So Where Do Men Fit Into Breast Cancer Awareness, Really?

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I know what you’re thinking, or well at least I like to pretend that I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, damn, here’s this self-acclaimed feminist that’s about to go on an ‘I hate men’ rant. You’re telling yourself that you knew deep down this post was coming, that somewhere in my psyche I only had to hate men, it was only a matter of time before I just came out and said it.

Well, you’re kind of right…but not really. Actually, no, you’re not right at all.

So, let’s start at the beginning. It was about a month ago, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, where I was searching around for breast cancer awareness news. I stumbled upon the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign.

At first I couldn’t help but almost laugh. What, were they trying to sound edgy? Or badass? But then it started to dawn on me that the campaign was almost trying to encourage some masculinization of breast cancer awareness, which seemed odd. What are they trying to achieve with that?

The ACS describes the campaign as the following:

The Real Men Wear Pink campaign was born out of a desire for men to have a unique way to help in the fight against breast cancer. Real Men Wear Pink gives communities the opportunity to nominate local male leaders to spearhead fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer initiatives. These initiatives include promoting early detection and prevention, funding groundbreaking research, and giving patients support wherever and whenever they need it. Because of the passion of supporters like you, Real Men Wear Pink is helping to save more lives from breast cancer.

Ok, no red flags there. But this isn’t meant to be a Pink Ribbon Investigation type of post. But kind of like the Wacoal Fit for the Cure campaign, something felt offputting off this initiative.

The ACS continues:

The Real Men Wear Pink movement looks to community leaders to raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer. Of course, the top fundraiser receives an exclusive prize – and bragging rights as the #1 Real Man.

Bragging rights, huh? The phrase “bragging rights as the #1 Real Man” stuck out at me. I went back and looked at some of the photos on the website, which I strongly encourage all of you to do by the way, and something about the photos put it all together for me. In these photos you’ve got these men, mid to senior level looking professionals, in their suits and ties, standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, looking confident, no looking smug. And all I could think was wow, this is all just a big dick contest, isn’t it? Yeah sure ok the initiative by and large helps save women’s lives, but is that why these men are really participating?

Time and time again I just kept going back to the name of the campaign, Real Men Wear Pink. Why is there such an emphasis on asserting masculinity? What could it mean, to be a real man?

So, I turned to Facebook, just to bounce some ideas off of my friends.

Here are a few of their responses:

Short answer: do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it. Prioritize those you love before yourself. Never give up.

I think of men, not as the opposite of women, but as the opposite of boys. Where boys are focused on their own growth and satisfaction, men are more concerned with the growth and happiness of those they feel responsible for.

I’d say it’s the same as being a real woman (an adult, not a child) — being able to move forward in spite of fear, instead of crawling into safe, soft spaces and cowering at what could have been.

It means to act with compassion; admitting one’s faults.. Being an adult human is also about knowing when to hold your tongue when it’s warranted and being completely honest even if it means sharing harsh truths about oneself or someone close to them. It means standing resolute and tall during the stresses of daily living. It’s about being able to share one’s emotions, not bottling them up inside. Being an adult is defined by letting loose the shackles of grievances, not allowing them to take root. It’s about taking the time to put a microscope to your own actions and be willing to admit wrongdoing.

It means rejecting masculine stereotypes.

Did I mention I have awesome, thought-provoking friends by the way? Anyways, I took a few takeaways from what they said.

1) Real men take responsibility of their actions 

2) Real men prioritize their loved ones, or their community, over themselves. 

3) Real men define their masculinity not based on machoism, but on a call to action. 

Now, I used to analyze polling research for a living, I know this isn’t a scientific or generalizable answer to the question “What does it mean to be a real man?” but I’m not trying to make that claim either. But I’m just trying to think, what exactly is the ACS promoting by saying Real Men Wear Pink? Where is a man’s place within breast cancer awareness?

I’m almost tempted to just end the post here, because it’s almost too hard of a question to tackle 😂. While I am firm in saying that breast cancer is a female-oriented issue (yes I get it, men get diagnosed with breast cancer too, but yadda yadda yadda it’s about the BIG picture people!) women need allies. Breast cancer affects men — women that die leave behind husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, etc. Real men should care, and not just write it off as a girl’s issue that doesn’t affect them. But, men don’t need to act like they have a big dick to care. Men don’t need to act so heroic, like they’re swooping in to save the day, like they’re validated because they raised the money.

I don’t want to see a corporate man in a suit and tie tell me they’re important for what they’re doing. I want to see an everyday man tell me that he wants to do the right thing. I don’t want to see a man bragging at how much money he donated. I want to see a man bragging about how he’s helping the women in his life succeed, to carry on in the face of cancer, by making the donation he’s making. I don’t want to see a man competing with other men. I want to see a man hoisting his wife, his sister, his aunt, his grandmother, his cousin, onto his shoulders, helping them when they need it most.

This post, therefore, isn’t meant to propagate hatred towards men. That’s silly, straight up dumb actually. No, this post is a stand against men who think that in order to be masculine, they need to be macho, when really all they need to do is be kind, be compassionate, and not be douche bags. Men provide a critical voice in the breast cancer awareness space. But this space is not about them, it’s about helping their loved ones and their communities, and it’s not their place to reclaim that to bolster their own masculinities and their own egos. And when I hear “Real Men Wear Pink” that’s the impression I get, that these local male leaders are trying to assert their dominance in the breast cancer space.

As always, maybe I’m asking for too much. Especially after this weekend, when my friend sent me this picture from a strip club in Miami.

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And I realized for some men, it might only ever just be a dick size contest.

On a more upbeat note, I do have a lot of faith in my generation. Not to talk in broad strokes about such a diverse generation (those damn millenials, says the millennial 🤷‍♀️) but I have hope that we’re moving past binary gender norms, and that we’re gradually rejecting the traditional concept of “being a man.” Virtually all my friends that responded to my Facebook post are millenials. In fifteen or twenty years, when more of my friends and colleagues are being diagnosed with breast cancer, because the sad reality is it’s not if but when for many of us, the men in our lives will take the responsibility that they need to take to stand by our sides unconditionally, and not just brag about how much they can help us, or feel like they’re gaining reputation and clout by helping us. Hopefully the statement won’t be “Real Men Wear Pink” but something that basically says “Real Men Give a Shit.” Yeah, yeah that’d be nice.

How do you define a real man? Leave me a note in the comment section below ✨

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