Breast Cancer Awareness: Who Are the Real Boobs Here?

3 pink ribbon chocolates on sticksby Maggie MacAulay.  This piece is dedicated to her fabulous, late great-aunt Gabriella.  

This October 31, many people will eye-roll at the parade of lost objectified souls who drunkenly teeter around the city dressed as Slutty Mouse, Slutty Nurse or Slutty Hungry-Man Dinner. I’m less (as in not really) bothered by that, mainly because dressing up provocatively on Halloween is at least honest about what it is.

What I find more concerning and dishonest is the annual spectacle of objectification that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where we women buy ghastly pink-themed and carcinogen-laced objects, Run for the Cure and allow our bodies and ourselves to be positioned as sexual objects.

We’ve gotten to the point where we contest “rape culture”, “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming”, but somehow the boys’ locker room lingo of “Save the Ta-tas” and “Run for Boobies” is perfectly acceptable when it’s done all in the name of “raising awareness”, especially when that awareness translates into money being funnelled to breast cancer research organizations.

I’m not going to get into the politics of how research money gets distributed here; instead I want to raise consciousness about how the sexualisation of breast cancer makes visible how Breast Cancer Awareness™ has co-opted women’s health and disempowered us by positioning patriarchal capitalism as our only salvation.

This week, the so-called Nice Guys™ from Simple Pickup, a website designed to teach hetero men how to refine their “pickup artistry” skills, made a video expressing outrage that the $2000 they raised from their “Motorboating for Boobies” video (it’s now private) had been rejected by the U.S-based Breast Cancer Research Foundation who asked them to refrain from associating themselves with the organization and using their logo.

In the video, the group of young men approached women in public spaces and offered to donate $20 to breast cancer research in exchange for the experience of aggressively shoving their faces in the women’s breasts. While some of my friends expressed outrage about why those women would participate, it seems not at all surprising to me that some would, since they deployed the rhetorical strategy of “raising awareness” as a scheme to bribe women into objectifying themselves “for the greater good”. I’ve been that feminist who resists, refuses and retaliates, and it doesn’t sit well with everyone to be that bitch who has ruined it for everybody. Compliance means that you are a woman who cares about breast cancer enough to take a joke while critique positions you as a humourless harpy who doesn’t.

This trope can be found in Simple Pickup’s video response a few days ago (see also Exhibit A).

Kong, one of the leaders of this website, lashed back at what he characterized as a “small minority of haters who thought that this video was ‘offensive’” and were “completely out of line”, as if the likely sizeable group of dissidents were the ones who had broadcast such a spectacularly sexist video in the first place. This is part of the same reverse discourse that says that pointing out sexism (or racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc) somehow makes you the sexist. Read more

Posted on by Maggie MacAulay in Feminism 3 Comments

HOTmilk and MILFs: Whose “Sexy” is Pregnancy?

Ad for Hotmilk lingerie, showing a pregnant woman in bra and panties

Ad for HOTmilk lingerie

by Kristen Hurst

The MILF acronym, popularized by 1999’s American Pie, is most often associated with teenage male desire for their friends’ “hot” mothers. Over ten years after the release of this film, even the casual cultural consumer could notice that soft-core MILF pornography has become prominent in pop culture, and with that, the sexualization of motherhood and pregnancy are on the rise.

Pregnancy fetishists and feminists alike may argue that pregnancy has always been sexy—it’s the natural result of heterosexual sex, after all—but a pregnant MILF’s body that has been dismantled limb-by-limb by an advertiser’s camera may only be sexy according to a troubling narrative, one which many feminist mothers would like to decapitate, even if they lack the tools to do so.

The main advertisement that I’m referring to, the 2009 commercial promoting HOTmilk lingerie, has been discussed widely across feminist blogs. As you can see below, a lingerie-clad mom-to-be greets what we may assume to be the father of her unborn child with a glass-shattering striptease.

Mom is so voracious that she is willing to break any dish or lamp in her belly’s way, but there is little in the video that lets the viewer know that the woman in question is pregnant. The editing and camerawork are handled in a way that would make Laura Mulvey more than cringe. While we see the assumed father’s titillated reaction to the tease on his face, the mother is revealed as an array of parts—a seam on the hip here, a bra strap there, a glove against the lip. She is a buffet of sexual consumables that you, too, can access, if you visit hotmilklingerie.com. She is sexy even though she is pregnant. Read more

Posted on by Kristen Hurst in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

My Boobs and I are Outraged

oscarby Jessica Critcher

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go a whole day without feeling angry about misogyny. That day is not today.

Of all the ridiculous things said at the Oscars, I find myself most upset at Seth MacFarlane’s “Boobs” song. It’s like a splinter in my heel: it hurts and I can’t stop picking at it. The fact that I’ve already been told, in the nicest way possible, to calm down about it ties the whole thing up in a nice, sexist bow.

Where do I even start?

MacFarlane sang about having seen several actresses’ breasts in films. That was the entire joke: “We saw your boobs. In that movie that we saw, we saw your boobs.” He then lists specific films in which actresses, most of them present, appeared topless, except for Jennifer Lawrence, of whom he says, “We haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs at all.”

Apparently those are the only two relevant categories for women at the academy awards: those whose breasts we have seen and enjoyed and those whose breasts we haven’t. Maybe that has something to do with why only one woman has ever won Best Director.

The cheeky, adolescent, boys-will-be-boys tone of the song is played off as if it’s supposed to be a compliment. Angelina Jolie’s breasts, MacFarlane says, “made us feel excited and alive.” But whether it’s a famous man with a microphone on television or a stranger yelling at us from a street corner, women are constantly reminded that our bodies are public property – not our own, but belonging to and existing for men.

Even grammatically, the phrase “We saw your boobs” is problematic. It makes viewers the subject of the sentence and ignores the fact that these women have any sort of agency, phrasing it instead as if viewers were peeping without these women’s consent.

But exposing one’s breasts on film isn’t unequivocally good, either. The double standard would never allow that. It is apparently possible to do this in too many films, as he reminded Kate Winslet, listing off several films in which she appears topless, adding “and whatever you’re shooting right now.”

There was also a cheap dig at Scarlett Johansson, saying we saw her boobs not on the big screen, but on our mobile phones. I couldn’t help but make the connection to women being blackmailed with naked photos on the internet, or the recent trend of revenge porn. He has seen their breasts, he can see them anytime he wants, and he doesn’t let us forget.

Another disturbing thing about this song is that the films listed are serious dramas for which many of the actresses were critically praised. Several of the breasts MacFarlane delights in having seen were exposed in the context of rape or assault in the films. Boys Don’t Cry in particular is about a trans man who is beaten, raped and murdered. I fail to find anything hilarious about that, whether or not we saw Hilary Swank topless.
Read more

Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Feminism, Pop Culture 8 Comments

Social Justice and Strip Clubs: Are They Really Mutually Exclusive?

3965386394_11438bb510by Jasmine Peterson

A class of Social Justice 12 students at Charles Best Secondary in Coquitlam have, as a final project for their class, taken it upon themselves to confront a social issue in their area – they are petitioning for the closure of the Paramount strip club in New Westminster. I think it’s admirable that these students are engaged and moved to action, but I think that these students have not been given a fully nuanced picture of the issue.

I really must emphasize my appreciation that youth are actively seeking to make changes in their communities. Engagement with social and political issues in adolescents is a wonderful thing. I appreciate that their teacher has inspired them to think critically about social issues and is providing them with the skills and knowledge to actively address the things in the world around them that they are passionate about.

However, while I think they are coming from a genuinely concerned place, these students’ efforts seem to me to be somewhat misguided. One of the students, Ryan Leppert, stated:

“Men can go in there and treat women as objects and it isn’t fair to them. We don’t believe it is [their choice], we believe it is a desperate attempt to get money or a lot of them have been forced into it.”

And this is true. For some women, many women even, economic position forces them into vocations they might not otherwise choose. But at the same time there are many women who choose to dance or strip with a level of agency. Any vocation can be something that a person is forced into out of economic desperation (I know I don’t continue working at a call centre for my love of being yelled at, called names, and hung up on), so the conversation is much more nuanced than whether or not women are dancing for the financial benefit. Read more

Posted on by Jasmine Peterson in Can-Con, Feminism 5 Comments

Feminism F.A.Q.s: What is Objectification?

Feminism FAQs Title Screen

by Jarrah Hodge

My latest episode of Feminism F.A.Q. is on the issue of objectification, specifically sexual objectification, and why this is an issue for feminists. Check out the video below and read my notes and the transcript after the jump.

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 3 Comments

Halloween 2012: Options Other Than the “Sexy___” Costume

by Jarrah Hodge

It’s almost that time of year again – Halloween. If you’ve been following Gender Focus for a while you know that every year I get frustrated with the costume selection that’s out there in the Halloween stores. It seems like there are hardly any costumes in the women’s section that aren’t the “Sexy ______ (insert noun)”.  And this year I saw a lot of stupid sex-joke-oriented costumes for guys (like this “Snake Charmer” costume that manages to also be a bit racist).

After seeing The Invisible War, a documentary looking at the issue of sexual assault in the US Military, the costume that creeped me out the most this year was the “Sexy Army Cadet” (left). The description on the Spirit Halloween site reads:

Reporting for duty, sir! It’s time to perform maneuvers, and in this army, wearing this military cadet uniform may result in some X-rated maneuvers! Gentlemen, is that a proper salute?

Ugh. People seriously pay $50 for this costume. I also noticed the “Sexy Eskimo” thing I talked about last year seems to have become a trend.

Ok and why are the women modelling these costumes on the packaging almost always white? All that does is reinforce the image of “sexy”/beautiful as synonymous with whiteness, which is neither true nor cool.

Now if one of the “Sexy ____” costumes really speaks to you, go for it. My issue isn’t the fact that there are “sexy” costume options but that they seem to be the only options. For those of us who want other options, check out my ideas below and links to other great lists of Halloween costume ideas for feminists: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 3 Comments

An Open Letter to Green Day: What the Hell, Guys?

by Jessica Critcher

Green Day, we need to talk.

But I feel like first I should tell you a little bit about myself and explain that you have been my favorite band for a little over a decade. I asked for International Superhits after hearing you on the radio. Then over the course of a summer I bought every single one of your previous albums, all the way back to 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and the live songs from Japan.

They inspired me, at thirteen, to save my babysitting money and buy an electric guitar – a red Squire Stratocaster. I taught myself to play and practiced until my little fingers suffered. I bought a book of tabs and taught myself every Green Day song I could. The very first one I learned to play was “Brain Stew”. The triumph of mastering those power chords, of initiating myself into this secret club, was indescribable.

My guitar skills gave me new confidence. Despite being painfully shy, I entered in the talent show my sophomore year and treated the entire school to my versions of “She” and “Ha Ha You’re Dead”, which summed up my feelings about being in high school pretty nicely. I felt strong. I felt dangerous. I felt liberated. I was still the “weird girl,” but after that I was “the weird girl who plays guitar.”

You were a gateway into the wonderful world of music. I heard songs about angst, rebellion, cross-dressing, BDSM, drugs, sex, loneliness, love and hope.

I bought American Idiot the day it came out and listened to it over and over. I watched you guys melt the American flag into green slime in your music video. Around this time I gained the awareness and courage to leave an oppressive religious cult. I’ll always connect American Idiot with this time in my life – with self discovery, confusion, anger, and eventually the feeling that I was making the right choices for myself.

I chose your concerts over going to prom, easily, without hesitation, junior and senior year. My mother, my sister, sometimes my aunts and I bonded over your music and the shared experiences of sweaty mosh pits and post-concert Denny’s feasts.

In college I got two Green Day tattoos. I loved 21st Century Breakdown, you guys. I was living in Hawaii when it came out, and I tried not to take it personally when you skipped us over on your tour.

Now I’m 24. A little older and wiser, but still the same awkward hooligan I was when I bought that guitar. I saw American Idiot on Broadway in January and when I heard that you were coming out with three (three!) new albums, all of that adolescent excitement bubbled to the surface again.

But you guys, there’s a problem. I just watched the music video for “Oh Love”. It’s hurting me to have to say this, but I’m disappointed. It’s not about the song. I enjoyed the lyrics, but the video left me confused and hurt. What the hell happened? Read more

Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Feminism, Pop Culture 6 Comments