Awareness of Multiple Women’s Issues
Every year when October rolls around, I begin to notice hints of pink on the television, in businesses and storefronts, on online banners and Facebook photos. October is, of course, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and pink is the color that has come to be associated with the cause. And, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which often goes largely unnoted.
The contrast in visibility between these two worthy causes led me to reflect on social work issues and the ways in which they are societally perceived, as a social worker.
Related: Social Work with Women
Is Domestic Violence Awareness Growing?
Last October, I found myself in a sports bar with huge flat-screen TVs. While I didn’t pay particular attention to the multiple games being showed on different screens, one thing I did notice was the high visibility of pink on the players, the coaches, in the crowd, and even on the field.
Football lovers everywhere were commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month – players had special pink cleats, coaches wore pink hats with their team logo, giant signs hung around the stadiums, and fans proudly wore their pink ribbons.
While a part of me couldn’t help but think “Why didn’t they donate all the money they spent making all those custom pink items to breast cancer research?” I couldn’t help but think it was quite encouraging to see so many men (and often, hyper-masculinized men, at that) supporting a cause that affects so many women.
In addition to the world of sports, many other institutions and individuals show their support for Breast Cancer Awareness each October: there are signs in grocery stores, large university events, pink comic strips, theme parties or “pink days” at many places of employment, and no shortage of pink ribbons pinned to people’s clothing.
The public is very visibly supportive of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to be sure. If I surveyed the nation asking what a pink ribbon stands for, or conversely, what color is associated with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m relatively certain that 99% of people would know.
October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Campaign Reach
But what about the purple ribbons? Where are they? Does the nation know what they stand for? Is the public aware of Domestic Violence Awareness Month? This, too, is a national campaign to improve the lives of women, but I haven’t seen any sports teams, grocery stores, comic strips, offices, or even ribbons showing support. I have to admit, even I would have probably forgotten all about it, were I not reflecting upon this phenomenon from a social work lens.
I bring this up to illustrate the politics at play in the choice to show support for either of these campaigns.
Both are great causes with the intention of increasing knowledge and raising funds to help (primarily) women in very difficult situations.
Both affect such a high proportion of women that it is almost certain to have affected someone we all know:
- 1 in 4 women have experienced domestic violence
- 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer
Yet, this overwhelming sea of pink seems to wash out the purple each October because of the politics involved in choosing one campaign over the other. Breast cancer is deemed safe to talk about at the public level, apolitical, and uncontroversial, allowing others to step forward and proudly unite in the fight for prevention, while domestic violence is another story.
Yet, this overwhelming sea of pink seems to wash out the purple each October because of the politics involved in choosing one campaign over the other.
Breast cancer is deemed safe to talk about at the public level, apolitical, and uncontroversial, allowing others to step forward and proudly unite in the fight for prevention, while domestic violence is another story.
Breast Cancer is seen as a medical issue. No one is “blamed” when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. No one is responsible for her decline in health as a result of this problem. A woman’s behavior isn’t scrutinized as a result of her diagnosis.
Women aren’t stuck between the choice to remain silent or to speak up and risk greater harm and danger. Everyone can stand behind and support a woman with breast cancer out in the open, and, in so many ways, I am glad that this is so.
My Experience with Breast Cancer
About three years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was one of the most difficult times of my life.
I am grateful that our family and friends were able to openly support her through that experience, that we were able to talk about it freely, and that we are now further committed to advocating for greater research into treatment and prevention.
Showing support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is certainly a worthy endeavor that I do not wish to change.
But, I have to ask, why can’t this same open support be shown for Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
Don’t women who experience domestic violence awareness deserve the same support, assistance, open discourse, and advocacy as those diagnosed with breast cancer? I think so, but politics dictates otherwise.
Speaking Up for Woman Who Can’t
When a woman is a victim of domestic violence and trauma (and victims usually are women), this is seen as a personal issue. The perpetrator (usually male) can be blamed for the violence, which threatens the entire system of patriarchy.
The victim’s behavior within the relationship is often scrutinized in an attempt to place the blame on her for the violence that’s been done to her, an attempt to further manipulate and control her.
The usually male perpetrator is directly responsible for the victim’s decline in health as a result of the domestic violence (again, a threat to patriarchy).
Women are stuck in the difficult complications involved in each specific domestic violence situation, and often forced to choose between remaining silent on the issue, or speaking out and seeking help, which most often places them in greater danger.
Victims of domestic violence are often so isolated, they have no support network to stand behind them and help them through a difficult situation; if there are individuals in the woman’s life who could offer her support, they are often gripped by fear of the very real possibility that they will also be putting themselves at risk.
The politics of our society tell us that Breast Cancer Awareness month is a cause we can freely support; awareness of domestic violence, however, should be further suppressed, not talked about, avoided, shied away from. “Women’s health matters!” our society tells us, “…but only in certain ways; only when men can’t be blamed for a women’s health issue.”
Women’s bodies are adamantly protected and defended, while simultaneously left vulnerable and abused.
As a Social Worker, You Can Advocate for Women
Here is an opportunity for social workers to set an example – to advocate for greater domestic violence awareness, greater support, greater attention to the complex issue of domestic violence in our society.
If we are committed to promoting women’s health, ensuring women’s safety, safeguarding women’s rights to self-determination and their ability to function and thrive in society, we must create a society that allows for that.
We must strive to respond appropriately to all issues that impact women – breast cancer and domestic violence chief among them.