10/27/2015 12:04 EDT | Updated 10/27/2016 05:12 EDT

Setting the Tatas Free Won't Erase Breast Cancer

YunYulia via Getty Images
close up picture of big boobs in bandage after surgery, sexual size

The pink month is nearly at an end. Early in this year's breast cancer madness, a friend posted a photo with a caption on my Facebook page. It depicted a slim woman, nude except for panties, arms raised, flying her (matching) black bra overhead.

The caption: "Support breast cancer. Set the tatas free. Oct. 13 no bra day." My friend "loved" it.

It came via, which is a clear descriptor of the site. I don't love it and here is why.

Starting with a minor quibble, I believe they meant to say "support the prevention of breast cancer" rather than supporting breast cancer. The word, "support" itself is a favourite term used by bra manufacturers. But supportive underwire in particular has also been touted as a risk for breast cancer in the popular press, for which there is no scientific evidence. So, taking off your bra is hardly a prevention strategy.

Turning to tatas

Boobs. Boobies. The girls. Tits. Titties. Headlights...I could go on. When I was in university, a male friend would yell, "Boobs!" (his nickname for me) as soon as I walked into the common room. Hilarious, right? Especially after years of harassment from the time I was 12 by older men working construction.

Many years later, I remember telling my daughter that they were called breasts. She said I could call them breasts if I wanted to, but she was going to call them boobies. As a sex educator, I have a thing about language. With a friend or a lover, we can call our body parts whatever we want. But I do not want my breasts referred to as anything but breasts when talking about breast cancer. Of course, some breast cancer survivors may feel OK about slang or affectionate terms; and if so, I'd like to hear from you.

In 1968, when I came to the women's movement, there were lots of anecdotes about bra burning, most of which were the stuff of urban legend, though certainly many of us went bra-less at times either for comfort or as a political statement. There were consequences.

It was less Slutwalk and more trash talk. I suffered some pretty difficult moments because it was so noticeable that I wasn't wearing one. Going bra-less is, of course, a choice, but like the Slutwalk movement says, it does not give anyone the right to harass us.

Clearly sexual harassment will continue until we have made a sea change in our sexist society. Advocating a "no bra day" on a gag site is more than suspect.

Real breast cancer prevention

The Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN) has long supported health advocates who are critical of Pink Ribbon campaigns and "pink washing" in general. In a film on the subject, the filmmakers examine the power behind the money and also follow the money. The CWHN and Breast Cancer Action prefer to look at chronically underfunded primary prevention research rather than funneling most funding into a "cure." They would like to see monies dedicated to examining environmental issues like toxic work environments.

In ground-breaking work done regarding exposure to carcinogenic materials, James Brophy, Margaret Keith et al. concluded:

These observations support hypotheses linking breast cancer risk and exposures likely to include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and demonstrate the value of detailed work histories in environmental and occupational epidemiology.

Next October, if you know someone who has been dealing with breast cancer or are remembering someone who did not survive, instead of running, supporting a run, donating money to everything pink, think first about its destination. And if you choose to go bra-less, please don't do it because some gag website is egging you on.

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