When people think of October, they usually think of jack-o-lanterns, costumes, black and orange. But there’s a third color becoming more and more associated with this month: pink, for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Throughout October, I’ll see people walking and racing for the cure, sporting pink ribbons and even NFL players donning pink uniforms. Stores fill their shelves with all types of pink products, from water bottles to cars, to show their support. Pink products and events raise millions of dollars for breast cancer research. This phenomenon is known as “pink ribbon culture.” While I support breast cancer awareness—especially in mainstream culture, since only a few decades ago it was a subject too “taboo” to speak of—I can’t help but ask myself, “what does buying a pink product accomplish?”
I fully support people who wear pink ribbons in memory or support of a loved one with breast cancer. I have worn pink for the same reason and have purchased pink products–from yogurt to bath soap. Pink has become a color of solidarity in the breast cancer awareness movement. But it can alienate people, like men with breast cancer or those who don’t think of this disease as pretty and feminine. In actuality, breast cancer is a horrific disease that claimed the lives of 40,589 women in 2008.
I recently watched a documentary that is reshaping the way I think about breast cancer awareness and activism in general: Pink Ribbons, Inc. This is a phenomenal documentary that takes an in-depth look at the negative side of pink ribbon culture: corporate greed and exploitation, objectification of women and the truly gruesome side of breast cancer.
When you buy that pink sweatshirt or water bottle, do you know where your money is going? What about pink ribbon cosmetics? Food? Pink cars? Some of the corporations that create pink goods in the name of breast cancer awareness manufacture products that contain carcinogens–which have been linked to cancer. Sometimes, only a small fraction of your pink purchase goes directly to cancer research. It’s time for us to do our research: figure out what you’re investing in when you buy pink for the sake of breast cancer awareness.
My family and I are not strangers to breast cancer. My maternal grandmother, who passed away in 2005 due to a stroke-related illness, was a breast and uterine cancer survivor. Her younger sister, my great-aunt, is a breast cancer survivor. My mom’s cousin passed away at the age of 60 due to the disease. When I see campaigns slogans like “save the boobies,” I can’t help but be offended. My grandmother, my Aunt Ruthie, and cousin Linda–these women were more than their breasts. This movement needs to be about saving lives, not about objectifying women by claiming their “assets” are the only things worth saving. We should not be focused on saving breasts. We need to be focused on saving lives.
Awareness, I believe, is the first step in activism. Action is the second step. We need to become more proactive in our activism, especially as women fighting for women’s issues. I’m not suggesting that we all need to become doctors and find a cure or a cause of breast cancer. (I have no interest in pursuing a medical career.) What I’m suggesting is that we become more aware of our roles in activism. Know what you’re supporting and where your money is going. Go beyond awareness. DO something–volunteer, protest, research, write. It might just save a life.
If you’re interesting in learning more about pink ribbon culture, I suggest visiting Breast Cancer Action.