Mainstream breast cancer culture is something we all have been exposed to. It involves the pink ribbons that seem to be stitched into every piece of fabric and on every cereal box in the store, the walks or runs to raise money for a “cure”, and the false advertised positivity related to the cancer. I say false advertised positivity behind the whole thing because there are parts involved that aren’t so focused on the actual illness. Behind every attempt to raise money for the cancer, there is a plethora of merchandise being sold that is not only promoting traditional/outdated feminine values, but also earning huge profits for their own companies–not solely for breast cancer research. Not to mention, the portion of money that does go toward research for the cancer, most of it is researching ways to better treat the cancer instead of focusing on finding ways to prevent it from happening in the first place, like looking for its environmental/social origins (Ley, 1997). As stated in “Breast Cancer gets the hard sell”, there has been generous funding in the U.S. dedicated to research into breast cancer (National Institutes of Health have budgeted $401 million and the Department of Defense $112.5 million for 1997), but not much progress has been made in finding any sort of cure, considering the incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. has remained static for 10 years and survival rates have only improved from 74.3% to 80.4% (The Lancet Editorial Staff, 1997). In “From Pink To Green”, cancer patient Barbara Ehrenreich points out that mainstream breast cancer culture tags breast cancer as a blessing in disguise the Breast Friends website said that the disease offers spiritual upward mobility and that you can come out on the survivor side prettier, sexier, and more feminine. This is adding unnecessary feminization to the cancer and essentially telling patients that they can put on makeup and a wig to hide the effects of chemo in order to feel sexier–while they should be prompting them to ask what caused this debilitating and angering disease that they have (Ley, 1997).
On the other hand, eco-feminist views on breast cancer involve being strong while enduring the horrible course of the illness and allowing yourself to get angry at it and hate it with all your might. It doesn’t sugar coat the illness and instead of focusing on feminizing it and letting it become one of the biggest marketing benefits to big companies, it promotes demanding more knowledge on the cause of the disease related to environment and finding a cure. It is similar to mainstream cancer culture in some ways however, as it isn’t solely looking for a cure and recognizes that treatment is important as well. It gives a symbol of strength to women with the disease, similar to the pink ribbon, only with more meaning behind it–a coil that symbolized a rejuvenating and strengthening full moon worn by ancient Maltese women soldiers (Ley, 1997).
Though mainstream breast cancer culture is overly feminized, overly optimistic, and distracts its affected women from the political, environmental, and social origins of the disease, it does have strengths. For example, we all know how to do a breast exam right? We know it is so important to attack the cancer early and get frequent check ups. Because of mainstream cancer culture, I think I just helped my mom catch her breast cancer in an early stage (at least I pray we were early enough) and I have to thank the mainstream culture for starting that trend, even though it is time for a eco-feminist movement to take over.
Ley, Barbara. From Pink to Green: The Cultural Politics of Sisterhood. 1997, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2016/06/7.1-Ley.pdf.