching for a topic here; Victoria's Secret window displays? Objectifying, fetishizing. Feel Your Boobies? Cute, harmless, purposeful.

Maggie said...

I don't agree with you at all! How is the word 'boobies' sexual in any way? You are saying that the word 'breasts' is not sexual, then? This makes no sense to me! No matter what you call a woman's breasts, it will have some sexual connotation in most people's minds. Boobies has more of a childish meaning to me. I hear this word being spoken by young children in grade school and junior high school. I agree with the previous poster in that 'Feel Your Boobies' gives something different to say rather than just hearing, 'Do self-breast exams' all the time. This is meant to catch the attention and it certainly does the trick. As a young breast cancer survivor, I think that this is a great way to get to a young demographic in a silly way but yet it is known that it is for a serious reason.
Please explain to me how 'Feel Your Boobies' makes you think of worshipping breasts...Maybe you should go back to blogging about crocheting because this subject is obviously not your forte.

Anonymous said...

It got your attention and you in turn brought it more attention so it's doing what it was meant to do. Enough said!!!! but on the other hand who cares what you think? If it doesn't work for you well then move and find something that does. Boobies Breats Tits whatever you wanna call them the bottom line is let it work to help recognize cancer early and get treatment early.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you people are overly sensitive about the sexualization of the breast. Not that boobies is really a "sexy" word. The breast is an erogenous zone and it is sexual. At least in our society, it certainly is. Sure it's also an apparatus for feeding the young. The vagina area is also used for urination and the anus is used for defecating and look at all the fun things we do with those areas?

I think some of you that go on and on and on about how we as a society need to grow up about sex, boobs are not sexual, etc, ad nauseam, should grow up about sex not needing to be something we need to grow up about. Not always anyhow. In this case the "shocking" word boobies is used to draw attention to a particularly important subject, AND IT'S WORKING. I think all of this feigned outrage over the use of the word is pretty much on par with all of the outrage over the ever famous "wardrobe malfunction".

Jennifer Goetz said...

Does it really matter what words you use to get women doing self exams if it leads to early detection and lives saved?

To the person who thinks Jenna should "GET OVER IT": Although I disagree with much of what was said in the blog, I don't think one has to be personally affected by breast cancer in order to comment on it. If she has breasts, she is personally affected. It's obvious you've been affected by breast cancer and I'm so sorry that you had to go through such a horrible loss. Shouldn't YOU focus on the positive (the fact that her blog is actually raising awareness) instead of the negative (the fact that she disagrees with the name?)

As someone who has a family history of breast cancer, I'll admit I've never been big on self breast exams. But after seeing that my best friend and my OB were members of the Facebook page about "Feel Your Boobies" I decided to check it out. I've since joined and realized how important it is to do self exams. I hope that I'll never have to say self exams saved my life, but if they do, I'll be glad to credit "Feel Your Boobies!"

Oh and I love the comment from Feb 21st--"Save all the ta-tas!"

Anonymous said...

Ms Goetz, clearly you've misundertsood. I in no way meant to imply that someone who hasn't been personally affected by cancer isn't entitled to an opinion or the right to comment. The point I was trying to make to Ms Williams is that rather than getting her panties in such a wad over a silly word like 'boobies', she should try focusing on what's really important. Let's remember cancer is the enemy here!! So why do we have to worry about being so damned politically correct?

Yes, I hate cancer and that it stole my mother! Can't say that I'll ever forgive it. However I am in no way focused on the negative. Feel your Boobies is sending out a positive message which I chose to support. It wasn't until I saw someone nit picking over a silly name that I chose to speak out!

Anonymous said...

To quote the original post: "I gotta say, I'm not a fan of the name, however positive the effects."
Ms. McWilliams acknowledges that the aims of this group are highly relevant, important, and positive. This is an opinion piece regarding the name "Feel Your Boobies" .... I would hardly call expressing an opinion, even an unpopular one, "nit picking."

I also have a family history of breast cancer and have lost my mother and grandmother to the disease. Although I don't have a problem with the name "Feel Your Boobies," neither do I have a problem with Ms. McWilliams's personal reaction to it. She has included good information on and links to the campaign along with her opinion, and I agree that this post will help raise awareness.

-KB (altcupid .at. hotmail .dot. com)

Anonymous said...

I love the name. It certainly make you stop and think. My friends who wouldn't normal join group did because it is eye catching. That is is the whole point--- get the word out about feeling your boobies. It could save so many lives!! God Bless you in the work to spread the word.
A sister cancer survivor
The Warrior Princess

Anonymous said...

The name of this group and similar names and usages,such as save the Ta-Tas,is immature,idiotic, and trivializes something that is "dead" serious-cancer. Before the nipple Nazis jump all over me, I HAVE lost loved ones to breast cancer; women who DID "feel their boobies" monthly and DID go faithfully for their yearly dosage of cancer causing radiation aka mammograms. It's proven that repeated exposure to radiation is a CAUSE of cancer, I don't believe it's a coincidence that they had the same area radiated year after year then-ooops! a tumour appeared, that their doctors could then get money for doing surgeries, chemo treatments, etc. When we have non radioactive methods such as ultrasound that can detect tumours without helping to grow them, it's inexcusable that women should continue to get their breasts crushed (causing tissue damage) and radiated year after year because it's a money maker for doctors and hospitals, who are trying to recoup the money invested in mammogram machines the women's movement harassed them into buying.

I've worked in the medical field for over 25 years, and this is what goes on behind the scenes, and what your doctor, the American Cancer Society, or "Feel Your Boobies" groups will never tell you.

Anonymous said...

I challenge you to find ANY well designed study that actually shows that self breast exams indeed save lives!!! What a big bunch of hype about a screening modality which HAS been tested, and is not even recommended by the American Cancer Society since was found to be ineffective! And I am appalled at the direction this has taken as the "prospective Eagle Scouts offer to perform breast exams" gets posted on their foundation site. Not hilarious, just nauseating to watch 2 little boys describe how they would do it.


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