Raising Awareness about Raising Awareness – Is that All?

Prepare yourselves; another ribbon-wearing, silly status-posting, nonsensical aimless month is coming! Yes, I am talking about raising awareness… again!

This is the golden-age of awareness-raising. Like you, my awareness has, at this point, been raised to an eruptive critical mass. We have been told to wear pink, paint our faces, mysteriously post the names of fruit on our Facebook walls as well as share the colour of our underwear, resend anonymous chain-letters and pour buckets of cold water over our heads, all in the name of awareness.

Yes – being aware of a problem is obviously the first step towards counteracting it. But it is ONLY the first step. Starting and ending at the awareness level does not mean anything concrete or practical will happen to solve the actual issue. Education underlies awareness – how many of you were aware of even the name of the disease the so-called Ice bucket challenge was aimed at raising awareness for? How many of you were aware of the symptoms or the problems associated with it?

I am so fed up of receiving ‘digital’ chain-letter-like private messages! Here’s how it goes, you log into your Facebook account and realise someone has sent you this:

‘Hello Ladies. Without replying to this message, put a heart on your wall; no comment, just a heart. Next post a heart on the wall of the person who sent you this message. Send this message to all your women friends. Only women. If anyone asks you why you have so many hearts on your wall, don’t tell them. This is for women only, because this is breast cancer week.’

This is not awareness. This is offensive. Breast cancer is not a joke or a game. It has nothing to do with the colour of your underwear or your marital status mysteriously described in sexual phraseology. All this does is show how silly people are and nothing more. Apart from that, the status itself is wrong, because guess what, men get breast cancer too! Men are husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, people we love – so why share and perpetuate the idea that they don’t suffer from this condition and that it is something which belongs solely to ‘the sisterhood of women’? And why should awareness be done secretly? This defies the whole idea of what the word ‘awareness’ itself means!!

I’m also fed up of reading attempts at promoting guilty feelings should one not post a certain status ‘Share this if you think autistic kids are special’ or ‘Share this if you are against terrorism’ – yes I believe autistic kids are special and that terrorism is a bad thing, why on earth should I be labelled as someone who does not share these ideas, if I do not change my status?

Actually, participation in awareness campaigns tends to make people less likely to actively help a particular cause. You post your status, you wear your red poppy or put on red lipstick (which I do anyways) to raise awareness about sexual violence, as perpetrated by the Red My Lips campaign, and think that you’ve done your good deed for the day. You have done your duty as a good citizen. Now, the issue will be magically fixed, without you having to donate money, perform volunteer work, or actually do anything concrete.

The problem with these awareness raising tactics is that they are ends in themselves. They give lazy-loving participants the idea that they are helping, when in reality a campaign’s success should only be measured by how much people are actually spurred into taking meaningful action.

One cannot deny that the decades-long push to publicise the link between smoking and cancer, for example, wasn’t important. Awareness is a very important part of the process towards social and behavioural improvement, but it is only a part.

And another thing – why do most awareness campaigns use sex as a trigger and motivator? That’s not funny, it’s plain offensive! Take for example the ‘Save Second Base’ t-shirts marketed as an attempt to raise awareness on… guess what… breast cancer. Is that the main reason for helping women (again, males with breast cancer or any other kind of cancer for that matter, are ignored) suffering from this condition? That if they cut off one of their breasts, men won’t be able to fondle it?? Seriously?

February is National Heart month. It will feature World Cancer Day, Rare Disease Day, Eating Disorders Awareness Week and Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, amongst others. If you REALLY want to make a difference, stop being lazy. Leave your status as it is, and instead make sure that you and your family and friends are properly vaccinated from vaccine-preventable illnesses. If eligible, donate blood, get tested for bone marrow donation, or become an organ donor. It’s really pointless to wear red lipstick or a pink ribbon and say you are helping those who suffer from domestic violence, or improving the condition of the men and women puking their guts out every day after their chemotherapy session – because you really aren’t.