Facepalm: person clutching their face

By request: Booberday

SA asks:

Please, please write about the execrable “Booberday” meme on Google+.

Summary: it’s a “share pictures of your cleavage because of… breast cancer! yeah!” meme. That meta-meme is potent, folks. Got something you want people to do? Claim it’s about preventing or ameliorating or alerting or grieving breast cancer. You are now the untouchable saviour. The end.

Christa Laser on G+, link from SA:

[The Booberday meme is] demeaning, and it is precisely the gateway to harassment that drives women away from online communities. We have a responsibility as early adopters to create a respectful, caring community where everyone feels welcome. If it is acceptable in a community to post a photograph of cleavage, it becomes okay to comment on it with sexual jokes, then to comment on a photograph of a woman in the G+ community with a sexual joke, and then with sexual comments that are not jokes. If left unchecked, an online community that tolerates harassment against women can become dangerous for women, professionally and physically: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/gender.blogging.

+1, as they say.

But it’s all worth it cos of the cancer, right? Mmm, let’s have a think about that.

Randall Munroe, whose partner is undergoing breast cancer treatment, writes in Liz Fong’s Google+ and in his own G+ stream:

The really frustrating thing about the “Save the boobies” campaign and similar ones is that it gets it exactly backward. Often, the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the boobies in order to save the woman.

Saying that we should work to cure this disease because it threatens breasts is really upsetting. For starters, it suggests that women are worth saving because they’re attached to breasts, rather than the other way around. But worse, it tells any woman who’s had a life-saving mastectomy that she’s given up the thing that made people care about her survival. What a punch in the stomach.

Barbara Ehrenreich famously wrote about breast cancer as sexy-making opportunity, among other things:

And in our implacably optimistic breast-cancer culture, the disease offers more than the intangible benefits of spiritual upward mobility. You can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more femme. In the lore of the disease—shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors—chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin, helps you lose weight; and, when your hair comes back, it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new color. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing program, opportunities for self-improvement abound. The American Cancer Society offers the “Look Good . . . Feel Better” program, “dedicated to teaching women cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.”

I could say and quote more, but almost everything I want to say Peggy Orenstein said in the NYT magazine last year:

That rubber bracelet is part of a newer, though related, trend: the sexualization of breast cancer. Hot breast cancer. Saucy breast cancer. Titillating breast cancer!…

Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”…

Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.

And there’s Twisty’s long running crazysexycancer ‘adventures’. Get yer boobie shot here.

Lauredhel has also been on this for years: “Bring breast awareness back to the workplace”, Scrotes Oot F’t’ Lads!, More “Teehee! Boobies!” from the breast cancer awareness industry, Three Examples of Rape Culture in Nice Guy(tm) Breast Cancer Activism, Mount Franklin Breast Cancer ads. Let’s start a Brown Colon Cancer Awareness campaign.

Summary: you want to reduce incidence of and mortality from breast cancer? Consider funding and fundraising for research and evidence-based interventions. Want to remind the vast majority of women, especially breast cancer patients and survivors, that they aren’t sexy and compliant enough for your playground? Start a “save the tits” campaign today!

Update: there are multiple notes in Randall Munroe’s comments suggesting that Booberday wasn’t originally about breast cancer. I haven’t gone tracking the source of it, but if it’s true that dynamic is interesting. “Ew, sexist” followed by “it’s ok, it’s for breast cancer”, and when Munroe among others challenged that, back to “oh no, it’s just about boobs, so people who are or care about breast cancer patients and survivors can chill out!”

See also Sticking a pink ribbon on it doesn’t excuse “Booberday”.

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About Mary

Mary is a women in tech activist, a programmer, a writer, and a sometime computational linguist. She writes at puzzling.org with occasional appearances at Hoyden About Town and her previous projects include co-founding the Ada Initiative and major contributions to the Geek Feminism blog. She's @me_gardiner on Twitter.

14 thoughts on “By request: Booberday

  1. Qaoileann

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I’m bookmarking this and coming back to it whenever the RAGE makes me inarticulate.

    I <3'd my granny very much, and I'm very glad for the fifteen years she survived post-diagnosis, one-boobed and all.

  2. antepathy

    Seconding above. Thank you for putting words to what has been my growing discomfort every time I see a student with a ‘save the boobies’ bracelet. Mostly young men, who think it’s funny.

    I haven’t seen this on G+ but just the idea…!

  3. Restructure!

    I also <3 my one-boobed granny.

    Great post!

    I also <3 Randall Munroe.

  4. Ms. Sunlight

    I’ve seen the breast of my cancer-survivor mother, the breast she still has to put cream on a decade later because the scars become sore. You don’t see photos of breasts like that in these social networking memes.

    I hate these stupid “awareness campaigns”, I feel they are not only an insult to my intelligence but personally upsetting and degrading. They sideline what my mum and our family as a whole went through. Thank you for saying this. For as long as this crap goes round the internet, we need people to keep saying this.

  5. Mary Post author

    Update in the OP: there are multiple notes in Randall Munroe’s comments suggesting that Booberday wasn’t originally about breast cancer. I haven’t gone tracking the source of it, but if it’s true that dynamic is interesting. “Ew, sexist” followed by “it’s ok, it’s for breast cancer”, and when Munroe among others challenged that, back to “oh no, it’s just about boobs, so people who are or care about breast cancer patients and survivors can chill out!”

    1. j fanavans

      It went like this:

      1. Boob posts are funny.
      2. OMG this has become huge, lets use it for something good.
      3. Wow, people are saying breast cancer is being used to cover booberday as a perversion.
      4. OK lets make sure people understand that this started as a joke to kill off caterday.

      It has been spun by those against it as breast cancer being used to apologize for boob posts. That’s rubbish. There is no apology for posting breasts.

      Also, the FIRST booberday post was of a man’s breast, so to tie booberday to female sexuality exclusively is chauvinistic in the extreme.

      1. SA

        So, can you deconstruct the “boob posts are funny” thing? What’s funny about them? Who tends to think they are funny?

        Can you respond to the comments that point out that a stream of pictures of (almost entirely women’s) breasts may have a chilling effect on women’s participation in a very male-heavy network?

        1. J fanavans


          Q. What is funny about them?
          A. What is funny depends on the individual image, many had witty lines associated with them. Others were of breasts (many not women’s) in situations that were unexpected or leading to bathos. I suggest you look at some of them.

          Q. Who tend to think they are funny?
          A. Women and men on Google plus. Some do, some do not. It is a subjective thing after all.

          You ask me to comment on the ‘chilling effect.’ I should like to see evidence of this. I know, from facebook for example, that a plethora of sexualised post has not prevented women from joining.

          More broadly, every post on every issue has the potential to exert a chilling effect on a certain group. For example, posts against abortion or pro abortion would alienate one group or the other.

          Lastly, I note that some of the main proponents of the meme, I would guess at about 40% (greater than the ratio of people on G+) are female.

          I know that it upsets some people. I’m sorry that it does. Posts about many things upset me. The spamming of my stream on various days with various topics upsets me. But to my mind, I would not invite censorship of a public space in order to avoid the upset. Especially when ignoring it is provided for by the platform itself.

          I hope I’ve helped or clarified some stuff. Happy to explain more if need be.

      2. Mary Post author

        Just a note: this comment is from (as far as one can tell on the ‘net of course) the Booberbay originator, which is a major part of why it got approved. A reply seems reasonable in that case.

  6. Katie B

    You have brought together a bunch of quotes that eloquently state what I’ve been saying for years! I’m not on G+ but I loathe the Facebook breast cancer memes. Thank you!

  7. Bruce Byfield

    My late wife had breast cancer, and I alternate between cringing and cursing when I come across things like Booberday. The whole attitude seems a denial of what cancer patients actually go through.

  8. Brat

    Your facepalm-person looks much like my friend James… Is it? He does a wonderful facepalm.

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