Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Breast Cancer: The Key to the Cure

Have you checked the calendar?  We're nearly halfway through Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Yes, October means it’s time (once again) to save the boobies.  Considering this is one of the most popular afflictions ever, am I going to tell you how important this issue is and how we must all do our part by patronizing large businesses that donate money to breast cancer research?  No.  Quite the opposite, really.  I’m going to tell you how this campaign is just a bunch of pink-washing that is highly publicized, while almost completely ineffective. 

Ah, pink-washing.  Qu’est-ce que c’est?  Pardon my French, but often times, when products are specifically marketed towards women, companies will clue them in by making the item pink.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed a needful thing because the color indicated it was just for me; a woman.  But if you really want to see this demographic buying with a sense of urgency, you’ll have to take it a step further and, like Barbara Ehrenreich said, “Slap on a pink ribbon.”

The unmistakable logo is everywhere, indicating a portion of the proceeds are going to breast cancer research, treatment and education.  From Yoplait yogurt to Mead office supplies, you would think we would have a cure by now.  That is, until one realizes this selfless contribution is usually an inconsequential fraction of the donor’s profits-- which undoubtedly increased with the additional branding. 

Take for instance, Go Girl energy drinks; the pink can that keeps breast cancer and this suspicious beverage on everyone’s lips.  When you investigate the financial commitment on the Go Girl website, it seems that only 50 cents from every case is making its way back to the cause.  But that doesn’t keep consumers from showing their support with their purchasing power.  Breast cancer is being used as the ultimate pusher and it’s time we questioned who is really benefitting from this over-exposure.

Let’s play a game.  Not that I endorse Wal-Mart, Meijer or Super K-Mart, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you are at one of these over-grown grocery stores for a justifiable reason, like investigative journalism.  Give yourself about 20 minutes to wander the aisles and try to pick out the most ridiculous article “benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”  After my own field research, I would declare an official tie between the Revlon hair dryer and Duck bubble wrap, both unapologetically pink.

There’s also a noticeable trend in the sports department.  From mini footballs to yoga mats, to golf clubs, to pedometers, every sporting good seems to have a pink-lady-version, complete with breast cancer endorsement.  Planning a camping trip?  Be sure to grab your over-sized mesh chair and 6-can cooler (you could fill it with Go Girl) before strapping on your “Hope” iPod armband and back pack for your outdoor adventure. 

With all the talk about ta-tas, it’s also important to remember this is the most hyper-sexualized awareness campaign ever.  Perhaps that’s why it receives the steady attention it does?  A few months ago, Facebook told women we could combat breast cancer by posting the color of our bra as our status.  More recently, we were told to put the preferred location of our purse in the newsfeed— with innuendoes greatly appreciated.  And so an entire day of posting read like this; I like it on the floor.  I like it on the kitchen counter.  I like it in the backseat of my car.

At some point, the cynics have to ask-- "how is this helping?"  My favorite cynic, the aforementioned Barbara Ehrenreich, did just that after her own brush with breast cancer.  Almost a year ago, Ehrenreich wrote a piece on how the nation’s favorite women’s issue has been conflated with feminism.  She argues that rather than stay complacent in a race for the cure, there needs to be a full-scale women’s health movement taking the whole body into consideration, not just the sexy parts.  

You see, more women are dying from heart disease than breast cancer, but that's not very conducive to suggestive slogans or titillating T-shirts.  With women’s overall health in mind, what we should really be promoting this month is awareness about breast cancer awareness.  There’s an entire body at risk because of the carcinogens women willingly expose themselves to everyday.  And there’s an entire list of diseases more likely to kill women than breast cancer.  So let’s make an effort to raise awareness about the other things we should be paying attention to, instead of keeping our eyes fixated firmly at chest-level.

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