“I like it on the floor.”
“I like it on the kitchen bench.”
“I like it hanging off the edge of the bed ;)”
If you’re involved in social media, it’s likely your facebook news feed was filled with such titillating statements last week. All of a sudden, your female friends would have started posting seemingly explicit status updates about where they ‘like it’.
You might have been confused. “I didn’t think Samantha/Claire/Jessica was so forthright about such things,” you might have thought. Then you probably hit Google, and found out that she wasn’t talking about where she likes to get to know people in the biblical sense, but rather where she likes to put her handbag.
You see, Samantha/Claire/Jessica was fighting cancer. That’s right. Just by telling us where she plonks her accessory at the end of the day, she was raising awareness about breast cancer research. The idea, as spelled out in a message many of us received (below), was to pique the curiosity of facebook’s assumedly neanderthal men by tricking them into thinking that women were talking about sex.
This kind of campaign is becoming more common. In fact, we’ve seen it before. In January, there was a slew of status updates on facebook simply stating a colour. “Red” said Emma. “White” said Christina. “…. Black ;)” teased Lucy. What were people talking about? The bra they were wearing, of course.
The intention here is seemingly to both to arouse and confuse our male friends. This makes a certain amount of sense as a meme, ethically dubious as it may be. Social media bible Mashable certainly likes it, saying the campaign is “cute, fun and generating some buzz”. But to link this kind of web trend to cancer research is worrying.
There’s a genuine concern that using facebook and twitter to refer to problems without actually donating time or money to their solutions acts a placebo for those who participate. Instead of doing something meaningful, people update their web profile and feel they’ve made a difference.
I’m generally quite wary about ‘raising awareness’ through stunts. Is there really anyone in Australia or indeed the developed world who isn’t ‘aware’ of breast cancer? We’ve got a whole month devoted to it (this one), there’s pink ribbon days, there’s the Field of Women at the MCG each year. Never mind the complete tizzy the media gets into every time someone with a public profile is diagnosed with the disease.
Don’t get me wrong, all that stuff is great, especially when it results in donations towards more research into causes of, and potentially a cure, for breast cancer. My point is that updating your facebook isn’t really going to change people’s attitudes towards this very high-profile disease. No-one’s checking their iPhone on the train thinking “Crap! Breast Cancer? Thank God Laura told me she likes to put her bag on top of the piano, otherwise I’d never have known it existed!”
Tokenism aside, though, there’s a more sinister subtext permeating this game women are playing with social media. We’re linking cancer – a serious, devastating killer – to sex. Breasts are sexy, right? So why not sell cancer like beer and deodorant, with sex? Because it’s cynical, because it trivialises disease and fetishises suffering. And by pursuing this campaign, women are purposefully cutting men out of the dialogue. We’re playing a game of hide and seek. Whispering “don’t tell the boys!” to each other in the playground at lunch.
Trying to keep 50% of the population in the dark by distracting them with sex is hardly the best way to ‘raise awareness’ using social media.