Breast cancer is a huge health problem in the United States that affects both male and females alike (however the majority of victims are female). The American Cancer Society noted that there were 185,700 new cases of breast cancer and 44,560 deaths due to the disease in 1996 alone (“Breast Cancer…” 1997). According to Barbara Ley, a Professor at the University of Delaware, there is a “mainstream” way to view/think about breast cancer that involves a lot of pink ribbons, pink clothing, etc. (Ley 2009). Although Ley feels there is good to this common notion, there could be some improvements to the mainstream thought of breast cancer that takes account some of the eco-feminist views towards the disease.
In Ley’s piece, she reflects about the Race for the Cure event she attended in 2001. She said she noticed a lot of “pink this and that; white people; survivor rhetoric; and written materials addressing early detection, treatments, and research on a cure” (Ley 2009). Ley, of course, is explaining the core of the mainstream breast cancer culture. Ley outlines some strengths to these examples such as: the comradery/connection people feel from the pink ribbon and the color pink in general and the positive spread of word regarding treatments and fundraising for cure research (Ley 2009). Ley also mentioned how motivating events like this can be for women, giving an example of how it may empower a woman in the race to get through one more vigorous round of chemotherapy in the future.
Although there are benefits and strengths to the mainstream culture of breast cancer, there are also holes and weaknesses to it as well. Ley explains that there is a ton of word getting out, at the Race for the Cure event for example, regarding cures to breast cancer and early detection. However, there is little to no talk about ways to prevent it altogether and what type of environmental factors help lead to breast cancer. Although Ley explained that the race may have empowered women to get through another session of chemotherapy, it did not guide them to uncover what local places were polluting the water and possibly aiding in the development of breast cancer (Ley 2009). Ley also brings to the surface some negatives regarding pink merchandise and the pink ribbon. She writes about a pair of sister’s experience with breast cancer and how one sister, Zillah Eisenstein, feels about wearing pink. Zillah said she wears pink to connect herself to a larger group of women (breast cancer patients). However, Zillah, and Ley for that matter, are aware that the pink ribbon symbol is used to “boost corporate profits and support breast cancer action paradigms…” (Ley 2009). Meaning that there are both beneficial and selfish motives to the pink symbol movement.
Thus, Ley, amongst others, does see some positives to mainstream breast cancer culture but also sees some negatives that go along with it. Although the pink ribbon and pink clothing bring a huge group of cancer victims together, there is also a more deep rooted negative to the symbol (regarding aforementioned profiting from the pink movement). Ley talks about how she can see the potential for the people who strongly support the “cheery pink teddy bears and t-shirts” to also support environmental factors that cause breast cancer and ways to prevent the disease altogether (Ley 2009). Overall, Ley hopes to combine the positives from both mainstream and eco-feminist cultures, creating a movement that attacks breast cancer from all angles.
“Breast Cancer Gets the Hard Sell.” The Lancet 350.9075 (1997): 377. The Lancet, 9 Aug. 1977. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.
Ley, B. L. (2009). Disease Prevention and the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement. In From Pink to Green (1st ed., pp. 106-136). Rutgers University Press.