Social media is used for a number of different reasons. It isn’t just about connecting or staying in touch with family. Individuals have begun to use it as a way to call for activism or “to promote a particular cause or charity” (Mahoney, 2017, p. 71). Even Facebook has come to encourage this by offering the option for individuals to share a charity of their choice to raise funds on their behalf as a birthday present. Facebook has become a hub for individuals to draw attention to non-profit organizations or causes.
As we are in the month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, popular memes are shared across Facebook to raise awareness of breast cancer. One in particular, which trended back in 2010, was a “message [that] asked females to choose a color that was the same as the bra that they were wearing” (Mahoney, 2017, p. 71). Although it was a fun activity, the problem is when the message got passed along, somehow, for some, it ended up failing to mention it was for breast cancer awareness. That doesn’t mean it didn’t help or follow through with its intentions. According to Stein, the “Susan G. Komen Foundation reported an increase in interest and contributions following the popular memes” (Mahoney, 2017, p. 72).
What would make someone participate in a meme like this? They’re fun. I mean, you post the word “black” with nothing else and people are desperately trying to understand why. Or another “private message [that] asked females to change their Facebook status to the location where they like to put their purse” and you get some hilarious status updates (Mahoney, 2017, p. 72). It took a simple task and sexualized it to draw attention to breast cancer. There really should be no wonder as to why thousands of women got involved and the meme went viral.
After all, sex sells. Don’t believe me? Think about the pornography industry. According to Jeff Logue, Ph.D., the number of “US adults who regularly visit internet pornography websites” is “40 million” (2015). That isn’t just men, it’s women too. Even in the publishing world, romance fiction is huge; “it’s the second largest category of fiction, outselling science fiction, fantasy and the classics” (Rodale, 2017). Again, it isn’t just one gender over the other. Per Romance Writers of America, “84 percent of romance readers are women and 16 percent are men” (Rodale, 2017).
Despite the fact that both men and women access sexual content in some way, shape or form regularly, these memes only targeted women. The messages were only sent to women to be posted by women. The entire idea behind the prompt was that it would confuse men, yet it was to draw attention to breast cancer, a disease that also assaults men. It makes it seem sexist, yet it isn’t. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, as of 2020:
- “only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer”
- Awareness in men is less, therefore they carry a higher mortality rate
- “1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime”
- Estimated new cases for 2020: 325,010 (invasive and non-invasive)
Although this disease primarily targets women, does that mean men should be excluded? I say no. The memes may have gone viral, but they still lacked something. One, as previously stated, some women participated without knowing the purpose, which fails the call to activism in the first place. Two, the disease may primarily impact women, but men shouldn’t be left out of the equation. And some of these memes are easily adjustable between women and men.
For example, the meme that referred to women and their purses—how easy would it be to add in ‘and/or wallets’? Aside from the fact, not all women carry purses. Is the meme excluding more than just men in that instance? Plus, as it does sexualize the message, how does this impact those not seeking sexual content?
Bearing all of this in mind, there are a few places these memes could be addressed and the message could be better conveyed. While this definitely applies to breast cancer awareness memes, it may not be applicable to all memes calling to activism.
Logue, J. Ph.D. (2015, October 22). Pornography Statistics: Who uses porn? Southern Assemblies of God University. https://www.sagu.edu/thoughthub/pornography-statistics-who-uses-pornography
Rodale, M. (2017, December 6). Who is the Romance Novel Reader? Huff Post. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/who-is-the-the-romance-novel-reader_b_7192588
Mahoney, L.M., Tang, T. 2017. Strategic Social Media: From marketing to social change. Wiley Blackwell.
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Breast Cancer Facts. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Male Breast Cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer