Save the tatas!

It’s October, everybody! And you know what that means. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, throw on a low cut top with a pink ribbon on it, and get aware of breast cancer.

Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of pepto bismol.
Although how you could be unaware is completely beyond me, especially when October 1st hits and everything from your local KFC bucket to your Kitchen Aid mixer is suddenly the color of Pepto Bismol.

I kid, but breast cancer is no joking matter. With the death toll in 2013 in the US reaching 39,620 out of 232,340 reported cases according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a serious disease with serious repercussions for cancer sufferers as well as their families and friends. And with numbers like that, the likelihood that you know someone who will be effected by breast cancer within your lifetime is high.

Breast cancer gets a lot of attention as a disease. And that makes sense. No one wants the women in their lives to suffer and die of cancer. (Of course, men get breast cancer as well. 410 of those deaths listed above were men.) But when you look at the numbers on breast cancer, the concern to death ratio doesn’t quite add up. For example, when it comes to body count, heart disease is way ahead of breast cancer according to the CDC, taking the lives of 600,000 Americans every year. There are also several other cancers that claim significantly more lives per year than breast cancer, such as cancer of the digestive system, which took 144,570 lives in 2013 and the respiratory system which took 163,890 lives that same year. Those numbers are wayyyy higher than the numbers for breast cancer. When other cancers have death tolls like that, it begs the question: Why the focus on the tatas? Well, I have a few theories.

1) Boobies. This one is kind of obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. The fact of the matter is that a lot of us like breasts. That’s why you see campaigns like this on Facebook and other social networking sites all month long.

How about no?
Yea, no. Because flaunting my breasts 1) doesn’t prove or solve anything 2) is offensive to people who have lost or may face the reality of losing their own breasts to cancer. And 3) just… really? How obvious can you get?

So setting aside the issue of the incredible callousness required in order to happily flaunt your tits at women with mastectomy scars, this kind of campaign gets us to the heart of pink madness, which is this simple fact: boobies are pretty great. A large number of the population enjoy breasts either aesthetically or sexually. And another large number of the population enjoy having breasts. And more than that, the latter segment of the population have been taught that their feelings about their physical attractiveness hinges (at least in part) on the size, pertness, and existence of their sweater kittens. So if there’s a disease out there that could potentially call for the removal of something that a large number of us like and a similarly large number like to have, it seems obvious that we would sit up and take notice of that disease and want to throw money at it in order to preserve our happy places.

2) Prevention. The CDC lists a couple of ways that you can try to prevent breast cancer, including keeping a healthy weight, exercising at least 4 hours a week, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, avoiding carcinogens, and being aware of the risks inherent in birth control and hormone replacement therapy. But there are no guarantees. Taken together, these tips add up to “be healthy, but you still might get it anyway, so get checked to catch it early.” Which is not really great, all things considered.

The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT'S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???
The only real fun part is getting to feel yourself up without judgment. IT’S FOR MY HEALTH, OK???

Cancers in general are pretty hard to prevent. Disregarding, of course, things like lung and esophageal cancer, which have been linked to smoking and other environmental and lifestyle causes. The difference between cancer and heart disease with regard to public awareness is that cancer sends out the call for research and a cure, while heart disease focuses on education and prevention.

The Mayo Clinic lists some things that you can do to help prevent heart disease. These include not smoking, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting good sleep, and getting regular health screenings. Heart disease is linked to many factors, but excluding genetic defects, the majority of causes are linked to lifestyle choices made by the individual. Heart disease differs from cancer in that it is something that can be controlled and prevented with proper education and available medical assistance.

It should be said that we aren’t neglecting heart disease awareness. It even has it’s own month. Guess which one? Yea, it’s February. But I don’t think anyone could argue with the fact that the fervor for breast cancer awareness easily overshadows that of heart disease awareness. And the reasons for that are, I’m sure, myriad. But from my tiny perspective it seems to be twofold. One, boobies are awesome. And two, the hope is that awareness of cancer will lead to funding for research and perhaps, in time, a cure. So while heart disease awareness seems to focus more on prevention and education, breast cancer awareness is looking for some kind of magical fix. Which is alluring because, well, magic! The idea that, if we throw enough money at a thing, it will just go away, while wholly ridiculous, does have a certain amount of appeal.

3) Pinkwashing. So pinkwashing refers to a couple of things. The first is exemplified by that first photo that I showed you. But here’s another:

breat_cancer_awareness_truck
Every bit of cement solidifies our commitment to end cancer!

And another:

pinkpistol
Put a cap in boob cancer’s ass!

And yet another, because I can’t resist a nice set of wheels.

This car brought to you by
This car brought to you by “Deep Impact Boats.” I can’t make this stuff up, kids.

So pinkwashing is, first and foremost, the selling of pink products with the idea of representing the fact that one supports breast cancer research. Ah, but there’s the rub. See, it turns out that you can slap that ribbon and pepto color combo on basically any product without too much oversight. You can, for example, require a proof of purchase for a pink item before the seller makes a charitable donation. And how much of a donation you make is not necessarily dependent on how much money you make from selling those branded product. You can look to the amounts donated by Major League Baseball and the WWE for examples of that. Both of those organizations sold branded products to people who believed they were making a sizable donation to Susan G. Komen. But the amount they donated is nothing compared to the amount of money they likely made from the sales of their overpriced pink bats and pink WWE gear.

Another issue with pinkwashing is the partnership between the Komen Foundation and several bottled water companies. Since water bottles commonly contain BPA, which has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth, that’s… well, it’s not a great partnership.

But pinkwashing draws a lot of attention and money to the cause, right? So that can’t be a bad thing, right?

Well, yes and no. Setting aside the fact that “awareness” does not equal “money in the pockets of deserving researchers,” there is a larger issue when it comes to some of the organizations that we choose to give money to in the name of this cause. I speak, of course, of cancer awareness mega giant Susan G. Komen, the organization standing at the heart of our Pepto-colored seasonal wonderland.

So aside from the issue of organizations not being required to give more than a pittance in donation in exchange for the use of the Komen name and pink branding, there’s a few issues to be had with the way that Susan G. Komen conducts itself.

Let’s start with Planned Parenthood.

Back in January of 2012, Susan G. Komen disclosed plans to eliminate $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings and education programs. In the four days that followed, a few things happened. First, several members of Susan G. Komen’s prominent staff members resigned over the issue. Second, Planned Parenthood received sizeable donations from other donors in order to make up for the loss of the grant. And third, the negative press became so problematic for the group that they reversed their decision just four days later, issuing this statement.

The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.
The snark delivered to Komen by the internet was proportionally epic.

Komen’s reasoning? Well, according to statements made by them at the time, their new grant policy precluded the giving of funds to organizations that were under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. Of course, Planned Parenthood was the only group to fall under that category. They didn’t, for example, find it necessary to drop Bank of America, who was under federal investigation at the time for foreclosure and mortgage fraud. And, of course, this decision had nothing to do with the fact that Karen Handel (VP for Komen’s public policy), who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 (and lost), identifies as staunchly pro-life and specifically opposes Planned Parenthood.

What’s insane about Komen’s pulling back on Planned Parenthood is just how much good Planned Parenthood does in the fight against cancer. In 2012 they provided cancer screening and prevention measures to over 1 million women, including pap tests, HPV vaccinations, and breast exams. Planned Parenthood seems like the perfect partner in the fight against breast cancer, providing women from all walks of life with the medical treatment necessary to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable. When you take into account the political leaning of Komen’s leadership, it becomes clear that Komen’s reasoning had more to do with them being anti-choice than any trumped up policy regarding federal investigation.

Speaking of the federal government, Komen spends a lot of money on lobbying in Washington DC. Now, depending on who you talk to, that’s a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, their lobbying might pay off in the form of government funding being put toward cancer research. On the other hand, if the lobbying is not successful, they are wasting the money given to them in good faith by their donors. The latter view of their governmental activities seems to have informed their decision, after the 2012 Planned Parenthood debacle, to lessen their impact in Washington. They went from spending $140,000 a year in 2011 to spending under $20,000.

Another reason for the drop in spending in Washington could be the 2012 scandal that occurred when it was revealed that their CEO, Nancy Brinker, had a salary of almost $700,000 (it has since dropped to $400,000, according to Better Business Bureau). It should be said that I am not against people working for charitable organizations making a living. And certainly if you are the CEO you should make a salary that makes your job worth your time. But I think the appearance to donors was that she was living in the lap of luxury while donations plummeted, and that’s not an image that you really want to cultivate as a charity.

And speaking of Komen’s political and lobbying machinations, we would be remiss if we overlooked their sue happy legal department. Susan G. Komen has entered into over one hundred legal battles over trademarking with other breast cancer organizations. Specifically, they are not interested in letting anyone else use the phrase “for the cure” in conjunction with any other cancer non-profit. So they are suing and threatening to sue other groups who have done this, wasting money that was donated to fight cancer to both the Komen Foundation and to the organizations that they are suing. So that’s… um… horrible? Yea. Really nothing more to say about that.

But what’s the benefit of them suing other groups in order to keep their “brand” untouched? Well, it may not surprise you to find out that the Komen Foundation rakes in a shit ton of cash every year. I’m not a super fiscally minded person, but the people over at philanthropy.com are. And they have a thing or two to say about Komen’s spending. I’ll break some of it down for you here:

In 2011, Susan G. Komen declared having received “$420-million in private support; $439-million in total revenue; and $409-million in expenses, including $333.7-million to program services, $48-million for fundraising, and $27.3-million for other general and administrative costs.”

Program services are where you see the amount that they give to research, so let’s look at that. In 2011, program services included four areas: “public-health education ($181.1-million), research ($75.3-million), health-screening services ($54.1-million), and treatment services ($23.3-million). And those areas are further broken down into 16 expense categories, such as the salaries, supplies, and the marketing costs associated with each. Out of the $75.3-million Komen spent on research, for example, $63.3-million went directly to awards and grants.”

So there’s a problem right there and my biggest issue with Komen financially other than the issues I’ve listed above. If your name as an organization is “for the cure” and, out of the immense amount of money you raise every year, only 22% of your income goes to actually finding a cure for breast cancer… I have a serious problem with that. And yes, some of their stuff goes to health screening and treatment, but the bulk of their program services goes to “public health education,” which, is basically awareness of the diseas. Which is basically just them producing pink stuff and information cards and calling it education when, really, it’s fundraising for Komen more than it’s anything else. Because honestly, how much more aware could we possibly get of the threat that breast cancer poses?

Bottom line? I am 100% in support of raising money to support breast cancer education, treatment, prevention, and survivors. But I think that Susan G. Komen is an organization that has very much lost it’s way. If you call yourself an organization that is “for the cure,” if you spend millions in order to make sure that you are the only organization who can even use those words, you should probably be actually funding a cure. Because that is why donors entrust their money to you. That is what we are all hoping for. A cure.


Want to find out what percentage of your money goes to a good cause? Always do your research before you give away your hard-earned money. Check out potential charities over at the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

With everything that I’ve said here, it seemed only fair that I give you some options other than Susan G. Komen if you want to donate to charity. There are a lot of deserving organizations out there, but these are some of the highest rated ones according to Charity Navigator.

National Breast Cancer Foundation (CN Rating: 97.6)
The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s mission is to help women now by providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.

The Rose (CN Rating: 95.42)
Board Certified Radiologists, specialized technical staff, two Mammography and Diagnostic Imaging Centers plus a fleet of Mobile Mammography vans offer advanced breast cancer screening and diagnostic services including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and access to treatment to more than 35,000 women annually. Since its launch in 1986, The Rose has served nearly 500,000 patients and is now the leading nonprofit breast health care organization in southeast Texas.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (CN Rating: 93.67)
LBBC is dedicated to assisting you, whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, recently completed treatment, are years beyond or are living with metastatic breast cancer. We are also here for your family members, caregivers, friends and healthcare providers to provide breast cancer information and support.
As a national education and support organization, our goal is to connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support, regardless of educational background, social support or financial means.

Breast Cancer Connections (CN Rating: 98.76)
Our mission is to support people touched by breast and ovarian cancer by providing comprehensive, personalized services in an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. Bay Area Cancer Connections is a nonprofit organization located in the San Francisco Bay Area, but you’re welcome to call us from anywhere.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute (CN Rating: 94.93)
Since its founding in 1947, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts has been committed to providing adults and children with cancer with the best treatment available today while developing tomorrow’s cures through cutting-edge research. Read about our history, our breakthroughs, and the resources that help us support the health of our neighborhoods and communities.

Childless by choice

Yesterday at work I got into a conversation with the girl who cleans the first floor of this building. I always like it when she stops by. She’s really sweet and artistic. She has an 8 month old son and we talk about him a lot. Halloween is coming up, so she’s been debating what costume to get. And holy crap, is that a mine field of choices. And I’m not being facetious here.

I made the obvious suggestion.

Because this Dobby costume is a CLEAR win.
Because this Dobby costume is a CLEAR win.

So she’s been struggling with this choice. And I’m insisting to her that a Dobby costume is The Way To Go. And she’s saying she never read the books, but I’m confident that doesn’t matter because a tiny elf baby is cuter than a stupid teddy bear any day of the week.*

In conversation, it comes out that I used to nanny before I took this job. She asks me about the boy, and I tell her a little about him. And how I sort of miss being a playmate all day long but I like the regularity of my job.

Then comes The Question.

“Do you plan on having kids?”

I give my usual answer.

“Nope!”

And then comes the inevitable series of comments and questions and the long litany of reasons why parenthood is an ocean of flowers and mental orgasms and gorgeous photos of ponies running on rainbows in the summertime and I’m just resisting the urge to be a jerk to this woman because I actually do like her and I don’t think she’s doing what she’s doing to be malicious but the urge to yell at her during the whole exchange is driving me crazy.

*breathes after the longest run on sentence ever*

So, point is, I’m going to use this blog post to say the things that I can never say to the people who bug me about not having kids. Because telling coworkers to fuck right off is, generally speaking, not considered “good form.”

We’ll start with the most basic. Generally, the first question is:

Why not?

Because I don’t want to? Because none of your business?

But seriously, if you want an answer to that that’s direct and to the point, I’ll give you one. Or three. First, I am terrified of pregnancy. Like, the idea of having my body usurped by a little person makes me so anxious that I start sweating and, if I think about it too long, I get a stomach ache and need to lie down. So… not a great sign. Second, I’m selfish. Like, really. I want what I want when I want it. And as a person with no children, I can usually have those things. Quiet time? Done. A nap? Done. A trip to Asia? Some saving and, again, done. If you have a kid, you have to be all kinds of selfless. And I can do that in small amounts, but not on a 365 day a year basis for the next 18 years. And third, I really, really, really don’t deal well with gross stuff like poop or blood or illness or any of that. Again with the anxiety. It’s why I’m not a nurse. I dealt with poops and things as a nanny because I was paid to do it, but I gagged every time. And I pick up my dog’s poop with the same amount of gastrointestinal churning, but I put up with it because it’s part of the program and I can get fined if I don’t. So, basically, I’ll only deal with poops if there is some kind of financial benefit or in fear of some kind of financial penalty.

But you’d be a great mom!

Thanks for the compliment, random person that doesn’t know me. But I really don’t think you’re qualified to tell me whether or not I would be a good parent.

In fact, I think that, given that I actually worked as a nanny and was able to judge myself based on my personal Fed-Up-With-Kids-O-Meter™ at the end of any given day, I think that I am infinitely qualified to make a judgment on my own about what I want to do with my life and my ovaries. And even if that weren’t the case, I’m still a better judge of me than you are, having had a lifetime to get to know myself.

And being good with kids doesn’t necessarily mean that I want kids. I’m also good with snakes and have handled live cockroaches. I don’t want either of those things. Conversely, I very much want plants but have murdered every single one I have ever owned.

RIP Derek. We barely knew ye. Well, we knew ye for about two months, but forgot to feed ye.
RIP Derek. We barely knew ye. Well, we knew ye for about two months, but forgot to water ye.

You’ll change your mind at some point.

You know what, that may be so. But I don’t think you’re really qualified to tell me that, Mr. Always Covered in Unnamed Child Stains. Unless you got those stains whilst building a time machine with your child and have seen the future. Which, if you have, could you please give me some winning lottery numbers or ancient relics with which I could make my fortune?

But let’s be serious, if I do change my mind and it’s “too late” and my uterus expires, there’s this handy thing called adoption. Or surrogacy if I’m really attached to having a genetic clone.

And honestly, the thing I’m scared about the most when it comes to kids is that I’ll change my mind after the kid is born. And I know, all the parents in the world will try to tell me that you love them and want them no matter what once they’ve clawed their way remorselessly from your belly like a terrifying, bloodied alien, but here’s the thing, I’m worried that about half of them are lying out their asses. Because you have to figure that, for every parent that is just over the moon about their progeny, there has to be at least one that is more than a little bit unhappy with the whole parenting gig. But if they were to admit that, I’m pretty sure they would be tarred and feathered by the local PTA in some kind of insane culling ritual.

Who will take care of you when you’re old?

There are so many things wrong with that question. Let’s start with the first one. Who the fuck has kids just so they can be cared for in their old age? I mean, really? How selfish is that? And leaving that aside, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be batshit insane when I’m super duper old and need care, in which case my kids probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me anyway and would put me into a little old person storage unit to sit there until I die from boredom and despair.

You don’t know what love is until you have a child.

Really? I don’t know what love is? You know what, that statement is so presumptuous and nasty that there’s no real way to answer that one other than to tell you to fuck right off. So… you know… fuck right off.

53a0697a8edaf_-_4phyzkv

Don’t your parents want grandchildren?

Yes, I have actually had people ask me this on behalf of my parents. Because that’s not creepy at all. Well here’s an answer, nosy guy: Maybe? Probably? But it’s not their choice whether or not I bring life in the world. And here’s a weird story: I have zero intention to give up on my major goals in life (travel, gaming, hobbies, and having nice things) so that they can snuggle a new life once a week. I love my parents very much, but I refuse to give in to the social pressure to have children so that my parents get to experience grandparent-hood.

Hey, let’s be honest, I would be a stellar parent. And if I, somehow, were saddled with a child accidentally (thank all the holy things that ever existed for the lack of accidental pregnancies inherent in the lesbian relationship), I would parent that kid so hard. I would get an honorary advanced degree in parenting. And I would love them more than anything on earth and I would kill and eat anything that tried to hurt them. Because that is how parents should be.

But I don’t particularly want to do it. And if I don’t really want to do something, doing it because of my inherent ability to incubate a life or because of some crippling fear of loneliness in my old age seems like a really terrible idea that is bound to end in tears for many – if not all – of those involved. And, given that I associate way too deeply with the lady on the right in this particular Oatmeal comic:

...eew.
…eew.

… maybe we should both just agree that having kids isn’t for me and move on?


*As I was writing this, the girl from my office walked in, we chatted, and I suggested the best possible mother and baby Halloween costume. And she is going to do it. We even discussed the best ways to draw a mustache on her son.

I am unreasonably excited about seeing photos of her with her son after Halloween.
I am unreasonably excited about seeing photos of her with her son after Halloween.

On Street Harassment, Silence, and Social Change

  So, in case you didn’t notice, gentle reader, it’s street harassment season. Every year, when Spring arrives, women emerge from wool coats like butterflies from cocoons. They spread their wings, bare their legs, and gather, brightly colored, in squares and sunlight. But, like a dark cloud threatening on the horizon, these beautiful springtime revelations are […]