I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, and I spend a lot of time on twitter, so
when I saw a copy of The Sun in Costa Coffee I tweeted a picture of it, asking the company why they feel it's OK to continue having this in their cafes, despite the huge public support for the No More Page 3 campaign.
There was a little bit of a twitter rush in response with lots of people re-tweeting and making very sensible comments in support (still waiting to hear back from Costa). The reason that this particular copy of the newspaper lodged itself in my brain and I think struck such a chord with others is because the woman in her knickers is not on Page 3, but actually on the front page, apparently publicising the role of self checks in the "Page 3 v Breast Cancer" battle. It is, the paper tells us "Check 'em Tuesday".
I've been pondering all day, why exactly this makes me feel (and believe me I've tried to think of a more erudite word) icky. It's sneaky and manipulative; it's a way of getting page 3 onto the front cover by pretending to care about female health, but more than that, the linking of a life threatening disease with cheap titillation is horrible.
Let's have a brief re-cap on some of the things that breast cancer is shall we? Firstly, it is still life threatening; although research and treatment advances and the role of prevention have improved the prognosis to a huge extent; there are still women who die after finding a lump in their breast. For this reason it is frightening, terrifying, emotionally devastating. It is true that enforced targets for treatment have meant speedier access to specialists, and the NHS provides us with state of the art treatment centres. But make no mistake, remission doesn't come easy, none of the treatments are benevolent. Radiotherapy harnesses the power of science with intense precision, but you are still effectively being shot at with a laser beam. Chemotherapy has always struck me as a very ironic treatment with it's tendency to make you feel worse that the disease it is treating you for. The well known side effect is chemo induced nausea, but there is also the risk of infertility and, just when your sense of femininity is under threat, chemo throws in hair loss for good measure. Even where all this is successful enough to bring about an initial all clear, Tamoxifen is often prescribed for the next five years, with all the ensuing physical and emotional changes that hormone therapy brings. And then there's surgery. A horribly mutilating surgery that hacks off a part of our womanhood removes our right to nurture and sends our body image into freefall.
Breast cancer is not an erotic disease; it is not rendered less frightening by a "playful" flash of breast" and I struggled to see why The Sun thought such a connection was OK to make on it's front page. But then I realised that "Check'em Tuesday" captures perfectly what Page 3 is about. The Sun doesn't understand that breasts are not separate entities to women; David Dinsmore and his editorial team believe that breasts were stuck on as an after thought to keep men happy, there is no understanding that that they are in fact, us, just another part of who we are. What I understand from The Sun today is that women should check their breasts to keep them safe for exploitation; that actually Breast cancer is worth fighting so that there are more breasts available to objectify. Once you understand that, the front page makes perfect sense.
It may be that The Sun really wants to help promote breast cancer awareness, but the cheap and tawdry way it has gone about it speaks to me of merely of disrespect and a lack of understanding.