It’s October, which means Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For many sufferers and survivors of breast cancer, this can be a difficult time.
One reason for this is the sexualisation of breast cancer and breast cancer ‘awareness’ campaigns – campaigns that reduce women to their breasts and equate their worth with perky, in-tact breasts, with slogans like ‘I love boobies’, ‘Save Second Base’, or ‘Save the TaTas’.
Some companies even try to justify their sexist and exploitative treatment of women under the guise of ‘raising awareness’, or by making a token donation to a breast cancer charity. We’ve compiled some examples of corporate offenders below.
Playboy-owned sex shop Honey Birdette tops the list, with a long history of sexualising breast cancer for profit. For years, Honey Birdette has broadcast sexist and objectifying representations of women in pink lingerie, utilising the logo of the McGrath Foundation to lend legitimacy to their sexual objectification of women and to enhance their own image.
In 2019, the sex store was forced to pull a porn-themed instructional flyer for breast self-examination after McGrath Foundation confirmed they “had not acted in line with their agreement”.
We called on McGrath Foundation to refuse the sex shop’s donation, given the well-documented harms to women from sexualising and objectifying representations like Honey Birdette’s. We were disappointed that they ignored us, as well as the global research on the harms of sexual objectification that we had shared with them. By accepting the donation and effectively endorsing Honey Birdette’s sexual exploitation of women, McGrath Foundation threw women – including breast cancer survivors – under the bus.
A number of breast cancer survivors publicly objected to McGrath Foundation’s apparent endorsement of Honey Birdette. Some cited the harm of pinkwashed and sexualising breast cancer campaigns on survivors, and how sexualising breast cancer campaigns prevented women from getting their breasts checked in the first place. McGrath Foundation ignored them.
Breast cancer sufferer Carlia wrote,
“As a current breast cancer patient, how can I trust a charity to support me when they are receiving support from a company that actively damages women?”
We hope that this year McGrath Foundation will listen to breast cancer survivors, and refuse to be complicit in further harm to them.
Bavarian Bier Café
We called out the chain restaurant for treating women as meat in their 2014 ad. The ad, for their racks of pork ribs, featured two women in low-cut dresses on either side of a fully dressed man in front of a plate of ribs, paired with the slogan, “We’ve got the best racks.” When the ad was posted to Facebook, the Bavarian Bier café announced that for every rack sold, they would donate $1 to a breast cancer charity.
We asked the restaurant, how are women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer – which may include the removal of one or both breasts to save their lives – supposed to feel about your invitation to sexualise and judge women’s breasts?
The ad was subsequently pulled.
In 2013, Bonds unveiled their “BOOBS” campaign, where the company changed its name across signage, billboards and social media. The campaign was intended to generate more bra sales, and to mark their partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
As a breast cancer survivor I find this incredibly offensive. The point of breast cancer research is not to save boobs, but to save lives. Why must women like myself be made to feel we are worth less because of the ravages of breast cancer? Australians are mature enough to talk about breast cancer. Reducing the issue to large billboards and bus sides screaming 'BOOBS' is puerile. Huge fail.
We have previously called out Baker’s Delight for objectifying women’s breasts and trivialising breast cancer. The bakery’s breast cancer campaigns rely on sexist double entendres and the language of sexual harassment, referring to women’s breasts as “fun buns” and encouraging women to “get their buns out”. Baker’s Delight donates the proceeds from the sale of “fun buns” and “fun bun friends” – plush soft toys that appear to be disembodied breasts – to Breast Cancer Network Australia.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate
Last year, we contacted the chocolate company over their sexist “Bottle of boobs” – a container of disembodied, pornified chocolate women’s breasts. At a time when the harms of sexualised depictions of women are well-known, we asked why they would objectify women this way, reducing women to a series of sexual parts for literal consumption.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate defended the sexist product on the basis they intended to donate a portion of the profits to breast cancer charities (although there was no mention of this anywhere on their website). After breast cancer survivors objected, and after media picked up the story, the company reluctantly pulled the product.
Nena & Pasadena
In our early days we exposed Nena and Pasadena, a menswear company which was co-directed by AFL player Buddy Franklin, for its sexist and porn-themed t-shirts. Nena and Pasadena t-shirts featured images of naked and semi-naked women photographed in sexualised and demeaning poses – on all fours, bound, headless and faceless.
In 2013, the company publicly announced their financial support for the Breast Cancer Network Australia in a tweet. The Breast Cancer Network Australia responded, saying they were not aware of the company’s intention to fundraise and had not given approval, and that they had declined Nena and Pasadena’s donation after looking at their depiction of women.
TITS (City Beach)
TITS is a pornographic brand, nominated for “Best Apparel” at the Adult Video News awards (the annual porn industry awards). Their pornographic t-shirts and other merchandise – depicting female porn performers naked, bound and with ball gags in their mouth – have been sold at youth retailer City Beach.
TITS brand pledged profits from its “TITS for tits” range to breast cancer groups – a t-shirt range featuring sexualised images of porn performers “checking” each other’s breasts. We would argue that treating breast cancer examination as a girl-on-girl porn fantasy for men’s sexual gratification isn’t all that helpful.
Even the sex industry, which trades in women’s objectified bodies, capitalises on “breast cancer awareness” as a marketing strategy. Las Vegas strip club Little Darlings promised $1 from admission would go to breast cancer – “making strides against breast cancer”. This allows men who pay to objectify women – and who fuel the commercial sexual exploitation of them – to believe they are in fact doing something charitable.
Grosvenor on George
Grosvenor on George, a topless bar in Brisbane, sold breast shaped pizzas which they claimed were in support of breast cancer. The different flavours were named after the hotel’s topless barmaids, with $1 from every pizza apparently being donated to a breast cancer charity.
Owner Jasmine Robson said, ''Guys love them. It's hilarious watching everyone take 'selfies' with their pizzas.'' We have no doubt that men who are patrons of the sex industry “love” breast-shaped pizzas. We wonder if women who suffer from breast cancer find it quite so hilarious.
There are even some breast cancer charities that rely on and perpetuate sexist, objectifying and harmful messages about breast cancer.
UK based breast cancer charity named “Coppafeel” (yes, really) has drawn criticism for its “blatantly sexist language and marketing campaigns to raise awareness for breast cancer at the expense of women’s rights”. According to their website, Coppafeel uses a “light hearted” approach to breast cancer awareness, reminding people that “checking their boobs isn’t only fun, it could save their life” and advertising jobs at “Boob Towers”.
The dictionary definition of the phrase “cop a feel” is “[to] fondle someone sexually, especially in a surreptitious way or without their permission”. It shouldn’t need to be said, but a charity whose very name is premised on a pun referencing sexual harassment or assault doesn’t appear to have women’s best interests at heart. (You can sign the petition calling on them to stop sexualising breast cancer here.)
Another breast cancer charity, Rethink Breast Cancer, released a PSA entitled “Save The Boobs” featuring bikini-clad women cupping their breasts and saying, "I pledge allegiance to my girls, to my chi-chis, to my hooters, to my ta-tas, to my gazongas."
It's time for a change. Breast cancer sufferers and survivors deserve to be treated with dignity, as whole people rather than a pair of breasts, and to not have their illness sexualised and trivialised. We hope corporations are listening.