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Activism means more than broadcasting your bra colour

By in Opinions

The Cord (Wilfrid Laurier University)

"The Bra Vinci Code"

WATERLOO (CUP) — According to various experts on the Internet, I’m eight weeks and craving cherry Jell-O.

Allegedly, by letting you all know this, I am spreading an important message about breast cancer. What that message is, I’m not entirely sure.

At this point, most female Facebook users have gotten a message from a fellow woman urging her friends to “keep men guessing” and to help spread breast cancer awareness through cutesy games involving status mash-ups of their birthdays, where they put their purse and the colour of their bra.

But one cannot spread awareness through a message that is intentionally cryptic. These silly games just prove that few people understand what awareness actually means.

Awareness is just as relevant and important as fundraising. However, the point of awareness — real awareness — is not to simply let the world know that you think breast cancer or autism is a bad thing.

Let’s face it: anyone with a conscience thinks that breast cancer, autism, depression, homophobia and world hunger are bad things. Affirming that you feel this way via a Facebook status — yes, even if you make that message your status for a whole hour — does not do anything to solve that problem. If anything, it only appears self-serving and makes the person posting look painfully naïve.

In December of 2010, I was just as annoyed as the next sensible person at the number of my friends changing their profile pictures to images of Pinocchio, Rainbow Brite and Scooby Doo as part of a “campaign to end child abuse.” It turns out the original attempt to get users to change their pictures to those of cartoon characters had nothing to do with child abuse — the so-called “campaign” was tacked on later.

When I witnessed people who kidded themselves into believing that these actions were helping (including some who thought, for some reason, that money was being raised), all I could do was shake my head in disbelief that grown people could be so easily swayed by the hive-mind.

True awareness means spreading facts about the problems and showing people ways that they can help. Awareness is relevant because it leads to more people taking an interest in that particular subject. This can lead to more fundraising campaigns and support for research.

It means letting people know, for example, that one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and that regular breast examinations are the most effective way to detect and treat tumours early.

Many of these facts are unpleasant and will make people uncomfortable. But that is often the best way to get people to take action. When someone truly understands that something like cancer, abuse or poverty could affect them, then they can become motivated to help, even if it’s through small actions.

In a month and a half, Movember will kick off and hundreds of men will sport moustaches to support research for prostate cancer. Last year, a very small team of Laurier students managed to raise close to $5,000 in support of the cause.

These young men deserve applause for actually getting out and making an effort to contribute to something they cared about. Unfortunately, a large number of males chose to use the month as an excuse to grow an ironic mustache free of judgment and then proceeded to tell others that they were “doing Movember.” Individuals who do this only insult those who have actually put in the time and effort to raise funds and increase public engagement.

If you are truly interested in helping a cause but don’t necessarily have the funds to support it directly, there is still plenty you can do. You can volunteer with an organization which raises money for a cause. You can attend fundraising events and encourage your friends to do the same. You can be the change that you think is necessary.

The goal is to get more people involved in a cause, not to alienate and annoy people while you giggle in front of your laptop.

photo: jillmotts/Flickr

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