The Darker Side of Pink

APink Ribbons, Inc.s pretty much everyone knows, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The color pink can be found everywhere, the isles of our stores, the backgrounds of websites, the white house and even the NFL.  You can get virtually anything in the color pink to support raising awareness for breast cancer.  But have you ever stopped to wonder what good “raising awareness” does?  Or where your money is going when you buy that pink kitchenaid mixer?  What exactly is being researched and is your money going to support a product that is linked to breast cancer?  These are all questions that Samantha King asks in her book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and Politics of Philanthropy.In 2011 Léa Pool made a documentary featuring King’s research and her book.  This last week I was finally able to watch it.  The follow is part one of my take on the documentary, what I took away, the “pink ribbon culture,” and some add-ons from outside sources/experiences.  Basically a mash-up.

**Spoiler Warning:  If you plan on watching this film do so now then come back and read the rest**

The documentary itself occasionally felt a little disjointed and could have flowed better from one scene/topic to the next.  I also wish that it would have shared a little more about the history of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement.  There was a section where is spliced back and forth from shots of the past to the present.  It wasn’t clear what was going on other than it was showing the contrast of marches versus the current onslaught of pink run/walk/jog/shop for the cure.  The film was also not very objective, it had a very clear agenda it was pushing, but you have to admire the straightforwardness and honesty in presenting its case against the current breast cancer culture.  Overall I felt that the film was fairly well done and informative.  I would definitely recommend seeing it and if you don’t have Netflix, I’d even recommend getting the free trial to watch it.

Since the film missed out on some of the history here’s what I found.  Breast cancer used to be somewhat taboo to discuss, especially your breast cancer if you were unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with the disease.  In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford was the first women to speak publicly about her diagnosis.  From there it was a chain reaction of outrage, advocacy, and support for women to speak out and to talk to one another about their experiences.  Women began to learn more about it and to get mammograms.  They fought for it to be recognized as a problem and for there to be different, better options other than an automatic radical mastectomy.  You don’t have to hide it, or be ashamed of it, was the main message.  In 1991 the National Breast Cancer Coalition was formed.  They pushed for breast cancer to become a national priority (

Breast October is all about pinkCancer Awareness Month is a different story.  This was started by a public relations expert at AstraZeneca in the 80’s when it was the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.  According to the film this was done to encourage women to get mammograms.  In doing so, they make more money and therefore benefit by the increased numbers of women getting screened.  From there cost-marketing capitalism took over.  Corporations learned that all they had to do was associate with a cause people cared about and their sales would increase.  Women are known to make more of the buying decisions and are more likely to pay more if it’s “going to a good cause.”  Breast cancer is the poster child for such cause related marketing campaigns.  And people get to say breast out loud, on public television.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Avon Foundation for Women were really the spear-headers for the mainstream breast cancer culture.  They created the momentum for others to jump on the bandwagon.  Unfortunately these mainstream players have jumped into bed with corporations.  They have to “sell the disease” or risk alienating their customers.  So, they find more and more innovative ways to tie to the cause.

One example in the film was Yoplait and their lid campaign.  For every lid off of Yoplait yogurt that was mailed back the company would donate 10 cents to research.  But think about it, if you ate one container of yogurt a day for a month and mailed in the lid Yoplait would be donating $3.00.  $3.00?  Might as well just write a check if you want to donate money.  Another example is the NFL.  When they went through a bit of a character crisis and were looking to rehabilitate their image they went pink.  They found out that they had more women viewers than they originally thought and voilà pink cleats and sweat bands emerge.

These companies are exploiting cancer to boost their profits.  They are exploiting the desire to support a good cause and they are exploiting the love people have for dear ones affected by this disease.  It’s disgusting really.

Stay tuned for part two where I will break down specific problems I see with the mainstream breast cancer movement, other than what I’ve mentioned above.

UPDATE: Read the second half of this post here.


What it Looks Like 40 Years Later

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Today, June 23, 2012, marks the 40 year anniversary of a landmark piece of legislation.  Title IX, which was signed by President Nixon in 1972.  While most often associated with equality in sports that was only a small piece of the original legislation.  It was meant to level the field in opportunities for men and women in education, including the kinds of classes and extra curricular activities they were allowed to participate in.  The law was designed to prevent sex discrimination and harassment in educational activities and programs.  The areas it covers includes fairness in admissions and financial aid, freedom to take any vocational course, and allowing pregnant students access to education.

But looking around the educational system, excluding sports where this year an equal number of men and women will compete in the Olympics, a stigma still exists in vocational classes.  The promise of Title IX was that girls would be allowed into traditionally male classes like auto-mechanics and carpentry, and that boys would visa versa be allowed into traditionally female classes such as home economics or cosmetology.  How often does that actually happen?  I would guess that you are more likely to see a girl in shop than a boy in home ec, but still there is a strong acceptance of one sex over the other in such classes.  We still have a ways to go before it is not seen as degrading or insulting for a man to be doing traditionally “feminine” activities.  Part of the problem is family pressure and the way children are raised, boys are praised for being “masculine” and girls for being “feminine.”  We have to change the stigma.  Parents and teachers need to be accepting of a child’s dream, whether or not it bucks traditionalism.  So, to those who say Title IX is no longer needed, I respectfully disagree.

Read President Obama’s reflections on Title IX’s anniversary here.

Update:  I came across this cartoon after I originally published this post.  I think it relates.

Denim Day: Jeans with Purpose

I ran across an article today that talked about “Denim Day.”  Having never heard of it I decided to do some research.  Turns out Denim Day is a way to show support for victims of rape and sexual assault, bring awareness to the issue, and stop victim blaming.

The inspiration for this day of awareness comes from a crime that happened in Italy in the 1990s.  A teenage girl is starting her very first driving lesson.  She is picked up by her older, male instructor.  He takes her out to an isolated area and rapes her.  He then makes her drive home and swear not to tell anyone.  Later that night she tells her parents.  They help her to press charges and the instructor is convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.

He appeals and it makes it all the way to the Italian Supreme Court.  There the case is overturned and dismissed.  The judge’s reasoning is that, “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

Women in the Italian parliament were outraged and almost immediately, within hours, protested by wearing jeans to work.  From there the movement spread.

This is an amazing example of how people can be motivated to band together after an incredible injustice.  People recognized how wrong it was to blame the victim.  Unfortunately there are people who would have agreed with the statement made by the Chief Justice.  Those people are still around today.  They are the ones who say the survivor was raped because she had a plunging neckline, or her clothes were too tight, or she looked “loose,” or wiggled her hips too much when she walked, or because she was alone on a dark street, or she didn’t struggle enough, or scream loud enough, or didn’t tell anyone right away, or any other number of reasons.  The victim blaming has to stop and I love the idea of wearing jeans to do it.

Turns out the next Denim Day is April 25th, this upcoming Wednesday.  I for one plan on participating (though I almost always wear jeans, so I’ll have to be creative).  I would love to hear from you about what you think of this awareness tactic, and if you participate what the experience is like for you.

The following website is done by Peace Over Violence and contains a lot more information.  I encourage you to check it out.