Activism or Slacktivism?: The Breast Cancer Awareness Movement

Off-beat #3

As October comes to a close, so does Breast Cancer Awareness month. An event that a few years prior was pretty pedestrian has exploded into to a huge national campaign. Organizations like the NFL have lead to a really big imprint for the message, through their “A Crucial Catch” campaign. This has given breast cancer an exposure that really hadn’t been possible in years before. As the amount of pink merchandise that filled the stadium and team stores increased, so did the buzz. The breast cancer awareness movement has trickled down to the rest of society, manifested in the pink out that happens through October. Everyone makes everything pink, from businesses to sports leagues. This year’s campaign was no different. Everyone from Liga MX soccer clubs to Garrett’s Popcorn got in on the act.

Taking down cancer? Credit: Associated Press
Taking down cancer? Credit: Associated Press

While some of this may be a sincere effort to further the cause, breast cancer awareness has become fashionable in a way. It’s good PR for companies and organizations to make the claim that they support a disease that has touched so many of their customers, often in tragic ways. Many of these businesses that benefit most from the Breast Cancer Awareness movement donate little, if anything, to further breast cancer research. The NFL, arguably the biggest proponent of breast cancer awareness and the movement’s biggest voice, donates a meager 8.1% of breast cancer related merchandise sales to the cause. Organizations with cultural significance and media reach like the NFL have the responsibility to set the tone to how we should respond to the disease. The NFL has set the example of wearing towels and gloves but not donating anything, which is being mimicked by the rest of society. Speaking of which, I would argue that this fashionable “activism” has trickled down to the general population. During October, its the cool thing for people to do to wear pink. People try to validate themselves to the rest of society by wearing pink. It proves to others that they do in fact care about the disease, even though they probably haven’t and won’t donate.

All of these developments in the battle against breast cancer led me to believe that the movement was pretty hollow and insincere. It seemed to me that breast cancer has been a case of slacktivism at its finest. What we have is a huge gap between the amount of people supporting breast cancer research and the people actually facilitating it. While the media attention has led likely to more attention from philanthropists who have significantly contributed to research, it doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of society is voicing their “support” for a movement without actually supporting it. I was under the impression that little progress has been made fighting the disease. From my point of view, it was all lip service to the public to justify the campaign and the money that comes along with it.

However, this October, I got served up a big dish of perspective, Anton Ego style. A few weeks ago, my parents sat my sister and I down to deliver the news that my mom had breast cancer. I was pretty stunned and afraid to say the least. As my parents explained to me how the cancer was caught early and very treatable, I felt a sense of relief. When my mom told me how the technology to detect the cancer had only been invented in the last two years, I felt a sense of gratitude. If it were not for all of the awareness the disease had received, the cancer would have likely been left to fester in my mother’s body. We might have not been able to see it until it was too late.

As our family started to tell my friends and family about our situation, we were met by an outpouring of support. When my mom underwent surgery, family friends lined up to drop off dinners for us. Part of me knows that no matter what happens, these people would respond the same way, but I wonder to what degree the Breast Cancer Awareness movement affected them. People are now really aware just what victims of breast cancer face. They understand the seriousness of what could happen and how vicious a disease it really is. I wonder if we would have received as much support from society if my mom had a rarer, less visible disease that hasn’t received as much awareness.

While there are so many problems relating to the movement to cure the disease, highlighted by a heap of slacktivism, there have been real medical advances to combat the disease. If it were not for the cause, my mom might have not seen me walk the stage at the Eastman in June. Generating awareness does serve its purpose, but I implore you to volunteer or donate if you can. Every little bit counts. Together, we can put a real dent in the suffering caused by this disease.

Credit: Fox Sports
Credit: Fox Sports
About Will Scheuerman 7 Articles
McQuaid Senior, Editor-in-Chief, and story enthusiast. Dedicated Nat Geo and Economist reader. Currywurst is the food, Dipset is the anthem, and 90s Volvo stationwagons are the ride.

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