For almost five years, I worked for the American Cancer Society – the granddaddy of all cancer charities (they’ll celebrate 100 years in 2013). And I sold it. I sold the fight. I used the memories of the people I love to raise money and recruit volunteers to raise money. Yes, we talked about what the money does – there’s actually a full training program for it called “So Glad You Asked” – but we sold the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event for what it could do. Pinkwashing had just started – and was annoyingly distilling brand awareness and market share, but Strides never made me uncomfortable – it usually made me proud. I knew we were doing something to help people.
When I left in 2008, the tag line we worked under was, “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” Then, in 2009, they launched the highly successful “Create a World with More Birthdays,” and their focus started to change (now you can see Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer commercials during the Today Show – not cheap advertising by any stretch of the imagination). And then the 25 year old MSABC program found its niche – Put on your Pink Bra.
So now, we’re not fighting a disease, we’re putting on a bra. Think about that…I’ll come back to it.
I get more and more disturbed every October. I don’t have a problem with raising money to fund cancer research or supporting programs that provide free or low cost mammograms for women in need or programs that make sure that women who can afford mammograms actually go and aren’t afraid. But by wearing “pink” what cause are you really supporting? When you buy Ralph Lauren’s “Pink Pony” hat, who is really benefitting?
Forbes magazine ran a great article last year about the Pinkwashing Debate, and talked about the conflict lots of us experience:
"Each year as Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close there are mixed emotions amongst women’s health advocates. On the one hand, all those walks, runs and pink ribbons raise billions of dollars for charity. On the other, in some cases it’s hard to trace what’s being done with that money and the list of companies that seem to be promoting breast cancer awareness while profiting from less-than-healthy products grows every year."
Think about this: You can buy a 2-pack of Sharpie Pink Ribbon Fine Point Permanent Markers for $4.26 and $.10 of that goes to City of Hope as a donation from Sharpie – 2% that does any good. That means $4.16 goes to Sharpie’s bottom line. (and just for perspective, a regular 2-pack of black Sharpies? It’s like $1.50 – that’s a 277% markup for the pink sharpies).
Let me put it another way – you could buy a regular package of Sharpies for $1.50 and donate $2.76 to City of Hope (that’s the same total as the $4.26 price of the Pink Ribbon Sharpies) – and do 2760% more good than you are when you buy the *special* ones. Still want to buy them? I didn’t think so.
So – my first point is – DON’T BUY STUFF – do a little research on this fancy schmancy internet thingy and donate to a highly-rated cancer charity that ACTUALLY HELPS PEOPLE!
OK – Let’s go back to the Pink Bras.
I should forewarn you, I’m a little raw this year. Two weeks ago, I lost one of the most important people in my life. I lost her because she was 54 years old and had never had a mammogram. Ever. But she bought Pink Ribbon stuff. And I’ve had a hard time, since she was diagnosed in January, with messages like “Save the Ta-Tas” and “Put on your Pink Bra.”
There’s a few articles I’ve read this month of the surprising minority of women who aren’t so jazzed about all of this Pink Ribbon nonsense. They make my point better than I ever could.
“The trouble with these cleavage-ogling breast cancer campaigns is that, like most advertising, they place a disproportionate emphasis on straight male sexual desire and reduce a woman's value to a body part. It seems particularly crass that women's health funding should depend on the same sort of eye-candy marketing that sells beer, chicken wings, and Axe cologne. What if you don't have the sort of breasts that win wet T-shirt contests? Would anyone care that they were threatened? As a woman, you're told so much of your success depends on whether men find you pretty, from whether you get a date or whether you get a job. So perhaps it shouldn't be shocking that people are more likely to rally for the lives of young, comely women, as that is the premise of every alarm-system commercial or movie about facing death, whether it's a cheesy horror film, a Disney fairy tale, or a romantic tear-jerker.”
“[Plus, this bothers me also for the simple reason that since this is a cancer that mainly strikes women, it has to be about the body part, a body part that is so hyper-sexualized in our society that breastfeeding a child is a salacious public act. Oh, what would the menz do without the boobies to look at, fondle, and drool over? Save those tatas, ladies!]
So, this October, this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, PLEASE remember that we are focused on this because we want to SAVE THE WOMEN. We want to SAVE PEOPLE. We want to SAVE LIVES. Tatas – those would be nice to save if it’s possible. But fuck saving the tatas if you lose the woman.”
"THIS is ultimate result of breast cancer awareness campaigns that focus on breasts instead of people. This is exactly how campaigns that are motivated by goodness (supposedly) can be co-opted for misogynistic garbage like this.
Why create the umbrella under which this bus can exist comfortably? It’s why I say repeatedly and LOUDLY: . That link (post and comments) will explain in detail why I hate this shit so much."
I’ve seen it. Breast Cancer isn’t the perky cleavage on the commercials. There’s nothing PRETTY about it. There’s nothing DAINTY about it. There’s nothing SEXY about it. It ravages an entire body. And when is has destroyed everything it can find inside a body, it becomes an ugly, smelly, festering open wound. And it's growing more and more alarmingly common; about are expected to get breast cancer in their lifetimes.
Tell these organizations that You’re Not Buying it. Breast Cancer doesn’t impact a body part – it impacts a woman. And the people she loves. And the people who love her.