Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Manicure for second base?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I've always thought that the "Manicure for the Cure" campaign was a little bizarre, if well-intentioned. I've never expected much from activism at Princeton, but the idea that we need to be bribed with manicures before we'll support a cure for breast cancer (which, let's face it, is a great cause, but totally uncontroversial - find me just one person who doesn't want to support a cure for cancer) has always troubled me. The slogan, "Indulge yourself for a cause," seems particularly problematic - why can't we just support a cause because we care about it? This is taking Princeton privilege to new heights.

That said, I have never felt compelled to criticize the event openly - until I saw this year's advertising. The signs, plastered around campus, are confusing at best and at worst, horribly misogynistic. They come in two varieties: the generic kind, which entreats the student body to "Save Second Base," and the heteronormative kind, which focuses this plea at the campus "gentlemen." What makes these ads confusing is that nowhere do they actually mention breast cancer - they simply reference the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Houseparties, manicures, and of course, second base. I've had to explain the real meaning behind the ads to countless people over the past couple of days - that "second base," to quote Wikipedia, refers to "groping or feeling up underneath [a woman's] shirt."

Terrible baseball metaphor aside (and seriously, does anyone use those anymore? Are we still in 1963?), these ads are in very poor taste. Without even going into the heternormativity of the suggestion that only men care if breasts as sexual objects fall victim to cancer, is this really the argument we want to use to convince Princeton students that they should support breast cancer research? Women's breasts are not just about sex. This is a disease. Women die from breast cancer every day, and the loss of breasts to mastectomies is tragic, but not because they're suddenly unavailable for men to grope. I'm pretty sure that the ads were unintentionally offensive (at least, I hope so), but I hope that this campus community realizes that this is blatant objectification, and that it's not ok.

Amusingly, I think there's at least one other person on campus who agrees with me - whoever put up the parody posters outside Frist, good for you! The posters range from the over-the-top "Gentlemen, save titty f**king," and "Ladies, save the male g-spot" to a very heartfelt "SERVICE TO HUMANITY OR DISSERVICE TO WOMEN?" "SECOND BASE NOT THE GOAL; WOMEN, LOVE YOUR BODY, MIND, & SOUL," and "I DON'T NEED YOUR MANICURE TO SAVE MY MOTHER'S KNOCKERS. (Neither does her partner)." As explained by one of the posters:

What is service? "Manicure for the Cure" posters miss the point with their offensive and misogynistic campaign: "GENTLEMEN, SAVE SECOND BASE". The catch phrase objectifies women suffering from cancer. "Second Base" denotes "breasts" but connotes objects of sexual attraction meant to be grabbed. In case you missed the infantile reference, "Second Base" is second in the order of: french, feel, finger, fuck. Do you know anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer? Are you more concerned about their physical, mental, and spiritual health or their gropables? We are not against service for a cause. We only ask that you keep those you are helping in mind, and not at the expense of your fellow woman.

Personally, I like the last one best. What do you think of the original posters, and the parodies? Are they misogynistic, tasteless, or amusing?


At April 28, 2009 at 2:54 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Should I really care whether they are misogynist as long as they get more people to donate, which means it'll get more people saved from breast cancer?

Humor me: IF studies show that appealing to men in this way will raise awareness and donations (and presumably saves people), why should we stop doing it? Especially if the posters are reaching a group that may normally not be so worried about breast cancer (I know men can get it, but compared to women, well, you get it). Unless it's for some moral reason...But then again, so is abstinence education as a response to aids, but many still want to uadvocate contraception. How do we reconcile these two positions? (It's easy for me, I'd say abstinence and no objectifying posters for me).

Perhaps my analogy isn't great (I mean it's not), but I just couldn't help but point this out. Again, not trying to troll, but I do find the utilitarian argument interesting and would love to hear what people have to say about it. Should we stop making these kinds of posters IF those posters are actually helping people (obviously, if they aren't, then it's just gratuitous misogyny)? Thoughts?

At April 28, 2009 at 3:18 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

"Should I really care whether they are misogynist as long as they get more people to donate, which means it'll get more people saved from breast cancer?"
Short answer: yes. Misogyny is misogyny, regardless of its ends.
Of course sex sells, but this campaign is degrading to the women suffering from the very disease it seeks to eradicate. Raising money is important, but it's also important to treat people with dignity and respect, and no amount of money raised can compensate for failing to do that.

At April 28, 2009 at 4:06 PM , Anonymous CristinaL said...

Roscoe, you’re missing the point. I highly doubt these posters are helpful, but even if they were (and they’re not), the means would in no way justify the ends. Using sexism to sell the improvement of women’s lives is both illogical and damaging. The mass media already portrays women as bodies for consumption; for a charitable organization to do the same, is to validate and normalize this sexism. Utilitarian arguments may have weight in speaking about profit endeavors, but the Susan G. Komen Foundation should be about more than the bottom line. If you can’t abide by certain principles as a charity, then really, maybe you shouldn’t be operating.

At April 28, 2009 at 4:21 PM , Blogger LSG said...

Doesn't Manicure for the Cure usually fill up really really quickly? If they were desperate for customers I still wouldn't approve of the posters but I'd be slightly more tolerant of the inappropriate lengths they were going to to raise money. As it is, it seems like they're not even earning any more money, making the utilitarian argument inapplicable -- they're just reinforcing the idea that breasts exist for the enjoyment of the gentlemen.

At April 28, 2009 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Samantha H. said...

Nice work here, Amelia. I felt incredibly annoyed the first time I saw the posters and was surprised that no one anywhere was talking about it. Yay for bringing it to people's attention.

At April 28, 2009 at 6:29 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

My freshman year (2004--long time ago, kids), one candidate for class president came up with the ingenious campaign slogan "You do the drinkin', he'll do the thinkin'" and plastered it all over campus. It backfired, and he lost overwhelmingly. Apparently, intellectual, thoughtful Princetonians don't like condescending ads that suggest they're dimwitted drunks.

I thought I had never seen such a gross and ham-fisted misreading of an audience until I saw this. Wowzers! More than anything, this ad campaign belittles and mocks the intelligence of Princeton men. I imagine (and hope) we'll react just as we did to the "drinkin'" posters.

At April 28, 2009 at 6:44 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

Roscoe, that would just be caving to the Patriarchy. If men want to hold women hostage to breast cancer, swe need to stand up to them, not defend their misogyny to get a few more bucks donated.

At April 28, 2009 at 10:48 PM , Anonymous Manicure for the Cure said...




Manicure for the Cure: Ad Campaign Statement

Dear all:

Thanks for the concern and dialogue about our “Save Second Base” ad campaign for the upcoming Manicure for the Cure fundraiser supporting the Susan G. Komen Foundation. We know that this is a very controversial campaign, however we still support the intent behind the campaign for two reasons.

First, the campaign was meant to start dialogue about the many issues surrounding breast cancer: how should we view women’s bodies in the media? Is it appropriate to have this campaign? How should humor interact with serious issues of possible objectification? As we all know, the USG has recently proposed a referendum on a very controversial issue: whether to donate the Fall ’09 Lawnparties Concert funding to Annual Giving, the PACE center, or to keep the money for the concert. The USG has emphasized that even if the referendum doesn’t pass, they are proud that they have sparked active dialogue on campus about our role as students in the budget crisis. Our goal is similar: through a controversial campaign, we hope to spark passionate, engaged dialogue about these issues. We are grateful for the posters that have been put up to challenge our campaign because they are actively involving the campus community in issues we feel passionate about.

Second, we did not intend any harm with our campaign. Many breast cancer survivors have advocated using this campaign slogan as a way to humorously raise awareness and funds. To quote Save2ndBase.com on the origin of the slogan, “In July 2006 we lost our sister and friend Kelly Rooney to breast cancer. She was 43 years old and left behind a husband and 5 children. Cancer can take one’s hair, energy and mobility, but Kelly refused to let it take away her sense of humor. She coined the phrase “Save 2nd Base” and inspired us all. We hope our shirts inspire you!” While we recognize that this is still controversial because it is an issue of objectification, we also understand that if one examines the underlying connotations of a slogan and then can still see the humor, without endorsing possible negative connotations, the slogan can be effective both to grab attention and as a way to educate the community on different connotations these phrases may have.

At April 28, 2009 at 11:18 PM , Anonymous CristinaL said...

I’m not buying that the purpose of the campaign was “to start a dialogue.” The longwinded response sounds more like a publicity move to save face. Also, the USG reference is irrelevant. That said, I appreciate the public acknowledgement of the criticism.

At April 28, 2009 at 11:31 PM , Blogger Amelia said...

Manicure for the Cure:

I understand the impulse toward putting forth controversial messages, with the hope of sparking debate, but I think the important thing to remember here is that we're not actually talking about breast cancer. I think it's really telling that there's no obvious way to figure out that "second base" is actually talking about breasts - I had to explain the ads to a large number of people. If I thought that the dialogue we were having right now was encouraging people to support breast cancer research or activism, I think it would be a productive use of a controversial slogan. But the fact is, we're just discussing whether we should find the ads tasteless or not, and whether we should be offended.

Furthermore, I think that breast cancer research has not been a topic that's been polarizing here in the past, and I'm really disappointed that it's been made so - we have enough to argue about on this campus, I think we don't need another moral debate. Do you think this conversation is moving people to realize the plight of people suffering from breast cancer and their families, or just making them disgusted at your cause?

I'd also like to point out that men can also have breast cancer, and that to suggest that "gentlemen" are the only people who would potentially care about the loss of their partners' breasts is incredibly heteronormative - so even taking out the objectification of women, this campaign is still very problematic.

At April 29, 2009 at 12:17 AM , Anonymous Brenda Jin said...

Dear Manicure for the Cure,

One of the most problematic aspects of your advertisement poster is that there is nothing on it at all about the cause towards which you are raising money. Next to your statements about self-indulgence and house parties this weekend is the brief statement: "Proceeds go to Susan G. Komen". Most people I talked to didn't even know that Susan G. Komen was a foundation for breast cancer research.

I can see how the phrase can be humorous and can have other implications about how women view their bodies in the context of the story that you provided in your response. But was this context provided on the poster? I would venture to say that you REcontextualized the slogan by addressing it to GENTLEMEN.

Let me ask you this: Is objectification okay just because other sanctioned organizations have used the slogan? Did you intend for your audience to understand the supposedly humorous side of breast cancer and the social implications of body awareness? Is your poster "educational"?

And to the other readers out there, if you visit the website, you will see that Manicure for the Cure is sponsored by the Program for Women and Gender Studies. As Manicure for the Cure has not directly taken responsibility for its statements in the poster, they have, through lack of disassociation, represented the views of their sponsoring organizations (which also include the PACE center and the CJL).

In working towards your cause of "raising money", you have inadvertently reinforced the misogynistic and heteronormative obstacles that modern women attempt to challenge and overcome in almost every aspect of social life.

Another point of debate is the question of identity. Yes, men are diagnosed with breast cancer as well, but it is nevertheless important to raise the following question: Is a woman's identity dependent on the existence of her breasts? Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer undergo mastectomies, which potentially leads to an identity crisis, because an integral part of the woman's femininity, a part of her body that she associated with her identity, has been removed. How do you reconcile the absence of something that you thought was an integral part of your being? One answer is that your identity, your being, your spirit and soul are not the sum of your parts, and that you are no less a women--no less a person--regardless of whether you have undergone a mastectomy. Manicure for the Cure, in your carefree statement you have undermined the possibility of spiritual healing for victims on the path of recovery by suggesting that breasts are an integral part of womanhood, an integral part of heterosexuality, and objects to be saved. Are you raising money to save breasts or to save lives?


At April 30, 2009 at 9:03 AM , Blogger Scott Weingart said...

I don't share your concerns about "indulge yourself for a cause" or the practice of "selling" a good or service to raise money for a nonprofit. FWIW, I distinctly remember Princeton Pro Choice Vox raising money for some nonprofit last year by selling raffle tickets.

We can support a cause "just because we care about it," but if we want to mobilize others to join us in our support, we may have to give them some incentive beyond just caring about it.

The problem with Manicure for a Cure isn't so much in what they're doing, but in how they're doing it-by stereotyping men and objectifying women.

At April 30, 2009 at 1:08 PM , Blogger LSG said...

A response from three of the Manicure organizers:


I could analyze this all day, but suffice to say for now that the main point seems to be that anyone who was offended is mired in political correctness. My favorite part of the online article is not actually the work of the authors, but a commenter who invites the people who put up the posters to kill themselves. Delightful.

Brenda, good comment -- and if you're the Brenda commenting on the Prince article, good comment there too. :)

Also, Chloe wrote a post about this that's on Feministing, if anyone's interested. http://community.feministing.com/2009/04/you-are-not-your-breasts.html#comments

At April 30, 2009 at 1:27 PM , Blogger Amelia said...

As a personal shameless plug, Gracie Remington (also an EW blogger) and I wrote an editorial which was also published in the Prince today, criticizing the posters.

Link here: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2009/04/30/23604/

At April 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM , Blogger LSG said...

Ack, sorry Amelia and Gracie! I just followed the link from Feministing and didn't realize you'd presented the other side. Here I was unfairly thinking the Prince was only giving one perspective. Good article!


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