Young Jamaican senator makes ‘inappropriate’ comments in parliament about breast cancer

Breast cancer public art. Photo by Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0.

Like many countries around the world, Jamaica recognises October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What better way to raise awareness than to have a breast cancer survivor — who also happens to be a senator — stand up in parliament and share her experience?

After Saphire Longmore made her statement in the Upper House on October 4, 2019, an opposition senator, André Haughton, took the floor. After extending sympathies to Senator Longmore, and speaking of an aunt who had died of the disease, Haughton continued:

As a child growing up I always loved breasts. My mother always said I am a breast man. Even though I was one years [sic] and two months, I was still drinking breast milk, yes…so I am a breast man. When asked which part of the female you prefer – breasts […] I prefer the breast.

Senator Haughton went on to tout the use of cannabis oil as a cure for cancer, urging the government to conduct more research, but journalist Damion Mitchell immediately picked up the “I'm a breast man” comments, tweeting:

With a growing number of breast cancer diagnoses among women 25 to 59, the reactions to Haughton's comments were full of shock and surprise.

One young Jamaican woman protested:

Civil society activist Carol Narcisse added:

Those whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer also felt the comment was uncalled for:

Others, women included, defended the senator’s remarks as harmless:

Senator André Haughton spoke about the breast. Not everyone has been fortunate in this life to have been nurtured by the breast. How was his statement sexual? […]

I am a woman and, frankly, see nothing for which to apologise. They have made a mountain out of a molehill. Haughton’s statement could help many men and women to undergo mammograms and check their breasts daily.

It’s the Jamaican man’s behaviour to say they love breasts. And if I am not mistaken, there is a jingle that says, ‘Breast is best.’

Twitter user Dimitri Lyon felt that a defence of Haughton spoke to a concerning trend:

The issue remained a hot topic as Senator Haughton vehemently defended himself in interviews, accusing first the tweeting journalist and then the media in general of misinterpretation.

Haughton posted his entire speech on his Facebook page, where he received supportive and respectful comments. Many simply dismissed criticism of Haughton as an obsession with trivialities and character assassination.

In one particular interview on “Smile Jamaica… It's Morning Time,” a popular morning television show, the senator said that Jamaican media “is not interested in sensible things”. The show's host retorted, “The media is talking about it because you said it.”

Despite overwhelming public sentiment that the comment was disrespectful, Senator Haughton continued to hold his ground, tweeting:

This prompted another wave of annoyance and calls for an apology. Journalist Damion Mitchell did not back down:

Four days later, the embattled senator finally tweeted an apology:

The reaction was mixed. Some grudgingly accepted the apology, while others were prepared to move on. One Twitter user suggested the whole debacle was just another example of fake online outrage:

Facebook user Suzanne Haik-Hynes was not so forgiving, convinced the senator still did not understand the reality of breast cancer:

…At what point did our people become so crass, insensitive and disrespectful to tastelessly take the discussion on breast cancer awareness to such a low level as to try to be comic about the issue, and resort to trying to make it one of sexual context?

Does the senator realize the vastness of the effects of breast cancer on significant numbers of women […] or what any woman and family goes through from diagnosis, to treatment, to remission, expensive and painful conditions along the way, or final breath? Does he have any concept of the immensity of the social and economic impacts? …

Netizen Romayne Edwards worried that Senator Haughton's comments overshadowed the main message of breast cancer awareness and the importance of breast exams:

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