I remember one day last year during the month of October when my rage at the pink ribbon campaign began. The day I almost lashed out at a very well-trained clerk at the grocery store, who of course had no idea why I was wearing a pink wig, or why, when he asked me if I wanted to contribute to breast cancer I had to take a moment to compose myself and chomp firmly down on my tongue so that I wouldn’t let the I’VE ALREADY CONTRIBUTED MY BREASTS AND A YEAR OF MY LIFE TO BREAST CANCER THANK YOU come flying out of my mouth. I was enraged on two fronts: first, grammatical. Seriously. Would I like to contribute to breast cancer? How should I do that? Should I hand you a BRCA gene? Some estrogen? Booze? Smokes? Stress? Pollution? The question is Would you like to contribute to breast cancer RESEARCH. Or it should be. Which brings me to the second front. What they’re actually asking is would you like to contribute to this corporate monster, the pink ribbon campaign.
I get it. Pink ribbons are comforting. Warm and fuzzy. Girly. Pretty. And the motivation behind the individuals who choose to purchase pink ribbon paraphernalia is pure and good; of this I am sure. But breast cancer is not a barrage of pink ribbons. It’s not warm and fuzzy and oh-so-feminine. It’s quite the contrary.
Breast cancer sells products. Corporations link themselves to this marketing strategy in order to make money. Slap that pink ribbon on your product, tell a story about how much money will go towards breast cancer research (actually very, very little proportionately speaking), and sell, sell, sell.
Take a look at the NFL gear. Ask yourselves why these football players began sporting pink shoes, decorating themselves with pink ribbons on wristbands. Why? Because they diverted the attention from the accusations of misogyny, domestic and sexual violence against women, low pay and poor working conditions for cheerleaders that the league was dealing with. Slap a pink helmet on a team’s head and bingo – look how selfless and generous they are – they love women! Breast cancer is great PR. And guess what? It works! The NFL makes nearly 10 billion a year selling this schtuff; however, approximately only 4.5 million of that goes to actual breast cancer research. Does that sound right to you? Not me. Do the mushrooms I buy at the grocery store need to have a pink ribbon on their cellophane wrap? No. Does that pink ribbon you see on products mean that the product is healthy and won’t contribute to breast cancer? Nope. Car companies are even buying into it. Perfumes, full of endless chemicals, sport the pink ribbon. Does that pink ribbon mean that part of the profit made from that purchase goes to breast cancer research? Nope. Not necessarily. Any company can slap that ribbon on their products, because it’s a marketing strategy.
Where there were once coalitions of women who marched in the streets and demanded to have money put money into science to figure out why breast cancer was on such an alarming rise, angry women who wanted answers, who wanted attention paid to what was changing their bodies, there are now ribbons. pink cars. pink mittens, monuments lighting up pink for the month of October. I believe Niagara Falls even took part. (?!)
I should have said this sooner. I should have made my feelings on the matter clear right at the time of diagnosis. I am so thankful to each and every person who has bought something pink with me in mind. Your good vibes and warm thoughts have carried me through many dark times. Unfortunately, if you thought your actions were making a big difference in the grand scheme of things, they probably weren’t.
What has actually happened in my house is that several months ago I actually went through my drawers and sweater chests and threw out everything I owned that was pink because I was so tired of seeing it. Only recently have I begun to re-introduce it into my wardrobe – mostly because I ordered a pair of really cute boots online thinking they were a lovely dove grey colour, and they were in fact blush pink. I’m trying to make it work.
What I actually feel when I walk, well, anywhere during the month of October and see pink ribbons vomited on every possible product is frustration. Resentment. Kind of taken advantage of. Exploited. This machine has attempted to take a really shitty disease and make it pretty, and profitable. And I’m not okay with that.
We do need a sisterhood. We do need to support each other. And the support and love that comes pouring out of the runs, the walks organized around this campaign are absolutely crucial to women who are dealing with breast cancer diagnoses. We desperately need to feel like we’re not alone. We need to ride on some sort of wave of support. I just really, really wish it didn’t have to be cloaked in a corporation-driven campaign.
If you want to contribute, give it some thought. Do your own reading. Check out organizations like Think Before You Pink. Do some reading on the Susan Komen fiasco. On the NHL story behind their pink gear. And if you’re still okay with what you know, then by all means – pink away! Just not for me, please.
If you want to help someone who is dealing with breast cancer, spend some time with her, because she probably could use a friend. Go for a walk with her, because exercise is really really good for her. Bring her random dinners, because she’s probably more tired than you know. Give her a hug, because she needs it. Rub her shoulders, because they’re probably sore. Be willing to talk about her new reality, because it’s scary, and she needs to talk. And if you want to contribute financially to breast cancer research in her name, my two cents is write a cheque, and bring it to your local cancer centre.
Thank the gods it’s November.