I think there are many strengths and weakness associated with the mainstream breast cancer culture. All of the awareness for breast cancer including foundations, organizations, awareness walks and even the merchandise promoting breast culture awareness send the victims and survivors of breast cancer a message – that they are not alone and they are supported. It makes them feel like they are part of a group, or a sisterhood, and all the people who have been effected by this horrendous disease all come together to bring awareness to the disease, and that is amazing. It makes women feel empowered, and like their health matters to society with all of the people coming together for a cause. However, there are some weaknesses within the mainstream breast cancer culture. None of the advocacy work, or merchandise being bought is fixing the problem. Walking a few miles in itself doesn’t find a cure. Representing breast cancer doesn’t find a cure. In fact, according to Ley (2009), it’s inspiring women to become consumers of this merchandise that has the pink ribbon logo, and to become participants in these walk-a-thons or races that fund the research towards breast cancer, but it doesn’t empower them to become activists that will challenge and reform the social, political and economic system that supports the popular breast cancer paradigm. Companies think by making something pink and applying the breast cancer ribbon on their items, that more people will buy it because we all have a connection to this terrible disease in one way or another, but these companies are making so much money off of this issue, because people are likely to pick a product colored in pink or with that pink ribbon over a product that isn’t advocating breast cancer awareness, because it’s going towards a good cause (NFB 2017). While it’s understandable that people would want to raise money for breast cancer, how much of that money is actually going to research? A significant amount of that money raised is going towards things like advertising costs, instead of the causes the charity is supposed to be supporting (Ley 2009). Ley also mentions this, and says that women should be cultivating their anger towards a society that values financial profit over women’s health (Ley 2009). Breast cancer is represented on products and advocacy work like marathons, more than any other disease (NFB 2017). Women are also taught make-up techniques to make them look prettier after their chemotherapy treatments, rather than encouraging these women to ask what caused their cancer (Ley 2009). While I think things like make-up techniques and wigs are important for making a woman feel normal, or so she doesn’t have to look in the mirror and see a disease staring back at her, it isn’t really helping the question as to why this cancer happened, or it isn’t changing the ways in which cancer occurs. I believe to find a cure, we first have to find out why. The focus should be a cure (NFB 2017).
Mainstream breast cancer culture is seriously over feminized, as we can see from the ribbon being pink. It draws to women, and the color pink alone says ‘feminine’, especially in our society. While I think this is definitely more of a women’s health problem, men too can get breast cancer. But yet, you hear campaigns mentioning your mother, your sister, your grandma, your aunt, etc., but they don’t mention your father or your brother or you grandpa, which is another way that I believe it is overly feminized.
We see that we don’t really have an understanding of how to treat breast cancer, or that we don’t really know how to stop it from occurring. Around 59,000 North American women die from breast cancer each year (NFB 2017), and yet we don’t know what’s causing it. The prevalence rate went from being 1 in 22 women in the 1940’s, to 1 in 8 women in 2011. Based off of this alone, we know that breast cancer is a growing problem that is not yet under control. We know that the biggest risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman (NFB 2017), but that cannot be the only risk factor. In terms of treatment, nothing has really changed. According to Dr. Susan Love, MD, who was a surgeon for twenty years, all twenty years we choose surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for treating breast cancer (NFB 2017), not much has changed, although we are performing these techniques more often than we were twenty years ago. While all of this fundraising and advocacy is great, I’m not sure if it’s really working to find new treatment or a possible cure for breast cancer. Twenty years later and we’re still doing the same things and we still don’t know much more than we did then? With all of the research funds, you would think we would know more than we do and we would have been able to find a cure by now. Mainstream breast cancer culture also includes mammograms to detect the cancer before it’s too serious to treat or before it’s spread, and while I think that alone saves thousands of lives, it still doesn’t count as prevention. I think it’s because that our attention is towards support systems and advocacy, that we aren’t looking at prevention or the political, environmental or social origins of the cancer.
NFB (2017). Pink Ribbons Inc. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5vqdad
Ley, B. L. (2009). From pink to green: Disease prevention and the environmental breast cancer movement. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.