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.
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.
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!