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.