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Save the Tatas! From Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (BCAM)

Wanting more information, I went online, and the first result in a Bing search for BCAM was "Shop Breast Cancer Awareness" [emphasis was already added on the website].

Pink is everywhere. Water bottles, jewelry, hats. Sports teams wear pink shirts or helmets or shoes. Some years pink floodlights shine on the White House. And how much fun is it to wear a pink shirt that says I love boobies or Check the bumps for lumps.

As a cancer survivor I am fully supportive of efforts to create awareness and reduce the incidence of breast cancer. I make monetary contributions whenever I can. Yet I do so with some mild resentment.

Sometimes seeing so much pink makes me see red. I wish I would see more purple. Purple ribbons.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (DVAM)

Before breast cancer awareness campaigns, October had been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month. DVAM evolved from the 1981 “Day of Unity" conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children.

The Day of Unity soon became an entire week and then a month devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, state, and national level with three common themes:
  • Mourning those who have died because of domestic violence;

  • Celebrating those who have survived;

  • Connecting those who work to end violence.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in October 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and a pharmaceutical division of AstraZeneca, producer of several anti-breast cancer drugs. The aim of the BCAM from the start has been to
  • promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer;

  • promote the breast cancer drugs that AstraZeneca produced in the fight against breast cancer.

Of course, we need breast cancer awareness and funding. According to the American Cancer Society, each year 240,000 women and men are diagnosed with cancer. That’s nearly 700 a day. Certainly we need awareness and funding. Fortunately, we get awareness and funding.

Millions of dollars are funneled annually into breast cancer research in spite of the many vendors who capitalize on the pink products but never share the profits with legitimate cancer-related research or treatment. In fact, breast cancer is better funded than any other type of cancer, and disproportionate to the number of deaths each year as this graph from the website illustrates.

The blue bar is the number of deaths from each of the cancers listed.

The black line shows the funds raised for each type of cancer.

Every 30 minutes, someone – most often a woman – is diagnosed with breast cancer. In that same 30 minutes and depending on whose statistics you use, 60 to over 250 people – most often women – are victims of domestic violence. Over two million women are victims of domestic violence annually, more than 1300 killed. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. One in three women, one in four men, will be victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. One in seven women, one in 25 men, will be injured enough to need medical care.

We may worry about violence in our streets, but twenty percent of all violent crime is domestic violence. In the five years before our Covid pandemic, while violent crime was dropping, domestic violence had increased nearly 40 percent. One in every two women killed is killed by an intimate partner, while the statistic for men is one in 13. In both cases, the violent partner is likely a man.
Even if the statistics on breast cancer were exaggerated by ten times, it would still be less than the numbers of victims of domestic violence. The fact is, domestic violence will have an impact in the lives of both women and men, as well as children, to a far greater degree than breast cancer does. Yet, the only numbers related to breast cancer that exceed the numbers related to domestic violence are the numbers of funding dollars.

So, what accounts for the discrepancy in attention and funding?

It is so much more fun to talk about boobies than to talk about battering. So many more fun activities arranged to create awareness and an opportunity to give money for breast cancer.

No one wants to talk about the embarrassment and pain of people who love one another treating each other with abuse that ranges from verbal harassment to unspeakable violence.

However, the larger problem may be that as a society we value women more for their breasts than for them as a whole person. Perhaps the thinking is, women are innocent victims of breast cancer. But they’re still to blame for anything that happens in interaction with men.

It’s not just men who accuse and blame women. Women have been blamed for so many centuries that they have internalized that blame. Again just yesterday, I spoke with Mindy [pseudonym], a bright, strong, independent woman who acknowledged that years ago her partner was abusive. Even then she knew it wasn’t her fault, and nevertheless she wondered what she should or could have done differently.

Patriarchal values celebrate strong men protecting women. Of course, they can’t protect women from breast cancer. Patriarchal values also can’t protect women from the “protectors” who abuse them. And victims can set boundaries that have only limited ability to prevent abuse directed at them.

As a civilization we must reset our beliefs about the value of women. We must recognize women as worth more than entertainment or procreation. When we realize the value of every person and the value of a partnership of equals, we may see a whole new evolution of civilization.



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