I want to preface this post by saying that I firmly support all efforts to find a cure for cancer, and that I do believe that breast cancer is a serious issue. But I have a problem with the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. Every October, businesses and organizations around the country start pushing “pink”—pink ribbons, pink socks, pink tools, pink office supply products; you name it, it comes in pink. You can find the pink ribbon emblem on everything from buckets of fried chicken to M&Ms to handguns. (Yes, handguns!) My son’s football team, in a show of solidarity with the NFL and its “A Crucial Catch” campaign, handed out pink shoelaces for their cleats. I respectfully declined to use them. Meanwhile, the team they played the other day wore neon pink socks. It’s getting old and I’m getting annoyed.
I have pink fatigue. And I’m betting that many of you do, as well.
I daresay the pink ribbon campaign has outgrown its original purpose and has now become nothing more than yet another marketing tool in the arsenals of big corporations. The claims that by buying their products emblazoned with the pink ribbon will translate into money given directly to research “For the Cure” is specious at best. For most, it means pennies on the dollar, and with a cap on the amount that a company is willing to donate. For example, Reebok in 2010 set a cap of $750K, regardless of how many of their pink-themed products they sold. That means a company may have already met its target, and your purchase is just money in their pockets. Breast Cancer Action, the “watchdog” of the breast cancer awareness movement, sponsors the “Think Before You Pink” campaign and has a useful toolkit you can download that will help you determine if your pink ribbon purchase is really helping the cause. Or better yet—donate directly to the American Cancer Society if you really want to support cancer research.
Another problem I have with the pinkwashing of the cause is that I think we are being mislead into thinking that the money we give when we buy these products is going directly to finding a cure. Even the “Race(s) for the Cure” that we participate in under the auspices of the Susan G. Komen Foundation aren’t using the majority of the money earned for research for the cure, as their tagline implies. In 2010, $75m was given towards research for a cure. Sounds like plenty of money, right? But consider that they took in nearly $400m in profit, and spent nearly $50m in administrative costs and $140m in awareness campaigns. Honestly, who is NOT aware of breast cancer and the need to be screened? Awareness is not the problem; access to medical screening and treatments is a much bigger issue. But Komen only spent $50m towards directly funding those services. All that aside, isn’t it misleading to brand their events and their campaign “For the Cure”, when less than one-quarter of their income actually goes to research? (There are many places you can find the statistics I am quoting, but I used Slate.com’s simple breakdown of Komen’s tax filings and annual report. Also see this post on Butter is Better, which does a great job of laying out the roadmap as to where the profits go.)
As I said at the beginning, I do support efforts to raise funds for cancer research. I also support initiatives
that will get more people screened and treated. (Not just women, because men also can contract breast cancer. Yet another reason I’m not a fan of the pink ribbon—it alienates a section of society that actually does need more awareness.) But I will not buy into the pinkwash.
Instead, I will focus on another cause that is very personal for me—Pregnancy and Infant Loss. Today isn’t the day I am going to share my story, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time already! But I wanted to explain why this is the only article you will see on our blog this month regarding Breast Cancer Awareness. We will, however, try to highlight some of the other cause campaigns claiming October as their month, including:
World Arthritis Day (October 12)
Awareness campaigns are supposed to bring attention to a cause that may otherwise be forgotten or discounted. Breast Cancer Awareness has done its job successfully. It’s time for leaders of the movement to turn their focus from awareness education to treatment and research. In the meantime, let’s give other worthy causes their turn, so that maybe someday we won’t have a need for awareness campaigns at all. And please—enough with the pink already!
For more discussion, check out Nancy Stordahl’s post, 10 Things Wrong With the Pink Ribbon. Her perspective as a breast cancer survivor is enlightening and raises great points.
I didn’t know so much money was mis-funneled, but I should not be surprised. Once orgs. become so big, the funds spread out. I don’t have a probl. with pink, but I agree that we are all plenty aware of breast cancer. I'[d like more funds to go to women’s heart disease. That’s the biggest killer of women. Thanks for the info.
I agree! I love how much support people show for breast cancer patients during the month of October, but I think that we need to finds cures for ALL types of cancer, not just breast cancer.
I came across a really great campaign by the Gateway for Cancer Research, a cancer research organization that donates 99 cents of every dollar DIRECTLY to research for cures. Check out their “Cancer Is Not JUST Pink” movement: http://www.indiegogo.com/notpink?show_todos=true&a=1557589
Great article Catharine!
@Mare So true! And I was dismayed, though not surprised, to find out the money really isn’t going to the people who need it most. 😦 Heart disease runs rampant in my family, I’m very cognizant about the risk factors and I’m trying to get them under control for me.
@Michelle, thank you for the tip about the GCR. Cancer certainly isn’t just pink!
The whole United Way scandal (where the director was using donated money to pay for his love shack so he could hook up with his underaged mistress) taught me that the way to ensure that your money goes to the right people is to give it to them directly. And you’re right: the amount of money donated as “a contribution from each sale” is small when compared to the amount of business that slapping a pink ribbon on a product generates.
I worry that so much money and attention is given to breast cancer research that research for other forms of the disease that kill as many women (and men) is not being adequately funded. For that matter, heart disease is the number one killer of women.
I agree completely! And look at some of the products that are branding themselves pink–KFC? Firearms? Komen’s own branded perfume is even questionable. (http://bcaction.org/2011/09/27/breast-cancer-action%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Craise-a-stink%E2%80%9D-campaign-urges-a-halt-to-pinkwashing) It makes you stop and think if women’s health is really at the forefront of this marketing push, or if it’s just profit from association. (I’m leaning towards the latter.)
I think the pink ribbon push was a good idea at the outset and that it has been successful in raising awareness, breaking the old “C-word” taboo. However, I’d really like to see more in the movement now take this momentum and put it to better use in finding a cure.
Great post, as usual. And thank you for bringing up how men are put aside in this even though they can get Breast Cancer. It was a mammogram tech who brought that to my attention way back at my first boob squish. She said I really was fortunate having something to squish. She’d spent quite a bit of time the day before giving a poor man a mammogram and it was very challenging. Not to mention he would have been there because the doctor thought there was something there. So devastating, no matter what the gender.
A thought provoking movie is Pink Ribbons, Inc. which I saw last year. When I see corporations jumping onto the pink bandwagon I get pretty darn steamed up.
Oh, and you left out today is World Mental Health Day.
I saw that movie mentioned in another article. I wonder if it’s on Netflix? I will have to check it out!
And thank you for the note about World Mental Health Day! Shoot, I’m sorry I missed that one. Goodness knows that’s touched me personally, as well.
Please consider ALL members of society…
I think you missed the point of this post, Chris. I just read through your article and it sounds as if you think by supporting women’s rights, there is some diminishment of men’s rights. Not true and, really counterproductive. I support men’s centres in Universities though some may argue the locker rooms and engineering faculties have been bastions of male dominance for most of the history of university existence.
I would have made this comment about your article on that site but can’t find any place for you to listen to feedback.
Sorry for the hijack, Lynn.
No worries, hijacking encouraged. 😉
It’s not really related to the topic, except I will say that I agree that there are other causes that could benefit from more awareness and fundraising. Which is why I think the BCA movement should shift its focus and put its money more towards actually finding the cure, as well as improving access to preventive care and treatment.
Thanks for commenting and sharing your own article!
I didn’t realize that this was such a problem! This is the exact reason that I stay away from all things United Way, and it makes me sad that is seems to be a problem in so many other causes. I guess the only answer is to write cheques directly to the people that need the money…
I would much rather give directly to an organization that services a particular cause than an umbrella organization, that’s for sure! Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) is a good resource to find a reputable and responsible organization to give to. I was also thinking that, considering how access is difficult for some people, perhaps giving to a local organization that provides direct services to people would also be a worthwhile way to support the cause.
Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!