So, it’s October and as if there wasn’t already enough going on with Domestic Violence Awareness month, Halloween, and early Christmas stuff already creeping into stores the American consumer landscape has also gone all rose-colored, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. But just what are we getting out of “Pinktober” anyway? And does it have anything to do with a cure anymore?
The questions have started getting really troubling with the revelations earlier this year that Susan G. Komen, one of the largest fundraising bodies for breast cancer awareness, only doles out 17% of its proceeds to research. [Update: Not to mention the organization’s ties to anti-choice politicians and groups, which resulted in a temporary rift, and loss of funds, between Komen and Planned Parenthood in 2012.] It turns out the bulk of their annual budget goes toward legal representation and they’ve been using that representation to hunt down and squash any group — no matter how big or small — that uses the phrase “For the Cure.”
Then there are all the questionable and downright sexist products that are given the full pink washing treatment. Pink vacuums. Pink mixers. Pink measuring cups. Is the pink, limited edition Swiffer really helping breast cancer research? And all frustrations with sexist marketing gimmicks aside, what about the chemicals in Swiffer’s cleaning solution? Are any of those known carcinogens, aka cancer-causing agents? And that leads me to the biggest hype machine of all: The personal care industry. Makeup, hair products and a cornucopia of other stuff is packaged and sold pink in order to “raise money for a cure.” But what about the ingredients in those products? And don’t even get me started on crap like the KFC buckets for the cure and it’s ilk.
The Pink Washing blog, from the perspective a breast cancer survivor, has this to say:
Cancer is lucrative – why end it if so many can make money off of it?
For your health and that of your family, please don’t buy products that contain toxic chemicals. Instead, to benefit all those with or who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, sign up for a clinical trial, check out your own research hospital or Army of Women.
This month let’s talk about “action” and “prevention” over “awareness,” it may actually save a life or two.
I think the problem is we’re not really asking the right questions. There’s a serious problem. And in the absence of a cure for that problem, entities and companies came in and capitalized on our fears and on our hope. If you are a woman, chances are you are afraid of breast cancer (even if only a little). Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. And breast cancer is fifth most deadly (after lung, stomach, liver, and colorectal), based on numbers of deaths, according to the WHO.
As many regular SCS readers know, I lost two loved ones to cancer (pancreatic and abdominal) in 2008. In the same year I experienced watching someone I love slowly and cruelly wither away from terminal cancer. Meanwhile, I watched someone I love die within a month of discovering that anything was wrong. She went into the hospital for something routine and never left again. I also know many breast cancer survivors.
So, I get the fear. I get the anger about cancer. I’m still angry.
And I get the helpless feeling and the desire to do something — anything — that might help, even just a little. And in that spirit, I’ve participated in and organized teams for the Race for the Cure four times. I’ve bought pink stuff. I’ve saved and mailed in pink yogurt lids. We all want to do something! I’m no different.
And I don’t think that instinct is wrong. I don’t even think that every pink product is wrong or every race or even every ad campaign. But it’s not a blank check on mindless ad campaigns and gimmicks. Especially when we’re talking about people’s lives. And the hope that people need to just get through another day. That’s a big thing. And it’s not something to fuck around with. Millions of dollars are being raised. So where’s our cure already?
Just because it scares us, it doesn’t mean we stop asking the critical questions. Like, is the Saving Second Base campaign a little racist this year? Think Before You Pink. Is another walk what we need? Or is it more funding for actual research that can save lives? Is that limited edition nail polish laced with carcinogens really “for the cure”?
We’ve got to look past our fear and re-engage our minds. Maybe what we really need to do is make this month Thinktober. Let’s think up a new strategy and face down cancer.