Exclusion of men in fight against breast cancer is blunder by run organizers

NONPROFITS INC.

November 29, 1993|By LESTER A PICKER

In the editorial pages of this newspaper over the past few weeks, a quiet battle has been waged.

On one side are the local organizers of the Race for the Cure run to benefit women in their fight against breast cancer. On the other side is a man who felt slighted because he was prohibited from finishing the women-only race.

Unfortunately, I think both sides have lost something in this battle.

The Race for the Cure is a marvelous idea, garnering attention and funds for a critically important issue. A major benefit of the race is the empowerment of women, both breast cancer survivors and those who wish to take some positive action to prevent the disease.

What I simply cannot understand is how any organization in today's society would carefully plan to exclude a major support segment from participation in any of its public events.

Please understand that I believe strongly in the cause for which the Race for the Cure stands. I also believe that the race organizers did not exclude men for any reasons of malice. But they are naive about the marketing implications of their actions. They do not recognize that the messages they are sending to their various constituents are both conflicting and wrong.

There is no reason that makes sense to me for categorically excluding any group from participating in this important cause. Men have mothers, daughters and wives whom they love, and who do get breast cancer. Why, would you disempower men from joining in this critical fight to save their loved ones from this terrible disease?

Actually, men were indeed allowed to participate, but in support roles such as building garbage cans, setting up tables before the race, and cleaning up afterward. (Did they get to bake cookies?)

Come on, race organizers, can't you see how absurd that tactic is? Perhaps, just perhaps, if many of you had not been relegated to "support roles" in decades past, we would have had enough funding by now to beat this dreaded disease.

The issue that only a small percentage of men get breast cancer is relevant, but not critical to this argument. But it does raise interesting questions. Would organizers exclude women who are Chinese nationals from the race just because they have a far lower incidence of breast cancer than American-born women? The answer, of course, is no. Men were excluded not because of their lower incidence of cancer, but simply because of their sex.

In answer to those who argue that women have a right to enjoy a public event such as this in the exclusive company of women, I say w-r-o-n-g. I happen to be a firm believer in single-sex gatherings. I enjoy nights out or weekends away with my male friends. However, I don't expect to arrange a public charitable event for men only and expect it to be well received. Tolerated maybe, but I would not expect widespread support from women who are excluded.

The essence of any good marketing plan is to have consistent messages to the organization's various constituents. The Race for the Cure event is ripe with conflicting messages.

Consider the following breast cancer messages, gleaned from a variety of health sources, and contrast it with the "No-Boys-Allowed" message. Breast cancer is a terrible disease that affects whole families. Women need support, including male significant others, to help them through the disease. More society attention, and more funding, is needed for a cure. Health care policy must address the breast cancer issue, particularly in prevention and diagnosis. Men, as well as women, need to be educated on the breast cancer issue. Men and women must get involved in fighting against this disease.

Sorry, but I believe men should be encouraged to involve themselves in every aspect of this fight, if we are to accomplish this life or death agenda. No, the answer to beating breast cancer is not to exclude men, but to empower all of us to race for its cure before too many more of our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends can't cross the finish line.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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