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Think Before You Pink: The Specious Side of the Pink Ribbon

By Scotti Morris

The movement to support breast cancer has, over the years, garnered a reputation as a capitalistic pursuit that caters to heterosexual women instead of focusing on eradicating the disease. “Save the Tatas” or “I Heart Boobies” t-shirts and bracelets initially gave off a vibe of a modern campaign to raise funds for breast cancer, but many groups of women now believe that this “pinkwashing” is ignoring the whole picture.

The LGBT community has expressed that the pink ribbon attitude excludes women that are not heterosexual. According to Liz Marolies, head of the LGBT Cancer Network, “Many people do not understand how gendered breast cancer treatment is, from the pinking of everything imaginable to the pressure for breast reconstruction.”Mariolies describes a loss of autonomy as she feels the Save the Boobies campaign serves a heterosexual male audience; people are more concerned with women keeping their breasts than keeping their lives. She also asserts that, “Many lesbians and bisexual women find reconstruction abhorrent and unnecessary. For transgender men with breast cancer, the pinking, the reconstruction talk and the beauty workshops intensify their invisibility.”

Mariolies describes a loss of autonomy as she feels the Save the Boobies campaign serves a heterosexual male audience; people are more concerned with women keeping their breasts than keeping their lives.

This observation is similar to the misogynistic backlash celebrity Angelina Jolie received from media outlets when she underwent a preventative double mastectomy in 2013. Jolie’s mother succumbed to the same illness, yet many media outlets and commenters online mourned the loss of Jolie’s breasts rather than show concern over her health, posting comments like: “Angelina Jolie had to remove her boobs #karma.”

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Another survivor of breast cancer, proclaimed author Barbara Ehrenreich, questioned the real motive of breast cancer awareness due to its popularity in companies. In her memoir Brightsided she recounted how women who received treatment with her would “do it again” because having breast cancer gave them a new outlook on life and brought them closer to their families. Yet, Ehrenreich fears that pinkwashing and the current social attitude of breast cancer has “replaced feminism” and allows companies to profit from the disease as though breast cancer is a brand or fashionable.

On Ehrenreich’s blog, she quips that, “When a corporation wants to signal that it’s “woman friendly,” what does it do?  It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some miniscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research,” yet the exact amount donated to the cause is never explicitly displayed. Consumers feel as though they have contributed and brands receive a public image as a woman-friendly organization when it really is just marketing off of the conscience and guilt of buyers.

Most companies note that a portion of proceeds go to breast cancer research when really the company has made a “pre-set donation” regardless of how many funds the pink-ribboned items generate.

Cancer Research organizations like Susan G. Komen, for the Cure have received criticism over the past decades for misleading accounts of how they use their donations Also, the ethics of Susan G. Komen was questioned when the organization began suing other brands and companies for using “for the cure” on marketing and packaging in 2010.

While breast cancer is an extremely serious illness that claims many lives of women every year, one might want to question the legitimacy of the pinkwashing movement.

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