My partner asked me yesterday what I thought of the new ad for pink ribbon week, and said tentatively that he quite liked it. He was tentative, bless his pro-feminist cotton socks, because he knows that I hate it when blokes jump onto women's causes for dubious reasons - and the new pink ribbon ad exclusively features men.
Let me explain that 'jump onto women's causes' comment. This can take the form of subverting feminist values for non-feminist ends, like Steve Crow defending a woman's right to bare her breasts in public (thanks Steve). It can take the form of Chris Trotter calling THM writers faux feminists, and explaining to us how we should be running our own movement.
Or - and this annoys me most - jumping on women's causes can mean playing that sorry trump card: men have it at least as bad as women. This can involve countering women's concerns about domestic violence, for example, by saying, 'What about men who are abused by their wives?'. It implies - absolutely wrongly - that women don't care about violence towards men. It also implies that domestic violence has nothing to do with gender - that we highly-strung women are just imagining some connection.
One of the nuttiest examples of this kind of thinking was in a letter to the editor I once read. The male author was complaining that breast cancer got so much attention when hardly any men know how to self-examine for testicular cancer. There was actually no connection between breast and testicular cancer whatsoever, except that they both affect people's rude bits. The author of this sorry letter simply had a bee in his bonnet with anyone pointing out that health is a resource which is distributed unevenly in our society, and that this distribution is in part to do with gender. He thought he was seeing women get the upper hand in some sort of competition, and he didn't like it.
So you can see that I get irked when men put in their two cents' worth in a dumb way that undermines women's autonomy. But the pink ribbon ad doesn't do that. If you haven't seen it, it features four men of various ages and ethnicities, wearing pink ribbons and talking about how men can support women to care for our health. If you love the women in your lives, the ad suggests to men, you'll take an active interest in their wellbeing.
Now, I'm not a huge fan of the pink ribbon phenomenon. I didn't agree with the Breast Cancer Foundation's stance on Herceptin, and I don't like the pink Tim Tams and pink deoderant and general junky consumerist fanfare that surrounds the pink ribbon campaign, turning the ethically serious business of health needs into a competition for funding between different groups of ill people.
I feel that the current ad somehow has a bit more maturity about it, though. It suggests that breast cancer isn't just some sort of marginal icky women's business type of thing that should be left to the ladies to sort out. Rather, it treats breast cancer as exactly what it is: a public health issue which should be of concern to us all. Acknowledging this isn't some sort of defeat for males, any more than feminists pointing out the gendered distribution of good health means we don't care about the wellbeing of men.
The approach to breast cancer in the new ad is, surely, a step forward for feminists. It erodes that destructive idea that women's achievements (in health, education, wherever) come at the expense of men, and replaces it with the idea that women's health and wellbeing are important because women, like men, are valuable members of society.