Human Problems Require Human Solutions

Human Problems Require Human Solutions

Cancer is a problem all humans face. Why must campaigns needlessly segregate genders and sexify the disease?

TW: Mentions of Cancer.

I am not a Coronation Street lover, but somehow it always seems to be on television when I’m in the room. It also tends to be on the news, in the papers, in magazines… but that’s a whole other story. The point I am making is that I, like many other non-soap watching people, am passably acquainted with the characters and storylines.

So recently, when a long-loved character died of cancer, the nation was heartbroken. As were her fellow characters. So much so, that they decided to raise some money for a cancer charity.

This is a popular thing right now. #NoMakeUpSelfie and #CocksInSocks got a lot of attention, despite some teething problems with donations going to the wrong charities and people questioning the link between being ‘brave’ in showing the world a fresh face and being brave in facing a life-threatening illness and horrible treatments.

The Coronation Street characters decided to go for that old standby of ‘Ladies Night’.

I wish they hadn’t.

The character of Hayley Cropper, who became ill with cancer on Coronation Street. Because anyone can get it.

Firstly, they insist that the fundraising event is to be strictly ‘no men’. But surely the men of the street have equal reason to want to give money in memory of a beloved friend and neighbour?

A couple of lines from the episode showed women saying they would love to give to charity, but they barely had enough money to live on. Wouldn’t the charity have benefitted from an event that asked everyone with something to spare to take part, regardless of gender?

Secondly, this ‘no men’ policy overlooks some very important facts. Underworld, the knicker factory that recently-deceased Hayley worked for, has at least two regular male employees. At least one of them likes to be considered ‘one of the girls’ but couldn’t go to the event because of what was between his legs.

Then there is the old controversial storyline from many years back. Hayley herself is a transgender woman and was born in a body that wasn’t right for her. Coronation Street is a soap that feels confident enough to tackle homosexual and transgender issues… but will quite happily ignore these when it’s convenient to the plot.

Thirdly, although I’m not sure what kind of cancer Hayley suffered from, I can be fairly sure that it was not a specifically ‘female’ problem requiring a ‘female’ show of support. Hayley had no ovaries. Yet she could still get breast cancer. So could anyone. Men get it too. This type of cancer is not restricted to people who have breasts which are sexualised by society and intended to feed babies.

Another slap in the face to all things equality is what these women are doing on their ‘Ladies Night’. They’re gathering together to swap ‘sexy outfits’ that they don’t wear anymore.

The sexualisation of cancer is apparently unending. Forget that it’s a hellish experience and costs numerous lives every year. Let’s wear pink bras to support our healthy mammaries and take selfies showing our fresh, carefree faces!

As soon as anything ‘sexy’ comes into ‘charity’ my stomach flips. The massive peer pressure to join in, and the shaming that is allowed if you do not, makes this a particularly touchy subject. I keep coming back to Corrie – what if the women who attend the Ladies Night neither have sexy outfits to donate nor require any recycled ones? How does this help them support cancer charities in their friend’s name?

ITV and Coronation Street have a mixed reputation when it comes to producing quality and decent television. But when it comes to storylines of such importance, I believe they should try much harder.

There will have been people watching who are currently living with cancer, watching the larks had by a bunch of healthy fictional characters who are getting an instant feel-good for doing something a little out of the ordinary.

There will have been people watching who want to raise money and awareness for a charity and will use this as a point of inspiration, yet it is unintentionally excluding a large portion of people who would love to contribute.

And there will have been people watching who are transgender, or some other largely misunderstood group of people, who see the exclusion of half the population and the ignorance of a character’s identity as just another example of how television gets it wrong.

Cancer doesn’t just affect pretty women with large bubbies. It doesn’t just affect cute children. It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, physical beauty, age, wealth and education level. It is a human problem. And we all need to work together to find a way to find more effective solutions.

Cancer awareness resources:

The number for Macmillan Cancer Support. One of several very supportive cancer charities (please see further resources at foot of article)