Flight of the Tatas: Summary and Analysis

Whew! That was a Telling Knots first! I’d like to put things into perspective now with a summary and my analysis of the issues.

On the blog

I first became aware of the Flight of the Tatas event when fellow-blogger Scorchy Barrington posted a link to this article about it in the  Wall Street Journal online European edition. This was on Wednesday, July 3rd. I published a post about the event and my first thoughts on it on Thursday, July 4th.  Beginning on Friday, July 5th and continuing today, July 6th some people who had never commented on the blog before and who appeared to be unaware of my orientation in writing it began to write comments that I and many of my friends found offensive. Some of my friends and I began to respond in kind. Things went down from there. Today I cleaned up the ad hominem attacks and the strongest language. Comments are still open, but if the level of discourse degrades, I’ll shut it down.

Behind the scenes

I spent some time on July 3rd and 4th looking for any evidence that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) was aware of this purported fundraiser. All I found was their logo among the sponsors on the Flight of the Tatas home page. Nothing else. I decided to contact them. Things were further complicated by some technical issues on the LBBC site that resulted in my first two emails (to LBBC development and communications addresses) being returned as undeliverable. I sent my third to the “mail” email address on July 4th and it did not come back.

On Friday, July 5th, Jean Sachs, the CEO of LBBC replied to my email. I published her message in my blog that day. I found her response completely reassuring.

Analysis: What’s the problem with Flight of the Tatas

Because at least a couple of the comments seemed to me to be genuinely puzzled about why this event offended me and so many others, I decided to spell it out more carefully. There are two issues specific to the July 4th Flight of the Tatas event, and there are some more general issues.

Specific Issues

According to the message from Jean Sachs, the event used the Living Beyond Breast Cancer name and logo without permission. I am no lawyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a copyright infraction or something of the sort. That’s one issue.

Another specific issue is that LBBC were not consulted, were not asked if they wanted to be a part of this event. It is as though the event organizers just put down the first breast cancer organization they came across or perhaps knew from personal contact. This is bad corporate manners, bad event organizing and very arrogant.

It must also be said that many people in the not-for-profit economy do not believe that all money is the same, do not believe that it doesn’t matter where donations come from. Some people and some non-profits feel that it is wrong to take donations of money that was gained through exploitation. I have personal experience with two very different organizations that have turned down sizable donations because they did not want to give the donors the legitimacy that accepting would have conferred.

General Issues

Why is an event featuring “a bevy of topless skydivers” offensive to so many people who have breast cancer and/or who are active in breast cancer awareness?

Sexualization of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns is a very sensitive issue. This can be seen, not only in the event we’re talking about now, but even in more mainstream campaigns. There are many reasons to object to it:

* It tends to portray breast cancer as a condition that damages our identity as women, rather than as a disease that kills almost one-third of the people affected by it.

* Breast cancer does not strike only at women. Men get breast cancer and men die of breast cancer.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” (which was not invented by the organizers of this event) tend to present women as sexual objects and give the impression that the worst thing that happens to someone who has breast cancer is that they may lose their breasts, and that this loss is catastrophic.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” are semantically similar to slogans like “save the whales”, further tending to make women “other than”, to ignore their full human existence.

Breast cancer is not cute. Breast cancer kills people. In all likelihood it will kill me and at least two of the commenters (that I know of) in the July 4th thread. This is a life-threatening illness. Those of us who object to this trivialization and sexualization tend also to object to these slogans and the various pink campaigns wherever they appear.

These are wonderful topics for further conversation, but let’s all remember that we can disagree with respect. Ready, set, go!

Flight of the Tatas: LBBC Responds

Yesterday I posted the text of my email to Living Beyond Breast Cancer about their supposed association with a topless skydiving event in Las Vegas that claimed to be raising money for LBBC.

It is with great pleasure that I can confirm that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) had absolutely nothing to do with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event on July 4, 2013. I just received the following email from Jean Sachs, CEO:

Thanks for your email regarding the Flight of the Tatas event.  I apologize for not responding sooner but LBBC was closed yesterday and most of my staff are out today as well.
 
I can tell you that LBBC was not a sponsor of this event.  We never gave the organizers permission to use the LBBC logo, never agreed to be the beneficiary and, in fact, only learned of the event on Wednesday, July 3rd.
 
LBBC’s marketing staff member Kevin, copied on this email, will be reaching out the organizers of this event on Monday.
 
I will be on vacation next week but if you would like to speak with me directly please give me your number and I will call you.
 
Best,
 
Jean
Thank you, Jean Sachs and LBBC, for responding so rapidly and for assuring us of the integrity of the organization. You’ve made many people feel much better.

Flight of the Tatas? Really?

Breast cancer cell

Breast cancer cell. Not what Larry Flynt has in mind, I’d wager.

I was already simmering with anger about the trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer when I wrote yesterday’s post about men with breast cancer. My rage boiled over when I saw that a fellow rabble-rouser living with breast cancer, my friend Scorchy Barrington, had posted a link on Facebook about the single most tasteless breast cancer fundraiser I have ever heard about: “Flight of the Tatas”. (Sorry, I refuse to link to their site.)

Here is the first paragraph of the press release that was published in the Wall Street Journal online European edition under the disclaimer “The Wall Street Journal was not involved in the creation of this content”:

LAS VEGAS, July 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Larry Flynt‘s Hustler Club, the most audacious gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, will host “Flight of the Tatas,” a topless charity skydive beginning at 7 AM on Thursday, July 4, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Benefiting the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Foundation, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women affected by breast cancer, the unique event will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most topless skydivers. LBBC empowers all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life.

Participating in this display will be an “adult entertainment legend”, an “adult film superstar”, and a celebrity magician, “along with a bevy of brave and daring topless jumpers”.

The fundraiser is being sponsored by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club & Casino and Hustler Hollywood, among others. It is taking place today, July fourth. This is supposedly a benefit to help Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), but I could find nothing in the press release or the dedicated web site that indicated how much of the money raised would go to LBBC. In fact, LBBC is listed as a sponsor along with “Little Pussie Big Cock” and various of Larry Flynt’s Hustler enterprises (and others).

There is a “Donate for Breast Cancer Research” button on the home page. That’s all I found. I am writing to LBBC to try to get more information, but the event is today. I’ll post whatever I hear from them. I have rarely wanted more sincerely to be shown to be wrong in my assumptions. (The text of my email to LBBC’s development people is added at the end of this post.)

Now, I am not a “citizen journalist”. I am a woman who has metastatic breast cancer and a blog, a feminist with left-leaning social and political ideas. I have been known to displace my fear and anger about the cancer that is trying to kill me onto other targets. But even if that is what I’m doing now – so what? This strikes me as a very deserving target, indeed.

A more blatant example of trivialization and sexualization of breast cancer can hardly be imagined than a “Flight of the Tatas” in which “a bevy of topless skydivers” will attempt to beat the Guinness world record for jumping out of airplanes half naked and then land at a “gentlemen’s club” owned by that monument to taste and respect for women, Larry Flynt.

The event is today. By the time you read this, it will be over, most likely. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Am I just an old school feminist? Is this as disgusting to you as it is to me?

Addendum: Text of my e-mail to LBBC’s development staff

I was extremely surprised to find out that LBBC is listed as both the beneficiary and a sponsor of Larry Flynt’s “Flight of the Tatas” event taking place today in Las Vegas. Can you tell me, please, what percentage of funds raised by the event was promised to LBBC and if this is a percentage of the net or gross intake from the event?

It seems an odd sort of event for a breast cancer organization to be associated with.
Please feel free to comment on the blog or to contact me directly. I am very interested in knowing how LBBC’s involvement with Larry Flynt’s Flight of the Tatas event came about.
Thank you very much.

When I’m an idiot, don’t blame God.

There is a sort of religious corollary to Godwin’s Law. I am not sure exactly how to formulate it, but it seems that the longer any online discussion of public issues continues, the greater the likelihood that someone will eventually make a reference to religion as the source of injustice, oppression, prejudice and other social evils. The conversation then turns from whatever the topic was to a very polarized debate about religion, or it fizzles out altogether.

It is no secret to the handful of regular readers of this blog that I am a Catholic Christian who leads what some might call a very pious life. Those of you who know me in other settings know that I am not a cookie cutter believer and that I am not shy about saying what I think, even when (or particularly when) my opinions differ from the perceived (or even explicit) position of my faith family.

What I am about to say, however, is 100% “kosher” theology, to the best of my knowledge. Ready? It may be a shock. You may want to sit down and have a glass of water on hand. Here goes…

God created human beings with free will. We were created with the innate ability to believe or not, to choose to act for good or for evil, even to decide for ourselves what to believe in (or not) and to define good and evil in any way we wish.

One of my most basic religious beliefs is that God is God and I am not. If God saw fit to leave this huge responsibility of choice in the hands of human beings, who am I to take it away? It is not up to me to use civil law to take choice away from human beings who disagree with me. I am free to tell people what I believe and explain why I think there are better choices to be made. I am not free to threaten them with fines or imprisonment or physical injury or humiliation to make sure their choices are the ones I prefer.

I am probably very heavily influenced by what I was taught is the principle of separation of Church and State in the USA. That principle of separation seems to be under a great deal of strain at the moment, and I certainly find it hard to see its application in some of the recent state legislation I’ve read about. But again, I am guided by the axiom God is God and I am not. If God left us free will, who am to take it away?

But… If I do act as though I’m God and start filling in the spaces that God left to each individual to fill, it is not God’s fault. It is mine. Don’t blame God because I am an idiot. And please don’t blame me because some members of my religion are idiots. Let’s keep the personal responsibility that accompanies free will squarely on the individual, where it belongs.

Among the readers of Telling Knots are believers in at least three different religions, atheists, agnostics, and people for whom religion has no real place in their life at all. Most readers don’t comment, but I am really interested in hearing your thoughts and feelings about this post. Please take a couple of minutes to share your reactions.

War on Women?

I have been growing daily more appalled at the news of proposed and recently enacted legislation in some of the fifty United States that appears to violate women’s rights in several different ways.

First a clarification. I am not talking here about whether or not contraception and abortion are good things, about whether or not they should be regulated by law. I have my own opinions about these issues, and I keep them pretty much to myself. The one thing I am very vocal about is that it is not up to me to judge someone else’s actions, much less try to control them.

So. Some states in the US will require a woman who requests an abortion to undergo a compulsory transvaginal ultrasound. What part of that makes sense? Counseling and a cooling-off period are, as far as I know, a regular part of the process. Compelling a woman to undergo an unnecessary, invasive medical procedure would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a brutal disregard of her autonomy.

I’m going to make a leap here, and I don’t think it is an unreasonable one. Have you heard about the “virginity examinations” performed on female detainees by Egyptian military security forces as recently as the end of last year? Here is an excerpt from a Reuters article that was posted on March 11th, 2012 on the MSNBC World News site (Source):

Controversy over the virginity tests gathered pace after a general was quoted by CNN last year as saying tests were carried out to prove the women were not virgins when they were detained, so they could not say they were raped in detention.

An army official later denied the comments were made.

and

A civilian court issued a ruling in December ordering the army to end the practice and a military judicial official then said cases of reported forced virginity tests had been transferred to the Supreme Military Court.

I am not alone in making this connection. Forbes.com, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, posted an article by contributing writer Victoria Pynchon called “Egyptian Virginity Tests, America’s Shaming Wand and Trudeau’s Satire” (click). The latter reference is to Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau whose cartoon about the compulsory transvaginal ultrasound has been refused by some newspapers that normally run his work. (This is the Los Angeles Times article about it.)

The legislation, if I understand correctly, all seems to come from a particularly conservative part of the Republican Party and is identified with certain Christian denominations or faith communities. However – and again, this is assuming I understand things correctly from far away in Israel – it does not appear to be a pan-Republican or pan-Christian phenomenon. One of the problems is that public debate is seldom nuanced; it is far easier to paint with broad strokes.

I wonder if the people who read this blog would like to join me in discussion about all this. I am very interested in finding out what my friends around the world think about it. Just one thing: comments are not moderated but, as always, I reserve the right to delete inflammatory, trolling or ad hominem comments. Argue fiercely and fairly.

So who’s first?

Protecting the Weak 1

Apology:

I have removed the Invisible Children video because of increasing questions about that organization. This doesn’t change the fact that children are vulnerable and need to be protected. I will be writing about the need and some of the solutions.

I’m sorry if I’ve misled or inconvenienced anyone.

Knot Telling