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:
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.