Why are these Men in an ad for Breast Cancer Awareness?

Saudi Arabian ad for breast cancer awareness.

Saudi Arabian ad for breast cancer awareness.

Australia is one of several nations that has successfully increased breast cancer awareness, all with that prolific symbol of a little pink ribbon. You may occasionally see a woman or two in an ad campaign striking some emotional chords to generate awareness, but that’s because, despite relatively low rates of breast cancer in men, it’s a disease that is more obviously linked to females.

Moreover, it’s a campaign that addresses them in their own right, advising them to take ownership of their health. In the context of women’s breast health, getting regular checks are significant to them and their wellbeing.

In Saudi Arabia, however, it’s left, somewhat bafflingly, to shiny, happy men to caution women about breast cancer and the importance of getting mammograms, which, if you think about it, makes as much sense as appointing a male spokesperson for the pill. Guys may well have a vested interest in its effectiveness, but it’s ultimately a woman’s deal.

Cue exhibit A – a very pink poster, and an initiative of the Zahra Breast Cancer Association, which promotes breast cancer prevention but looks like an ad for men’s health. 

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Now I’m no marketing expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that featuring men, no matter how cheerful they look, wasn’t the best way to go on this one. Given that the target is women, and their wellbeing – and I’m just freewheeling here – maybe, maybe, this one could have been left up to the women themselves.

Or, perhaps in a truly radical move, the campaign could continue to invoke that good old pink ribbon since a woman’s smile is considered too tempting in that part of the world. (Of course, it’s not like guys would ever be exposed to women and their alluring grins, like on the interwebs or something.)

 In all seriousness though, there’s a more disturbing aspect to the campaign message – namely, that men are placed central to a highly sensitive women’s issue. Take, for example, an ad campaign launched last year. The video  (below) talks about the significance of women to society.

 

“A woman is my mother, is my sister, is my daughter, is my wife. I am created from a woman.”

The video then ends with subtitles beseeching women to get checked for breast cancer, because early detection results in 97 per cent of cases being cured. It’s solid advice, but it’s somewhat diluted by this little gem, which precedes the statistics:

“Because you are the foundation, and you are precious to us, we ask you to do early examinations for breast cancer...”

Cringe factor aside, what’s left out is the crazy notion that a woman is actually a human being first, who deserves to exist in her own right and have authority in her own matters of health.

It is, obviously, a fairly limiting and disempowering message. 

The initiative itself is to be commended, given the kingdom’s dismal breast cancer rates. Around 24 per cent of cancer cases among females are the breast cancer kind and, as this 2011 article notes, due to the lax approach to preventative screenings, as many as 70 per cent of women diagnosed are in the advanced stage of the cancer by the time they seek treatment.

But the initiative is also overdue. Mammograms have long been considered taboo in Saudi Arabia and, as documented by blogger ‘American Bedu’, breast cancer is regarded as a “woman’s problem” that ultimately diminishes her eligibility for marriage. 

It’s further proof of the stigma attached to women's bodies. With women long satisfying the figure of temptation, a culture of body shaming prevents them from addressing health issues at the preventative stage.

It extends to the most innocuous of pursuits. A friend of mine, who spent four years in Saudi Arabia, told me anything that involves getting undressed outside of the home is considered “inappropriate”. That means shopping malls are free of change rooms – you have to buy clothing and try it on at home. (Luckily, stores offer a returns policy.) It was only recently that women were permitted to work in lingerie stores when it was evidently concluded that buying underwear from a man can be an awkward experience for women.

Perhaps none of this should come as much of a surprise. Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative nation in which gender segregation is strictly enforced. This is a country in which, without a shred of irony, it was recently concluded that allowing women to drive would lead to the extinction of virgins – clearly an endangered species – and an increase in homosexuality. Like something out of The Onion, it’s hard to tell where the hyperbole begins and where it might come to a smashing halt. If anyone can help me crack the code on that virginity/homosexuality/women-drivers equation though, I’d be grateful.

Meanwhile, women are confronted by religious police for wearing make-up, females are photoshopped out of innocuous ads for flat-pack furniture, and driving a car spearheads a feminist movement and gets you arrested. And, from the department of Stuff You Can’t Make Up, women aren’t permitted to eat ice cream in public (because, according to my sources, ice cream is so good it’s sinful).

Clearly, the brains behind the Ikea blunder, which suggests women don’t use furniture, took inspiration from the breast cancer campaign guru, who’s more worried about the feelings of men than the state of women’s health.  

One only hopes the grapevine in Saudi Arabia keeps women well-informed about the latest innovations in hygiene products. I shudder to imagine where the next men-centric ad campaigns will go otherwise.

 

 

 

 

25 comments

  • There are so many aspects of Arab culture that people do not understand, and until they do I suggest they refrain from writing articles with such overwhelming sarcasm embedded.
    FYI - I am female and NON Arab

    Commenter
    SS
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 9:02AM
    • SS, I'm surprised by your observation: I'm not sure where you are seeing this 'embedded sarcasm'. From her name, it would seem that the author is of Arab background (Muslim or otherwise), and may very well have a better understanding of it than you do. I am a Christian from an Arab background and although I come from a country with far greater rights for women than Saudi Arabia, I can see validity in what Ms Awad is saying here. The most important thing of course - however they advertise it - is that women are encouraged to have early testing.

      Commenter
      Puzzled
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:03AM
    • What a worthy contribution to this topic you've made SS. I can only speculate that seeing as though you are woman and non Arab, you live in a western country where laws and culture protect your rights and freedoms.

      Saudi Arabia is a modern wealthy country which faces many of the same health, lifestyle and social issues as most of us (with the obvious exceptions). Its deliberate misinterpretation of the Koran serves to keep the women oppressed and the men in power. If I have been taught shame from birth simply because of my sex, why I am going to take notice of a man in an advertisement telling me to touch my breasts even if it is to check for a disease?

      This advertisement is cruel in its irony.

      Commenter
      razorcat
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:26AM
    • Yes, it's called ethnocentrism, something that us self-righteous Aussies excel at.

      Commenter
      Heisenberg
      Location
      Townsville
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:50AM
    • @razorcat - Quran, not Koran. I agree that they are misinterpreting religion and twisting truths to suits themselves. But it's funny how there isn't really a fuss kicked up when women are used to promote male products/services. #biasedwesterncontrolledmedia

      Commenter
      SS
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 2:13PM
    • I agree. The other question is why this is international news. Do we get reports on what breast cancer awareness ads look like in every country? Do we get involved in what the IKEA catalog looks like in every country...?

      Commenter
      ummabdulla
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:51PM
  • It's no surprise that, as stated, a conservative muslim country uses male-only actors in advertising material. Also, and especially for Saudi Arabia, the liklihood that four doctors being all-male is probably a representative cross section of the medical profession.

    While you may be baffled and irked by the male-dominated message muslim countries are often neutral about the role of women in society, for various political and religious reasons. So the fact that in Saudi Arabia, women are encouraged into preventative medicine, and via the video, that somebody is even *talking* about women and their importance is really extraordinary.

    As you say the initiative is to be commended, and if rates improved, celebrated. However if it continues theres obviously scope for a review (have nurses visit homes if outside undressing is a problem). How that one turns out will be.. interesting.

    Commenter
    Dallas
    Location
    South Brisbane
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 9:48AM
    • There's plenty of female doctors, in fact, they are encouraged especially in Gynaecology and Obstetrics.

      Commenter
      Fernandes
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 12:47PM
  • In our culture, there are also ad's involving women encouraging men to look after their health, as men traditionally don't go to the doctor as much as women. And perhaps in Arab culture, men can feel that being concerned about their health is selfish and so a way of getting the message through is to focus on the impact on the lives of those around them, including men. I have seen similar ad's where cervical smears are encouraged for women by men, as well as by women's sisters, mothers, daughters etc. I don't like the self-satisfied mocking tone of this article assuming that the ad's are sexist because they don't have women in them. Surely the people making the ad would have done their research and worked out that this angle was likely to have the best response.

    And by the way, men can actually get breast cancer too.

    Commenter
    Maggie
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 9:57AM
    • In answer to the article's question, I suppose it may be one of those self-fulfilling prophecies - because the culture of male dominance is so ingrained, the advertising is actually more effective this way.
      Which is not an attempt to justify anything - I think it provides an interesting point about our own culture and the pervasiveness of the attitude that "x sells, so women must want x, which is why we advertise x to them in this way".

      Commenter
      Lucid Fugue
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 9:59AM

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