In middle school I joined my mother and some of her coworkers who made a group to walk in Susan G. Komen’s, Race for the Cure. The year following, I decided to participate in the event again with one of my close friends. Both times, I remember feeling like I had raised money for a good cause and contributed to my community. But I also couldn’t help but question some of the things I noticed at this event. Women were smiling and laughing and cheering at an event for cancer. There were large corporations with pop-up tents handing out free samples and selling their products. Not to mention the pressure that participants are under to donate large sums of money.
When you think of breast cancer, most likely the first thing that comes to mind is the color pink. Pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink vacuums, pink stuffed animals. It’s no wonder one of the major criticisms of mainstream breast cancer culture is how feminized it is. In her article, “The Cultural Politics of Sisterhood”, Barbara Ley writes this, “Some believe that the pink color- a pastel pink at that- reeks of the feminization and infantilization that belittle women and lead to political complacency,” (2009). It is argued that the comforting and bright color seeks to down play the tragedy and hardship that is breast cancer, and instead forces women to be cheery and have “hope” for a cure. This idea was also argued in the video “Pink Ribbons, Inc.”, where footage of women participating in Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure are smiling, proud, cheerful, and brave, all while wearing an absurd amount of pink. It could be argued that this color, is more of a mask, hiding the real truth; that too many women are dying from this disease and that little progress has been made.
Another major criticism that is argued in Barbara Ley’s article is the capitalization and corporate involvement that surrounds the epidemic. Many large corporations sponsor the cause by making their products pink, or donating part of their profits to private organizations or research. The argument is this; by sponsoring awareness for breast cancer, are these corporations simply seeking to gain more profits by portraying a philanthropic image? In fact, a campaign called Think Before You Pink, encourages people to think about where their donated money goes to, and how their money is contributing to or hindering the epidemic. Is their money going to research that is searching for a cure, but not a cause? Or is it going to creative new research that is exploring possible causes such as the environment?
There are many criticisms and weaknesses in regards to the mainstream breast cancer culture. In fact, there may even be more bad things to say than good. However, there can be something said for the conversations that it inspires. Critics are challenging gender norms, and questioning corporate motives. It could also be noted that mainstream breast cancer culture brings awareness to the issue and provides a supportive environment for women. It creates a community where women can discuss their struggles and find peace among others who have experienced the same fear.
Ley, B. L. (2009). From pink to green: Disease prevention and the environmental breast cancer movement. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Pool, L. (Director). (n.d.). Pink Ribbons, Inc.[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5vqdad