Robin Hanson on Pink Politics:

Yes there’s the implicit sex angle in talking about breasts, but you could have a “have sex to get exercise” campaign, or make sexual innuendo about beds in a sleep campaign. And a campaign about testicular cancer wouldn’t be nearly as popular. So this isn’t mainly about sexual innuendo.

One obvious difference is that being anti-breast-cancer is framed as being pro-women. Thus one can insinuate that folks who resist social pressures to support the campaign are anti-women. Since folks fear seeming anti-women much more than seeming anti-health, a breast-cancer campaign can tap into far more social pressure than can an exercise or sleep campaign.

I remember when I was younger, a lot of women would say that Breast Cancer was being ignored because it (primarily) effects women. And that if it affected men, the government would automatically pay for everything involved in it and the only reason they don’t is cause the victims are women. This idea was first posited by a feminist sociology teacher in high school, which I think made me notice whenever I heard it later on. I was skeptical as I was of a lot of things the teacher said, but it was one of those frustrating things that couldn’t really be tested either way.

Then I found out about prostate cancer. Prostate cancer primarily affects men, kills men at a similar rate as breast cancer does women, and does not get remotely the same amount of attention as breast cancer does in the public eye. Oh, and does not involve the government paying for everything because it only affects men. As far as I know, both are treated pretty similarly by the insurance establishment. Maybe this wasn’t the case before “awareness campaigns”. I don’t know, but I would want to see proof of it considering prostate cancer doesn’t get a fraction of the attention.

Why not? I think it’s partially as Hanson says that women were able to make it a women’s issue in addition to being a health issue. I also think that it’s harder to mobilize men both as a collective and around health issues. On the former, we don’t have a history of mobilizing around specific issues because we’ve been the ones in positions of power and influence. On the latter, men are less inclined to believe that the government should pay for health care initiatives. And generally speaking, I think we’re more private about our health problems. I mean, given that prostate and breast cancer occur in equivalent numbers, you would think that I would know or know of men with prostate cancer in about equal numbers of women with breast cancer, but I don’t. I think that some of this is that men are less likely to communicate their malady so precisely. Some of it, though, is probably attributable to breast cancer having such a high profile. Finding out that people you know have a particular illness probably does increase the likelihood of it being something you will concern yourself about. So in that sense, maybe it is doing good? Maybe we do need a campaign for prostate cancer. Especially considering that men are less likely to take care of themselves in this regard.

Or maybe, as Hanson points out, a lot of the screening is unnecessary and it’s a good thing that prostate cancer doesn’t have the same profile and we would be better served if breast cancer didn’t, either. Maybe our resources are best devoted elsewhere. Of course, not all things are equally provocative and if people didn’t donate money to breast cancer research or awareness or whatever, they’d spend it on something stupid rather than on research and awareness of something that might do more good.

With regard to the peer pressure of pink ribbons, it reminds me a bit of the bumper stickers on cars and whatnot about supporting the troops. They have ribbons of their own. Back when our wars were more in our consciousness, there did seem to be a bit of sanctimony about it. Especially as those in favor of the war accused those against the war of not supporting the troops. Until the left responded with “Support The Troops – Bring Them Home”, the whole thing was a seemingly innocuous proxy for a larger public opinion battle over the righteousness of the wars themselves.

I’ve heard some people say the same general thing about the American flags*. Some Canadians I know consider it unseemly when they visit the States how we put our flag everywhere and have them in lawns and all that. I can’t say that it bothers me any. I don’t feel the need to say “I support my country” as I did to say “I support our troops!” back before support for the war soured. Arapaho probably has more flags flying than anywhere I’ve ever lived before. I suppose that could be considered patriotic peer pressure, but I consider it a positive sign of solidarity around our country as a whole.

I do wish breast cancer would go away. I do support our troops and hope they succeed even in wars I am not sure we should have entered. I have a gooey white-boy’s appreciation for my country. But I guess I am not hugely worried about people thinking that I am pro-cancer, anti-woman, anti-American, or anti-troops by virtue of the lack of a flag or ribbon on my lapel. One of the positive developments in my life is to be (increasingly, though quite imperfectly) able to take accusations hurled my way in stride when I know them to be false.

* – There was a recent to-do on this subject in California. My omission of that incident is not accidental. This portion was inspired by my trip to Canada many years back and various conversations with my (generally liberalish white) friends.


Category: Coffeehouse

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8 Responses to The Peer Pressure of Pink Ribbons

  1. kevin says:

    Men are disposable. That is why prostate cancer receives significantly less attention than breast cancer.

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    kevin: Men are disposable.

    I think you are overstating that. The big difference is that breasts are visible and prostates aren’t. Also, breast exams are less, ummm, invasive than prostate exams.

    MLB does a good job with prostate cancer awareness, with blue ribbons.

    There was a recent to-do on this subject in California. My omission of that incident is not accidental.

    What are you talking about?

  3. trumwill says:

    MLB does a good job with prostate cancer awareness, with blue ribbons.

    That’s good to hear. I think.

    What are you talking about?

    A kid in California was forced to remove a flag he put on his bicycle for Veterans Day because it was considered provocative. Since it involves Mexican-Americans and immigration, I didn’t want to go there.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    Oh yes. I vaguely remember the flag/bicycle story.

    I consider wearing or displaying of your country’s flag to be the epitome of proleness. We get it, you love your country (rolls eyes).

  5. Maria says:

    I only display a flag on the major federal official holidays. Otherwise, forget it. The flag increasingly stands for anything but this country and its people–it seems more to symbolize globalism — global police force, global corporate headquarters, global employment agency, global consumers’ union.

    The ribbon nazis have taken over Safeway. They make all their employees wear various colors of ribbons to support this or that cause, and then they ask you each time you buy something if you want to donate a few dollars to that cause.

    Nothing wrong with it, if the money is actually being spent on the particular disease, rather than going to bureaucrats’ expense accounts, but it does kind of make the whole ribbon business ubiquitous. I mean, you can’t even escape it when you’re buying a carton of milk.

  6. Maria says:

    I’ve got a post up linking to this one if anybody is interested:

    http://mariatheproblem.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/our-flag/

  7. Escapist says:

    A lot of the large charities have huge salaries for top execs and high overall overhead (you can look at financials via some charity rating services, e.g. Guidestar). The small/local ones where its really about the cause (not careers) may be better bets

  8. SFG says:

    Prostate cancer hits at a later age, so you could make an argument that fewer years of life are lost.

    Still, I do think it’s what you said about women being organized. I think men should be organized, what with the draft and alimony and all. But it never seems to go anywhere.

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