Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Sara E. Hayden

Commitee Members

Hiltrudis M. Arens, Steve Schwarze


Ideographs, NBCAM, Pink Ribbon, Breast cancer, Images


University of Montana


When October was officially named National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) more than 20 years ago, a week-long event provided women with information about the disease. The appearance of this sort of awareness campaign was a first and it began to fill the void in public communication about breast cancer. Over the years, NBCAM discourse has helped break through the previous silence and stigma surrounding the disease. Over the years, this discourse has become a purportedly common sense approach to breast cancer in the United States, and one I suggest is fundamentally hegemonic. In this thesis, I study how the discourse of NBCAM encourages women to embrace a breast cancer awareness that is saturated with whiplash and back-pedaling narratives and characterizations that establish a mixed message discourse comprised of contradictory conceptions of breast cancer detection, breast cancer prevention, breast cancer activism, and breast cancer as a disease. Through an analysis of a set of women’s magazines, I illustrate how the mixed message discourse of NBCAM establishes links between cultural values and life conditions that narrowly define the central ideograph breast cancer awareness, and how the symbolic image of the pink ribbon works to recall and reiterate these specific messages and ways of understanding breast cancer. Ultimately, I argue that NBCAM discourse constrains how women think about and deal with breast cancer by conditioning them to a shared public vocabulary of concepts that guides and warrants their actions and excuses both their behavior and beliefs. In my analysis, I illustrate how this vocabulary invites privatized identifications with and commitments to constructions of breast cancer experience, prevention, and activism that contain gendered and traditionally feminine ideologies. The rhetoric emphasizes personal responsibility over social context, which obscures issues of social structure, environmental protection, and collective responsibility, and positions breast cancer as a natural part of a woman’s life, which, in turn, dislocates collective political anxiety, discussion, and action from NBCAM discourse.

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© Copyright 2011 Kira Stacey Jones