Culture Jam

Original Ad & Problems



This Ovarian Cancer Canada (OCC) web ad, reading “I have #ladyballs”, is one of several which pair women’s faces of a variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds with foreground text centering on the #ladyballs theme. OCC’s #ladyball campaign aims to increase public awareness and donations.

Balls, slang for testicles, has become a commonly used cultural reference to ‘masculine’ attributes such as courage.  The phrase “grow a pair of balls” is rooted in misogynic beliefs that testicles are necessary to truly be courageous.  OCC seeks to adopt the term ladyballs for the female sex.  Is the OCC is using the term ladyballs to ‘help’ women ‘remember’ that they have their own ‘type’ of courage? Or, are they using ladyballs as a metaphor to feminine (non-physical) attributes such as generosity (donate!) and self-care (know the early warning signs!)? Whether the meaning behind ladyballs is the former, latter, or both, it nonetheless attaches ‘desirable’ gender-based attributes to a slang term for a body part.

Using slang terms for body parts has serious sexist connotations and acts to join personality aspects with a body part.  Pussy (based on a female body part) has the opposite meaning as balls (based on a male body part).  Simply putting “lady” in front of balls still acts to reinforce the idea that personality factors are contained to the presence or absence of certain body parts.

As well, the very act of adding “lady” to something that originally inferred a masculine ownership/usership infers a sense of ‘adopting’ a male-oriented object to a female owner/user by making the object smaller, lighter, and often a shade of pastel.   Thus, the term ladyballs subtly communicates that women have a ‘re-engineered’ and ‘re-packaged’ version of the male gonads, implying that the ‘original’ sex and gender is male.

More so, the term “lady” is tied to the feminine gender.  Ovarian cancer can develop in any individual with ovaries; irrespective of their gender identity.  For the OCC to disregard this fact in attempting to come up with a catchy campaign reveals the extent to which advertising, whether from for-profits or not-for-profits, reinforces the assumption of gender-sex homogeneity.

Finally, many male and female cancer patients, victims, and survivors no longer have their gonads.  To create a campaign which aims to promote positive action in the form of self-awareness and donations with having ladyballs, ovaries, is misguided to the extreme, when many survivors, victims, and current patients experience oorphorectimies.  This is another reason why it is ineffective to tie any body part with a given behavior; not only does it reinforce sexism, but it dehumanizes individuals who may not have that body part but are ‘supposed to’.


Culture-Jammed Ad & Explanation

culture jam

I culture-jammed this ad by simply re-wording the hashtag to create the phrase “I #donthaveladyballs”.  This is meant to evoke an initial sense of surprise (“She doesn’t have ladyballs – then why does she look so confident?”).  Upon further reflection, it is meant to force the viewer to question the root meaning of ladyballs, as I have kept her facial expression the same: of steadfast courage.  Viewers hopefully will come to recognize how easily we accept the use of terms which serve to subordinate women and anyone who is not biologically ‘complete’.

Some viewers may conclude that this woman physically does not have ovaries due to an oorphorectamy, but that she has courage.  Other viewers may conclude that she rejects the concept of ‘ladyballs’, but that she does have ovaries (and courage, for that matter).  Other viewers may conclude that she both has had an oorphorectamy and rejects the concept of ladyballs, but nonetheless has courage.  All conclusions, taken separately or combined, aim to achieve three purposes:

  1. Detaching feelings, behaviours, and personality dimensions from the oft-paired body part slang (balls, ladyballs, pussy, etc).
  2. Detaching a physical body part (e.g. ovaries) from non-essential gendered aspects (e.g. “lady”).
  3. Detaching the absence/presence of a given sexual reproductive organ(s) with a given personality dimension, feeling, or behavior.

It makes me uncomfortable to imagine how I would feel if I had experienced an oorphorectamy, a procedure done to save my life, and then see the OCC base values such as courage, generosity, or health-awareness on having ladyballs.  Women who have experienced oophorectomies are true examples of courage, as are men who have experienced orchidectimies.  Women and men do not need balls of any type to be courageous, generous, or aware of the early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

By creating a new hashtag to replace the phrase, “I have #ladyballs” with “I #donthaveladyballs”, it allows for engagement with the culture jam on social media.  Individuals may play with the “#donthaveladyballs” hashtag by adding, for example, “but I have ovaries”, “but I have my life”, “but I have courage”, etcetera.

While the creators of this campaign no doubt had good intentions, this culture jam exposes the extent to which genderism and sexism has subtly penetrated our perceptions, leading us to believe that #ladyballs is empowering, while it is actually rooted in much genderism and sexism.

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