You are not your breasts

Cross posted at Skirt! Magazine

Every year at Princeton University, the student group Princeton Against Cancer Together (PACT) holds an event called Manicure for the Cure,
where they bring in beauty school students to do manicures for
Princeton students in the days leading up to spring formals. Formals
are this weekend, so advertisements for Manicure for the Cure are all over

To advertise, they’re using the slogan "Save Second
Base." The phrase "second base," in case you don’t know, refers to
foreplay involving breasts, as in "I kissed Jenny under the bleachers
and made it to second base." "How far did you let him go, Jenny? To
second base?" If it sounds antiquated and ridiculous… that’s because
it is.

Anyway, "Save Second Base" is a slogan that’s used nationwide
by breast cancer research fundraisers. And it rubs a lot of people the
wrong way. After all, curing breast cancer isn’t really about saving
breasts, it’s about saving women’s lives. So it annoys people, but
there was no reaction on campus when Manicure for the Cure used the slogan
last year. I think people mostly made their peace with the
slogan, figuring that at least it was raising money for a good cause.

But this year is different. This year, the organizers
of the event, in an attempt to include men, are offering massages in
addition to manicures. To advertise these services, they made posters
that said: "Gentlemen: Save Second Base."

And that is when the proverbial poop hit the fan.

woke up yesterday morning to find that an anonymous feminist had
created a counter-campaign, with slogans like "Ladies: Save the Male
G-Spot – support prostate cancer research," "Save Tittyfucking" – the
first of which was designed to point out the sexism inherent in using
sex to sell research for women’s health, when prostate cancer is
considered an important cause in and of itself, and the second designed
to demonstrate the logical extension of urging men to donate to
research in order ensure that breasts would still be available for
their sexual use. And there were more serious slogans: "Does your
women’s organization objectify women?" "I don’t need your manicures to
save my mother’s knockers," "Second base is not the goal: women, love
your mind, body and soul." The posters had been plastered, in a kind of
quilt formation, all over the huge noticeboards outside the campus
student centre, around the original posters, which only served to
enhance their effect.

The organizers of the event are steamed, and are
accusing those who object to the original posters of a number of
things. We don’t care about women, we don’t care about curing breast
cancer, we want women to die of breast cancer, we can’t take a joke and
see the humour in the original slogan, and so on. They’re calling us
angry feminists, humourless feminists – pretty predictable stuff,
really, and not particularly valid, given the spot-on, hilarious irony of the

The people heading up the Manicure for the Cure campaign have defended their
use of the slogan in a couple of ways, the most notable of which is
that it was coined by a breast cancer survivor. This gives the slogan a
little more legitimacy, but also doesn’t take into account that what’s
funny and acceptable to one cancer survivor might be offensive and
supremely un-funny to another, especially when that slogan reduces
women’s lives to their breasts, which, sadly, many cancer survivors
have had removed. Also, the fact that a woman came up with it doesn’t mean it’s not sexist.

I’m happy to report that Equal Writes,
the campus feminist blog I started last year, had nothing to do with
this – happy because it’s good to know that there are other feminists
on this campus who are speaking out about sexism and objectification of
women’s bodies. The more feminist voices, the better. While I had
nothing to do with the counter-campaign, I do have a number of
objections to the "Save Second Base" campaign. From talking to other
women and men on campus, the main objections are as follow.

1) Women are not their breasts. Presenting breast
cancer research as an effort to save women’s breasts, rather than their
lives, reduces women to their mammary glands. Like I mentioned above,
this becomes particularly problematic for women who have survived
breast cancer by having one or both breasts removed.


A mosaic made of 32, 000 Barbie Dolls, by artist Chris Jordan.

Selling sex to men and health to women. The most offensive posters
specifically encouraged “gentlemen” to save “second base” (which could
be interpreted as either breasts, or sexual contact involving breasts).
The posters targeting women, on the other hand, focused on the health
and prevention angle of breast cancer research. Apart from being
heteronormative, using sex to sell only to men totally
ignores the fact that women also enjoy the experience of “second base.”
There’s no reason that sex couldn’t have been used to sell to women,
too. The failure to take into account that fact that women also enjoy
foreplay involving breasts (be they their own, or another woman’s)
plays into and reinforces outdated views about men wanting sex all the
time and women never wanting it.

Furthermore, while women are
more likely to care about women’s health than men are, surely the
health angle is one that could effectively sell breast cancer research
to men. Surely we underestimate men if we believe that the only way to
get them to care about women’s health is by striking into their hearts
the fear of a dwindling supply of boobies. If we’re going to use sex to
sell a cause (that’s an “if” for another day), then we should do so
equally for male audiences and female audiences, just as if we’re going
to sell this cause from a women’s health perspective, we should do so
equally with male and female audiences.

3) Breast cancer is simply cancer that happens to
attack the breasts. The brilliance of the “Ladies, save the male
G-spot” poster is that it points out the huge difference between how we
think about prostate cancer and how the “Save Second Base” campaign
would have us think about breast cancer. We care about prostate cancer
because it’s cancer, and it’s deadly, not because it attacks the male
sexual organs. We care about men’s lives, and no one’s trying to sell
prostate cancer research by warning women and gay men that prostate
cancer will make certain sexual acts impossible. Breast cancer, which
attacks a highly sexualized part of a woman’s body, is also
life-threatening. We should care about it because it claims women’s
lives, not because it claims their breasts.


I want to stress that I think that raising money for
breast cancer research is incredibly important. I think the goal of
this campaign is an admirable one, and one that both men and women
should support. Some have suggested that the correct way to respond to
the Manicure for the Cure advertising is to boycott the event, but I
don’t think that’s productive. Instead, the counter-campaign posters
sent a strong message that objectifying women, even if it’s for a good
cause, is unacceptable, and the message, it seems, has been received.
But a good cause is a good cause, and we shouldn’t miss this
opportunity to raise money for something that impacts the lives of so
many men and women.

As I write this, the people responsible for each of the
respective campaigns are working out a compromise and are drafting a
joint statement that anticipates dialogue between those who were
offended by the “Save Second Base” campaign and those who supported it.
Ultimately, I think this dialogue will not be about breast cancer, but
about feminism. And there are important questions to ask: is it ever
acceptable to objectify women? Does the campaign really even objectify
women? What does it mean to care about women? Can jokes like “Save
Second Base” be funny, even to feminists?

And most importantly, since it’s no longer 1962, and since we’re not 15-year-olds, and
since baseball is quite possibly the least sexy sport in the world, can
we please finally stop referring to touching a woman’s breasts as
“Second Base”?

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  • brigid-leahy

    I have a very dear friend who is a breast cancer survivor and had a double mastectomy while still in her 30’s. Her sister died of breast cancer. She has been deeply offended by the popularity of insensitive slogans like this one that she’s seen in recent years at various breast cancer walks. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, all she wanted to do was live. Moreover, that’s all her husband wanted. Neither of them cared about saving her breasts. My friend has no regrets about her mastecotomy. She is happy to be alive. She also does not feel less of a woman without her breasts. But, slogans like "save second base" sometimes make her wonder if people think less of her and other women who have lost their breasts to cancer.

  • invalid-0

    If sex draws a lot more donations, then why not use it? I am a huge fan of the female rack, and I donate to save women AND their golden bozos. Do you not want my money now? I have taken pleasure from many a mam, and most women get pleasure from the attention, and it makes me feel good to know my money might save lives and pleasures that accompany a healthy set of hooters. So get off your thought-policing high horse and be glad there’s money coming in!

  • invalid-0

    I don’t doubt that you are fond of female breasts, nor that many women derive pleasure through this part of their body. However, in your comment above, you are showing very little regard to women as human beings with feelings of their own. “Sure, your whole family loves you very much, and you really want to see your four-month-old nephew grow up—but you’ve got boobs! And you might lose them, if the cancer doesn’t kill you! I love boobs too much to let that happen. So here’s $20 for some cancer research.”

    Money for cancer research always helps, but if it has to come at the cost of personal dignity, then it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best. Think of whether you would stay in a high-paying job with a boss that constantly abused you verbally—you can bet that in a situation like that, there’s a lot more to consider than just how much you’re being paid.

    • invalid-0

      All donations which will be collected in this week-end will be transferred “BC Cancer Foundation” – the independent charitable organisation which collects donations on researches of a cancer of a breast and other programs on research of this disease.

  • invalid-0

    Think about it, women could die if a cure was delayed because you scared off rich male donors who now won’t give because of your moralist preaching about how the only proper way to help with breast cancer research is with no lust in your heart whatsoever, as if that was even possible. I agree, on a personal level, if I went to your house and said, “hey, Anon, you have the most gorgeous set of cans in the neighborhood. Here’s $1000 so you can go get the best mammagram in town so I can keep watching those beauties bounce by every day.” then I would expect you would turn the money down because I offended you and objectified you. But donors are usually anonymous, so what’s the big deal? If Hugh Hefner offered 50 million to the cause, and you were the decider, would you turn it down? I can smell out a moralist, and moralism kills as many or more than cancer. I may not be helping you feel good with my morally incorrect thinking, but my money surely can’t hurt your cause.

  • invalid-0

    JP, most people who care about breast-cancer research funding also care about the women in their lives who are affected by it. Mothers, sisters, aunts, close friends. And unlike you, they are not willing to reduce these important women in their lives to sex objects to pull in a few more bucks.

    It has nothing to do with moralizing, and everything to do with basic human respect. Do you love your mother? How would you like it if people around you talked lewdly about your mother’s breasts? At what point do you say, “Hey! Hey! That’s my mom you’re talking about!”?

  • invalid-0

    “Save Second Base” as a slogan for fighting breast cancer is offensive not only because it implies the value of superficial beauty over health and life. It is offensive also because it implies that a woman’s breasts should be saved for a man to touch, so that he can get to second base. How far did you let HIM go? And there’s no reverse-gender analogy to make the point clear, which is just further evidence of how offensive the slogan really is.

    Do people really decide how much money to donate based on how funny they think the slogan is? Do they refuse to support a good cause if the slogan doesn’t objectify women? I just don’t see how “Save Second Base” is worth it in the long run, and it’s certainly offensive in the short run.

  • invalid-0

    Uh, “tittyfucking” is something in which I, as a lesbian, take great pleasure. Come down off your high horse. I’m so tired of everyone taking offense at everything, as if there were only one politically-correct feminist line.

  • invalid-0

    I am a breast cancer survivor. I lost a sister to breast cancer. She chose to have a lumpectomy instead of the recommended mastectomy, because she felt her breasts were her best physical asset.

    Based on the choices she made with her treatment, and the eventual undesirable outcome, when I was diagnosed, I chose an agressive treatment. I chose bilateral mastectomy, with no reconstruction. I am alive and well, and it has been nearly eight years since that surgery, chemo and radiation.

    I have learned that back in the days before the pink ribbon campaign, women were so afraid of breast cancer that they would avoid testing. The common belief seemed to be that it was a death sentence. So the pink ribbon campaign was a way to soften the image of breast cancer and make it less scarey, thus encouraging more women to get tested or do self-exam, thus saving lives.

    The flip side of that has been that perhaps the general public doesn’t take breast cancer seriously enough. It indeed is often deadly, especially in younger women. It is NOT ABOUT breasts, it is a matter of life and death.

    I fear that the Save Second Base/Save the Titties approach totally misses that point. Unfortunately, my titties couldn’t be saved. It was an adjustment,but by far the least of my worries during treatment. And let me tell you, reconstruction is a bitch, with its share of risks, and unbelievable pain. And for what? To live up to some image of ideal beauty?

    This approach suggests that the worst thing that can happen with a breast cancer diagnosis is losing “Second Base”. False advertising at its very worst.

  • invalid-0

    …for putting into words what I couldn’t explain: the reason that all of those cutesy “Save the Ta-Tas” bumper stickers make me uncomfortable.

    Sure, it would be bad if this were made into a bigger issue than the fact that women are dying of cancer, breast and otherwise, but the fact is, things like those slogans ARE sexist and are offensive to some people.

    Anonymous, I’m so sorry that you lost your sister.

  • invalid-0

    For some women, young women especially, the concept of cancer is often too far removed to prompt action… Forget about the men, sometimes young women (who like sex, like their breasts, and are perhaps also feminists, none of these are mutually exclusive) need a comfortable entry-point into the cause. “Save Second Base,” ” Save the Ta-Tas” (which, btw I find way annoying, as I do not like to think of my boobs as “ta-tas” thank you), etc, are important, and potentially life-saving tools. The most provocative statements, while offending some, have also engaged your entire campus in a debate, and therefore made the cause much more public and well-known. I agree that the “Gentlemen, Save Second Base” posters may have strayed a bit over the line. But as for using sex to sell activism and caution to women, I’m for it. If it encourages one more woman to go to her annual or do a self-exam, or join a fundraising walk, doesn’t that help everyone?

  • invalid-0

    The thing is “Save Second Base” isn’t that compelling a call to action to people who enjoy boobs.

    The purpose of a philanthropic fundraising campaign is to drive awareness, and raise money by the information deseminated. (yeah, that’s right. I said deseminated)

    This campaign doesn’t provide compelling intel. It tells would-be doners “Hey, breast cancer makes ladies lose their ta-tas! The horror!” The thing is, to the audience it’s targeting this is a sad possibility, but not one that really galvanizes donations. People donate when they think their mom or sister could die. But this campaign, firstly, mis-educates their audience that research will “save boobs” rather than “saving lives.” In fact, most of the research has pointed women towards early gene testing and mastectomy as a preventative measure, thereby having more women lose their breasts than ever before.

    Sure a few guys are going to say “Hey, hehehe, I’ll give $5 to save some tits, hehehe” but at the end of the day it will confuse the messaging, and actually serve to diminish the impact of the real message, which is a truly compelling one: that this is a disease that kills people.

  • invalid-0

    I think the fact that the sexual humor of breast cancer is an important support mechanism for survivors is a fact that many who have criticized this campaign have been too ready to dismiss. Yes, the campaign appropriates ideas that are an integral part of a culture and world that oppresses women. Yet the symbols of this culture are the only way that we know how to live.

  • invalid-0

    I think it is totally wrong to use such statements as these. It is making women objects only, breasts only. If I had breast cancer, I would be highly offended and depressed by this campaign.

  • invalid-0

    I have to agree with DeeDee, the purpose of a campaign is to raise awareness, but every one knows that there must be a balance and I believe especially when dealing with these kind of things, cancer is killing people, hurting people, it’s a vicious disease.

    I do however believe that it should only be the branding of the campaign and when it’s further explained and formed it should be able to raise more ‘important’ issues than just what the branding of the campaign might suggest for many who just see this sentence “Save Second Base”.

    I fully understand that the campaign can offend many and stir up emotions.

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