The headline of today’s Indiana Daily Student newspaper is “Raising banners, raising awareness,” and it’s surrounded by images of large red banners with hand-painted white text that says things like “REAL HOOSIER MEN SHOULD RESPECT WOMEN #MARSBANNERUP” and “HONK IF U SUPPORT MARS.”
MARS is the acronym for Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, an organization on the Indiana University campus made up of men who are in fraternities. According to the blurb on the IU Culture of Care website, members of MARS “receive training from the university’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service, university counselors/officials, peers and other experts in the field of sexual assault prevention and response.”
From what I can tell, it’s a great organization working to promote the idea that rape is not a women’s problem, and I appreciate that. (I do wonder if they have any conversations about learning to support male rape victims, but they’re hardly alone if they’re not. That’s a topic for a whole separate post.)
But I can’t help but be a little dissatisfied with the banner campaign.
I mean, I get it. It’s a campaign organized by well-intentioned 20-year-olds working with the resources at their immediate disposal. The overseer of the MARS program is quoted in the IDS as saying “We thought this would be a really easy, simple thing that would raise a lot of awareness with not a lot of cost or complexity… It’s something very feasible that creates a positive impact.”
But what, exactly, is the awareness that’s being raised? And for that matter, what does awareness alone accomplish?
I’m posting this in the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, more properly known as The Month When Everything Seems To Turn Pink Especially NFL Players’ Gloves. And I wonder, not for the first time, if there’s anybody in this country who’s not aware of breast cancer. Can there possibly be anyone in this country over the age of 25 who hasn’t watched a loved one live with or die from the disease, if they haven’t lived through it themselves?
I once bought a pack of HP-brand pinked-up printer paper during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that nowhere on the package was there any promise of, say, proceeds being donated to cancer research.
But hey BREAST CANCER AWARENESS.
Congress spent the first half of the month of October fighting over defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides breast exams and facilitates access to mammograms for low-income women.
But hey WE R ALL SUPER AWARE OF BREAST CANCER K? IT R A BAD SICKNESS THAT KILLS BOOBIES AND SOMETIMES KILLS GIRLZ 2.
Promoting awareness is not promoting action. Awareness without action is an empty vessel.
PIttsburgh Steelers player DeAngelo Williams marked the month by purchasing 53 mammograms for a hospital in Charlotte, NC, where he used to play, and in Pittsburgh, to commemorate his mother’s age when she died of the disease 2014.
He also petitioned the NFL for the right to wear pink gloves and shoes throughout the season in homage to her, but his petition was denied. Uniform regulations, you know.
But the NFL donates tons of money from their pink campaigns to breast cancer research, right?
Nope. The NFL does raise funds that are ostensibly geared toward breast cancer prevention, but the way those funds are spent is actually really shady and not good for breast cancer prevention at all.
But hey. AWARENESS.
I wonder how men who have lived with breast cancer feel about the pink campaign.
I wonder how the young man who was sexually assaulted by his fraternity brother feels when he walks into his house every day under a banner that reads “REAL HOOSIER MEN SUPPORT WOMEN.” (Alpha Tau Omega, the fraternity suspended by the university and disbanded by their national HQ following the release of a video depicting the apparent sexual abuse of a pledge, was a member of MARS; their banner was taken down along with their greek letters.)
And I wonder how the young woman feels when she sees those banners hanging outside the windows of the house where she was attacked.
I don’t see how an awareness campaign benefits any of these people, and I don’t see how it would contribute to sexual assault prevention.
I appreciate the sentiment of these campaigns. I do.
But I really don’t see how the awareness is saving anyone.
(Incidentally, October is also awareness month for about a zillion other causes. Are you aware of your dental hygiene? It’s the month to start flossing, kids!)