Every October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are hit with waves of products and campaigns featuring pink, the color of breast cancer awareness.
We see t-shirts, pink kitchen items, pink household appliances, pink accessories, all to benefit breast cancer research, primarily through the Susan G. Komen Foundation (which is frankly its own issue).
There are campaigns featuring slogans like “Save Second Base”, which is definitely problematic, but at least you see it. The Race for the Cure, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (which occurs in different places at different times but mostly happens in October), etc., these all are featured prominently in October.
You will see ads for them on public transportation. You will see signs, commercials, etc. You know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And that’s a good thing, aside from the need to diversify our donations for breast cancer support. Breast cancer impacts a huge number of individuals across races, genders, and sexes. We still don’t know enough about its causes, and we still don’t have a cure; survivors are in need of support services; and these are all things worth raising awareness and funding for.
My problem isn’t that Breast Cancer Awareness gets so much attention. It’s that it virtually monopolizes attention in the mainstream media. Everyone knows that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you can buy something pink to support breast cancer research at almost every major superstore, but October is ALSO Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and you can’t find something purple to support that cause unless you go looking specifically for it. My other problem is quite simply this: we’re aware of breast cancer. Sure, I may not be able to spew statistics on it off the top of my head, but for the most part, people are well aware that breast cancer is a considerable health threat to people, especially female people, in the United States and around the world. Organizations working on breast cancer research are receiving funding and recognition. The same is not necessarily true about domestic violence.
I suppose part of the problem is that it’s just easier to advertise about breast cancer awareness because the issue has become glamorized and sexualized in a way I think is actually pretty problematic. Events like “Breastivals” on college campuses, and slogans like “Save Second Base” or “Save the Ta-Tas” ultimately buy into the idea that breasts are sexual, even if that’s not necessarily a good idea to buy into. The other alternative is the use of feel-good survivor stories, which feature women who have “beaten” breast cancer, and women who love them and support them. They make working towards a cure seem fun, something that can bring people, especially women, together. These are less problematic, but they still follow the same formula: make it happy, make it appealing.
This just doesn’t happen with domestic violence awareness. There’s no way to make it sexy-~-it’s ugly and brutal and sad. It’s something we don’t like to talk about or think about or see. Breasts? We’re willing to think about breasts. The fact that one in three female murder victims was killed by their intimate partner? Not so much. Domestic violence doesn’t lend itself to cheeky slogans or fun events, which makes it harder to create pleasant marketing campaigns for. The problem is that domestic violence as an issue is more in need of fundraising and awareness than breast cancer: DV programs are often underfunded, there often aren’t enough of them, and their corresponding campaigns often lack the necessary support. There are hundreds of thousands of DV and other IPV survivors who need things like housing, career training, legal assistance, medical care, and mental healthcare once they are finally ready and able to leave their abusive partners. There are too many cases that ares till unreported because of the stigma attached to surviving domestic violence, and the courts are too-often biased against survivors, who often lose custody of their children or face other consequences once they leave. Domestic violence is a complicated, wide-spread issue, and it deserves far more funding and attention than it gets.
Unfortunately, these two awareness months fall during October, and the reality of the situation is that attention is focused on breast cancer awareness, and not on domestic violence. The White House went pink for breast cancer support, but did it go purple for domestic violence? I don’t think so. It may not be as much fun, but the reality of the situation is that public health and domestic violence organizations, and pro-women organizations, need to give at least some of their attention in October to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, because there are too many stories still untold, too many survivors still in danger, too many survivors struggling to get back on their feet, and not nearly enough support for them or the programs in place to help them get from here to healthy and happy.