Friday, October 16, 2009

Done with Pink

...a post in which I join the Pink Boycott, and rant about the breast cancer industrial complex. Brace yourselves.

It's no secret that I've never been a fan of all the pink bullshit that surrounds breast cancer in our culture. For one thing, I personally don't really like the color pink, and resent the fact that, as a woman, I'm virtually required to love it, embrace it, wear it, identify with it. I will choose my own color, thanks. Further, I agree with Barbara Ehrenreich that much of the imagery and the products surrounding breast cancer awareness is nothing short of infantilizing. And this is thoroughly infuriating. But of course, it's just the tip of the iceberg, although for me it's come to symbolize my antipathy to the breast cancer industrial complex.

Until recently, my anti-pink stance has been all about the approach of the Susan G Komen Foundations of the world and their ties with big pharma. And this is still the core of my anti-pinkness. Let me be clear about this. The Susan G Komen Foundations of the world, and their corporate beneficiaries, do not want to put an end to breast cancer. That's the very last thing they want. Note that it's not The Race for Prevention or The Race to End Breast Cancer. No. It's The Race for the Cure. Because cures are expensive and ongoing. Cures bring in billions for pharmaceutical companies and their investors - which prominently include Nancy Brinker and her peers. If we discovered the causes of breast cancer, most of which are clearly environmental, and learned how to prevent it, big pharma and its investors would lose out big time. In other words, they don't want women to stop getting breast cancer - they have no interest in reducing the number of cases - they just want to develop better drugs to treat breast cancer. See the difference? And further evidence for the true stance of groups like the Komen Foundation can be found in their resistance to a robust Patient's Bill of Rights, as well as in their resistance to anything like transparency when it comes to their funding and their corporate partnerships.

In addition, the practices that pharmaceutical companies who are active in the breast cancer industrial complex are deeply problematic on their own and, as such, don't deserve a single penny of our money. For instance, companies like Eli Lilly produce and profit from products that are known carcinogens. If they were truly invested in the health and well-being of women, they would no longer be able to manufacture and market a product that causes cancer with one hand, while raking in charitable donations for research on a cure for that cancer with the other hand. And their investors (like, say many prominent breast cancer awareness advocates) would lose one of their most profitable investments. So you see, everyone's interests are at stake here. Everyone except the actual people who have the actual cancer growing in their bodies. They are lost in the shuffle, often treated like mindless automatons who are only of interest because they are hosts to the cancer, and frequently misled about the efficacy and side effects of various treatment options.

Beyond the obvious examples of companies like Eli Lilly, a whole host of companies that embrace the pink ribbon campaign engage in deeply problematic practices. Take a look at all the pinkified products on grocery store shelves right now. Most of these companies knowingly use products that were grown using conventional agricultural practices, which often result in the runoff of chemicals into local waterways and groundwater. And many of these chemicals are known to increase the risks of cancer (including breast cancer) in those who are exposed to them. But nobody is willing to acknowledge this and take a stand against it. And it's not just the agricultural products involved. I would be willing to bet that many of the tools, cleaning products, electronics, office products, etc that are marketed with the pink ribbon are manufactured using methods that lead to industrial runoff that also contributes to the general cancer-causing toxins in our environment. And that's the crux of the issue. None of these companies is willing to put their money where their mouth is. Do you care about breast cancer? Really? Then alter your practices accordingly. If you're not willing to do that, then please don't yammer on about how much you care. It's dishonest and disrespectful of those who actually have cancer.

On top of that, here you have all these companies profiting from both the pollution of the spaces in which we live and the increase in sales and public image that they derive from pinkifying their products, while it's unclear whether they really make any contribution at all. I don't doubt that it's often the case that purchasing these pinkified products really does result in an actual contribution being made to breast cancer pharmaceutical research and awareness. But not always. Many companies use the pink ribbon and the breast cancer marketing theme without actually making any contribution. And nobody is regulating this or tracking who gives what to whom. So you can add extremely dishonest and exploitive marketing practices to my list of beefs with the breast cancer industrial complex.

So basically it comes down to this: the breast cancer industrial complex combines all of the things that infuriate me about unregulated or not-properly regulated capitalism. What began as a worthy cause, an important cause, has been thoroughly co-opted and twisted around into little more than an exploitive marketing and investment scheme. And this hijacking of a worthy cause has been done in the name of all women and feminism, which is the ultimate insult. To take the passionate efforts of early activists who honestly worked to improve the status of breast cancer patients and make important info available and bring public awareness and concern to the disease, and twist that into a complex and powerful money-making machine is as dirty and greedy and self-serving as it gets. So I, for one, am joining the boycott. I already don't go out of my way to buy pinkified products, but at this point I'm so angered by the greed and dishonesty involved, that I resolve not to buy any pinkified products. At all. And I invite you to do the same.

25 comments:

  1. I'll join the boycott. Fuck the breast cancer industrial complex.

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  2. I'm predicting right now that you're gonna get some hatemail from this. I hope you'll share it with us! =)

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  3. It most certainly is BS. It's like Pink Floyd already told us...Nobody Lives Forever...This pink ribbon thing is the perfect scam on women. They should be ashamed, but trust me, they aren't.

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  4. The breast cancer industrial-complex is yet another instance of the capitalist idea that you can solve any problem by just shopping more.

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  5. Anonymous10/18/2009

    Some of us participate in the race for the cure because we've lost loved ones to breast cancer and its cruel of you to discount our efforts.

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  6. Gynormica10/19/2009

    Anonymous,

    I think if you read the post you'll find that this has nothing to do with discounting your efforts. The claim is that your efforts are being exploited by the big foundations that are basically fronts for the pharmaceuticals, so that your very valuable efforts come to little more than a contribution to the profits of these companies and the investment value of the organizers and "advocates."

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  7. @ Anonymous
    I don't think those who participate in these events are to blame for this at all. And I think your efforts are valuable. I just think that the Komen foundation and their ilk are exploiting people. They're exploiting people's labor and their emotions concerning loved ones who have struggled with breast cancer and the early feminist efforts to raise awareness and improve medical treatment of the disease. I don't think you're the problem at all, and I'm sorry if you got that impression.

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  8. aReasonableMan10/20/2009

    Nothing is ever enough for you people. You could thank advocates like Brinker for making breast cancer a national topic and getting politicians and scientists to take it seriously. Instead you tear them down in a fit of female jealousy. It's laughabely predictable.

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  9. HeatherT10/20/2009

    UnreasonableMan,

    You're the one who's "laughabely predictable." If you actually read the post, you'll see that this has nothing to do with objecting to national awareness and real, worthwhile scientific attention to the problem of breast cancer. There's a huge difference between honestly advocating for research and awareness, and hijacking a pre-existing movement for your own profit. Any feminist would back the former, but hopefully we will all reject the latter.

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  10. Thanks for laying this out so clearly. I've been having a vague, nebulous sort of feeling about what you call the breast cancer industrial complex for quite awhile, but couldn't put my finger on the problem(s) and/or articulate it as well as you did. I'll definitely be linking others to this post.

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  11. So my question is...and I don't have an answer to this btw...if we are going to boycott the breast cancer pink establishment, should we also apply the same logic to campaigns such as the (RED) campaign, which also heavily uses icons and is very consumerism-based?

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  12. Don't forget the merchandising. I work at wallymart and was in pink shock for a week. They gave us 'permission' to wear pink for day if we gave a 'donation'. [WTF you demanded I buy the wallymart uniform to work here and now you want me to give you a buck so I can have the privilege to buy a pink top?!?! No Thank you] They pinked the POS, the racks of woman's clothing PINKED, ear rings, bracelets, future $donor babies outfits Pink PINK!@! Ok I vented about the Merchandising. You are absolutely correct, Cures are a very profitable race just like our 'struggle' for human rights are for LGBT people to the HRC's industrial billion dollar party machine. If baby is free and protected and safe, no more million dollar parties. They give us bits and pieces while trying to moderate gains the panic when the masses tired of the profiteering go it without them. You get it, thanks for posting this.
    Like you blog. Don't stop questioning.

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  13. Anonymous2/26/2010

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  14. Anonymous6/03/2010

    I just stumbled upom this...but i must comment and say that as a breast cancer survivor and furthermore a woman, this must be the most offesive thing i have ever read! Why isnt it called "race to end breast cancer" but called "race for the cure?" BECAUSE WE WANT A CURE!!!! All your who-ha about "industrial complex blah blah blah" HORSE SHIT! Do your reasearch on Susan G. Komen..find out who created it and why it was created. You should really do a lot more research about such foundtations and diseases before putting them on blast. I hope you never have to go through what we women as survivors have gone through and still have to go through!

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  15. FINALLY, someone who actually agrees with me about the pink ribbon crap. I hadn't even known about this aspect of it; I've just always been really annoyed by the whole 'girl's clubbiness' aspect of the pink ribbon thing. Why BREAST cancer? Why not CANCER, period? All cancer is death. There's something inane about the idea that "awareness" of breast cancer has any affect on ending it.

    You wanna end cancer...you have to end the things that cause it. Pollution and anomie and entropy are what cause cancer. Being in pain and trying to hide it from the world causes cancer. Breathing air that smells and feels "just wrong" causes cancer. Whether the cancer that gets caused is breast cancer or pancreatic cancer or liver cancer or Gods forbid BRAIN cancer...that's just a freakin' dice roll.

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  16. Bailey7/01/2010

    Anonymous,

    What do you think gave you that cancer to begin with? This post clearly stated that the author wants a cure, but more than just a cure. If we can't change our practices to prevent the kinds of epidemics we're inflicting on ourselves right now, then there will never be enough cures ever. And why don't you research the founders of groups like the Komen Foundation? Click on the links in this post and educate yourself. The founders of the Komen foundation are deeply invested (in their personal portfolios) in the pharmaceutical companies that work on breast cancer, and these same companies also actively work to block research on prevention. Get that? They don't want to prevent you from getting sick to begin with. They just want your insurance money once you do get sick. Do you honestly not see the problem here? For real?

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  17. Holy crap, really?!?! Glad I clicked the icon!

    I will be looking into this...

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  18. I thought I was the only one who had a problem with all the pink crap. So glad to see that I am not alone!

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  19. Anonymous7/08/2010

    I do not consider myself a feminist, abd I wholeheartedly agree with you. Yes, curing breast cancer is great. Preventing it is even better. Both are the best! No one is trying to prevent it, however. I would wager all women with breast cancer would rather not have it in the first place than to have to wait for a cure. Seems like big pharma has plenty of money to find a cure. Who profits from a cure? Big pharma. Who profits from prevention? No one. Monetary profit, of course. If they really cared, money wouldn't be the motivator.

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  20. This was interesting to me. I have a problem with hypocritical companies as well. The problem with capitalism is that they really can't be avoided. If you object to carcinogens, for instance, you shouldn't support the tobacco company... but the folks who own the tobacco company own Kraft. So, crap, I have to go without my macaroni and cheese?

    That's clearly a silly example, but the point is that they're all SO intertwined it's difficult to feel like we as consumers can really affect anything by boycotting one brand, or even many single brands. Which, in my mind, brings up monopoly laws and why they were put in place to begin with -- which is clearly being circumvented wherever possible.

    We have a capitalist society run amok. And who knows what to do about it, when politics that SHOULD be able to manage it is fueled by money as well.

    I feel more and more sure every day that the answer is something about eschewing national politics and economics, shopping locally and naturally, and beginning to live a much simpler life -- letting the country shoot itself in the foot around us.

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  21. Susan G Komen seems more interested in pushing feminist agenda that has nothing to do with saving lives or preventing cancer. Besides, there are other forms of cancer out there that women can die from.

    Susan G Komen supports Planned Parenthood, an organization that pushes birth control pills on young women. I have nothing against birth control, per se, but oral contraceptive pills have been linked to higher breast cancer rates. So, it makes no sense that a cancer organization would support something that actually contributes to cancer. They support birth control because they subscribe to the feminist belief that the worst thing a woman can do is become a mother. Well, having children before the age of 30 and breastfeeding has been associated with lower breast cancer rates. Will Susan G Komen tell women that? No way!

    I will never buy anything with the pink ribbon on it. I bypass these products and purchase something else.

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  22. I totally agree with you about the pink ribbon nonsense. Real, comprehensive research on prevention would be awesome. Outside of that, we're pretty much fucked.

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  23. My issue with the pinking is more the idea that we are saving Breasts. Not women. Women are merely attached to the breasts. We must cure breast cancer because women with no boobs are no good to objectify!

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  24. CHEESES CRUST!Thank you very much for saying this so eloquently! I wrote an essay with regard to this subject in 2007. Needless to say, I was verbally assaulted.

    Gosh! Has everyone fallen asleep at the wheel! What is going on? Are most people really that limited thinking when discussing this issue of money grubbing an exploitation?? How can a pink M&M raise breast cancer awareness? What is all this shit about saving TaTas? I thought it was lives the Bandwagoners were interested in saving. I thought SGK and other Bandwagoners were raising awareness and or doing some type of physical activity for "The Cure"...maybe they meant the band,headed by Robert Smith? SGK recently sued some teeny non profit doing their gig for the disease du jour for using the statement "for the cure." That is really fucked up! Here I sit at 37 years old with bilateral mastectomies,ten less lymph nodes under my right arm,no internal reproductive organs, and massive scar tissue on my chest wall from 2 failed attemps at reconstruction. Where was my cure? Do you think the CEO of SGK could have forked over 100k from her over 400k salary to have the a pharmaceutical company make me a little coctail. You know, kinda like what some pharma guy did for Magic Johnson who is now HIV negative. Where was my mothers Cure? She died at 41 leaving four children and a husband who could not cope and drank himself to death. Hey! how about my grandmother who died one month before I was born? How about my aunt who passed away from lymphoblastoma when she was 4? If there is any Cure in my life coming to me, I feel that it will more likely be Robert Smith serenading me as I fade away peacefully with my finger pressing down on my PCA controler.

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  25. paradiseballroom10/01/2011

    I just joined the boycott. :-)

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