Pinktober is upon us

We’ve written a lot about the problems with pinkwashing of cancer “awareness” in the past, but this is the hardest month of the year to match actions with ideals on this issue, because (a) the pink products are everywhere, and (b) it is at least a good reminder of a worthy cause to direct our donations towards, if only we can be sure that the money is being used effectively. In Australia, it’s perhaps easiest to just donate directly to the Cancer Council via either their pinkpinkpink website or their standard website rather than diverting cash to commercially pinkified products.

From a previous post of mine with reference to the Komen storm earlier this year:

from Think Before You Pink: Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pink – I’ll just list the questions here with my own brief summary of why it matters, go there for a fuller background on the questions.
1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is the amount clearly stated on the package?
(Is it what you consider a reasonable amount, or is it insultingly small?)
2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
(Has the corporation capped the donation, has that cap already been reached, thus will your purchase actually contribute to the cause?)
3. How are the funds being raised?
(Does the corporation send money on from your purchase directly? Or do you have to mail in proof of purchase? Is the donation more than the cost of the stamps?)
4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
(Research? Screening? Treatment? Established and already well funded? New and innovative? Where exactly?)
5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
(Many companies whose products have been linked to higher cancer rates invest heavily in the pink ribbon promotions. Should their cynicism be rewarded?)

s.e. smith writes on the challenges pinkification exemplarises for social activism generally:

The path of the pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness in general reflects a larger problem experienced by social movements. It seems that every time they develop a tool of solidarity and something to use as they work in a coalition to address a specific social issue, that tool is handily repurposed for profits, and before anyone can move to take it back, it’s too late. Social movements in general can be excruciatingly slow to adapt to changing circumstances, just as the breast cancer awareness movement was.

A movement that started with powerful intentions became commercial, gender essentialist, and repugnant in many of its mainstream incarnations, even as smaller campaigns and voices actively agitated against its framing. Those who oppose the use of sexism and gender essentialism in breast cancer campaigns are cast as opponents of action on breast cancer; in a strange twist, the people demanding that major breast cancer awareness campaigners be accountable first and foremost to patients are told they don’t care about breast cancer patients.

Ou’s whole post is well worth reading – the above quote is only a very short excerpt.


This short quote from the opening of a Feb 2012 article from Mother Jones on the Komen foundation as a very useful definition of pinkwashing:

“pinkwashing,” i.e. corporations donating a miniscule fraction of money earned from peddling stuff adorned with Komen’s pink ribbon to cancer research, or holding a run (after which less than half of the proceeds go to “the cause,” pre-overhead) rather than, say, providing decent health care to workers or keeping toxins out of water supply.

Image credit: Index thumbnail of pink cut-out dolls stuck into a lawn (author unknown) found on this fascinating 2010 post from Heart Sisters blog: What women with heart disease can learn from “pinkwashing” this month



Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health, medicine, social justice

Tags: , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I was so relieved last year when I read on this blog about some of the questions raised re the awareness and raising funds campaign with all and sundry sticking pink caps, pink wrapping and whatnot, because I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing and sort of guilty that I was not feeling ‘good’ when I purchased something that seemingly raised money and awarenes.
    Your article voices my misgivings and suspicions. I’ll stick with donating my money directly.

  2. delurking, (hi!), to say that i’ve also noticed some dilution of pink campaigns into generic cancer fundraisers, while keeping the same touchy feely “doing it for my sisters” marketing. In the UK, race for life is an example. None of the pink advertising on public transport that i’ve seen specifcally says “breast” cancer a nymore. You need to go on their website to see it spelled out that its apinkpinkpink Generic Cancer fundraiser though. Sneaky weasels!

  3. (didn’t mean to traduce weasels there!) Sneaky entirely humans!

  4. Great article at USAToday by Liz Szabo:

    Man, @LizSzabo nails it: why women like me who have breast cancer HATEHATEHATE sexualized “save the boobies” campaigns. http://t.co/hkFDqLEi
    — Xeni (@xeni) October 30, 2012

    Breast cancer survivor Lani Horn, 41, from Nashville, says these groups are missing the point. “All of us are really fed up,” Horn says. “Save the tatas? No, save the women. A lot of us had to give up our tatas to live.”

    Writer Peggy Orenstein, who has been treated for breast cancer twice, says she’s appalled at what is being marketed on behalf of “women like me.”
    The new campaigns do real harm, she says, by reinforcing the image that breasts are a woman’s most valued asset. That only increases the pain suffered by women who undergo mastectomies, Orenstein says.
    “On one hand, women with cancer are told — or have to learn — that we are not our breasts, that our sexuality, our femininity are not located in the mammary gland,” Orenstein says. “That’s a complicated, sometimes painful reckoning. Then these organizations come along and reinforce the notion that boobs are the most important things about us, particularly if they’re hot and apparently most particularly if they’re actually fake.”

  5. Something else again: at a Pink Ribbon breakfast I attended, I heard about Register4, which is a website where you* can register to sign up for breast cancer research.
    The rationale behind it: sans something like this, it can take years to match participants to a study which, probably fairly obviously, results in a serious waste of time, money and other resources. Apparently, with this register, they have been able to find participants within days or even hours.
    As a lover of science and a huge fan of direct personal contributions to good things, this rocks my world.
    * Any gender (although they list four genders: male, female, intersex and transgender, which is a somewhat problematic list, even accepting that, for a register like this, factors affecting the types and amounts of hormones you have floating around in your body, naturally and otherwise, are probably highly relevant), and whether or not you have, have had or are at particular risk of breast cancer.

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