When someone talks about breast cancer, it is impossible to think of anything but the pink ribbon and smiling faces of women across America. The culture of breast cancer has been shaped a roaring sea of optimism, stories of survivors, and enormous campaigns. Through the efforts of thousands of women over the years, the awareness for breast cancer has increased significantly. More women are getting mammograms and finding ways to prevent the onset of disease (NFB 2017). One of the greatest strengths of the movement is the empowerment of women and how each woman is uplifted and invited into a supportive community. Many times, when someone is diagnosed with cancer there are a lot of questions and emotions that come up. Knowing that there are community groups around helps through the process and treatment.
However, there are many things that the mainstream breast cancer movement doesn’t encapsulate. The main message of the movement is hope, finding a cure, and being a survivor. The reality is that there are many women who are diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, where their prognosis has a bleak survival rate (NFB 2017). The message of the mainstream movement doesn’t encourage them but makes them feel outcasted and hopeless. Another weakness is that the movement puts a pretty, pink face on the disease and makes the breast cancer experience monolithic. Each diagnosis is different, and women need to prepare differently, sometimes for the worst. A big issue with the movement is that much of the fundraised money doesn’t benefit breast cancer research, and there is a flood of companies who advertise the pink ribbon but barely support the cause (Ley 2009). This has become such a phenomenon that the term “pink washing” describes how everyday items that may be linked to causing the disease are turned into advertisements.
Barbara Ley’s perspective of eco-feminism bridges ecological issues and feminist concerns, where the focus is on how the environment impacts women’s health. Some similarities between the mainstream movement and eco-feminism is bringing women’s health into the spotlight and providing awareness. A difference is that many of the mainstream methods to raise awareness is with teddy bears, pink clothing, and hair accessories. All these things pointing away from what a feminist would suggest advertising with, also items that are detrimental to the environment for their one-time use nature. One of the differences between the mainstream movement and Ley’s perspective are the preventative measures for breast cancer. Eco-feminism provides specific lifestyle changes that can help prevent cancer such as avoiding pesticides and herbicides in food, not microwaving plastic containers, and avoiding optional treatments like hormone replacement therapy (Ley 2009). The mainstream movement provides more feel-good moments of support rather than practical steps to living with or preventing breast cancer. When supporting a charity, it is on the donors to do their research and make sure the proceeds go to a legitimate cause. As much as we want to trust the big companies, there are many times where the public is taken advantage of. Though well intended, the mainstream movement leaves out the stories of many women and may be hurtful to the environment as well as the people living in it.
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.