Breast cancer goes blue

PSAs about women's health use sex to target men

Topics: Broadsheet,

Air a public service announcement in which a woman speaks soberly about the grave risk of breast cancer and male viewers are all: Zzzzzzzzz. But have a male celebrity winkingly pretend to be a gynecologist, lecture his “bromigos” on the importance of breast cancer screenings and perform a mammogram on his own man-boob, and men just might perk up and wipe the slobber from their chins. At least, such is the wisdom of the Men for Women Now campaign, which produced that very spot starring stoner-dude comedian Jack Black — and, as Danielle Friedman points out today in the Daily Beast, it’s just one of a handful of recent PSAs about women’s health issues to feature and target men. But while she celebrates them for successfully getting out the message, I think they’ve failed miserably.

In the run-up to the holidays, CBS produced spots starring actors Chris Beetem and Josh Pais urging men to give the gift “even Santa can’t deliver” to the special woman in their life: a Pap smear. The message wasn’t for men to talk to the women in their life about how Pap smears can save lives, but to just go ahead and call up her gynecologist and make the appointment for her. The takeaway: “Save her life by getting her in stirrups, stat!” The timing of these PSAs was awfully poor, considering the guidelines for Pap smears were recently revised to suggest that women have them less frequently than previously advised in order to avoid unnecessary harm. More importantly, can you imagine the reaction to a PSA urging women to go ahead and secretly schedule a much-feared prostate exam for their husband as a “gift”? It would be seen as a controlling gesture, not a considerate one. Of course, the caring thing to do is spread the word about disease detection and prevention, to help inform personal medical decisions, which is kind of the point of PSAs, right? But, again: Zzzzzzzzz.

At least the Pap smear spots clearly had women’s health in mind — as opposed to say, their breasts. Broadsheet readers might recall Canada’s Rethink Breast Cancer ad, which featured a pair of bouncing bikini-clad breasts and beseeched viewers to “save the boobs.” It was a fun and sexy approach, but also one that assumes the plight of nice knockers will stir men into action faster than the living, breathing, thinking and feeling human being carrying them. Gents, there is equal opportunity for offense here.

On a similarly fratty note, Men for Women Now — which almost sounds caveman-like, right? — has enlisted all manner of male stars to talk about boobs in online videos. The thinking behind these spots seems to be that saying “boobs” enough just might make men give a shit about breast cancer. Again, here’s an assumption that is offensive not only to women but perhaps especially to men. Kevin Connolly of “Entourage” delivers the following sales pitch for the group’s Facebook application: “Really, what is Facebook all about — faces? Ha-ha! I don’t think so. It’s about boobs. Ladies go there to show ‘em off. Guys go there to check ‘em out. I mean, really, when you think about it, it should be called ‘Boob-book.’”

Another spot features Bob Saget, who has turned his squeaky-clean image as the dad on “Full House” into a comedy routine in which he acts as filthy and unfatherly as possible. “I save breasts,” he tells the camera with a straight face. “I keep them in a chest, which is kinda redundant, at the end of my bed, and sometimes I’ll spray Pledge on them to keep them lemony fresh.” He continues on with his particularly desperate brand of creep-out humor: “I give Pap smears door-to-door. It’s just me, you can let me in. I’m a dad on TV — there’s nothing to worry about.”

The creator of Men for Women Now, Noreen Fraser, tells the Daily Beast that “men are kind of marginalized when it come to women’s cancers.” She asks: “Why shouldn’t men stand up for women’s cancers?” I absolutely agree. By all means, men should be encouraged to learn more about diseases that threaten women and share what they know with the ladies in their life. I just don’t see salivating over boobs and telling jokes about breast-collecting psychos as very effective consciousness raising. That isn’t to say there aren’t men out there who can only be persuaded to care or even think about women’s health by a pair of jiggling jugs or sexual innuendo. But, frankly, I think I’m better off without those guys thinking about the state of my breasts or cervix.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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