Pink Ribbon star doll - a figure designed to encourage girls to support the fight against breast cancer.
October 6th, 1997 American citizen Paul Davidson registered pinkribbon.com and launched a website directed to and available for all people in the world engaged with breast cancer, The website was dedicated to raising awareness and funding for breast cancer.
In 2008, the initiative was extended and expanded creating the non profit network Pink Ribbon Inc. in New York. The objectives were defined and the idea launched of an international charity platform for breast cancer awareness and funding (awareness, advocacy, alliances, alignment and accreditation).
Throughout the years this initiative has grown into the international platform as we know it today, covering more than 30 countries over 5 continents.
I have been preparing for a post about the politics of the Pink Ribbon breast awareness campaigns, including the Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October). Then I came across this link to a film review in The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2960417-6/fulltext
I am really looking forward to this documentary, which critically examines the forces and motives behind the commercialisation and pinkyfication of breast cancer activism.
I recently did a presentation on breasts, and wanted to encourage my audience to donate money to breast cancer research. Because of my increased scepticism of Pink Ribbon, I searched for a non-pink breast cancer charity, only to discover that if you want to donate money to the breast cancer cause in Norway - you have to go through Pink Ribbon (Rosa Sløyfe). Is it just me who is paranoid, or has Pink Ribbon become the imperialist master of breast cancer campaigning?
Pinkyfication is in itself an interesting issue - for what do people tend to associate with pink? Girls, sillyness, princesses - in short: extreme femininity. Pink is a child´s version of the feminine (see illustration above). I don´t find pink a very powerful symbol at all - it is sweet and feminine, but it does not get me feeling angry or defiant. I wonder what is going on behind the intense colour-washing of breast cancer.
October is the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with each year being pinker than the last. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all about increasing the awareness of the importance of early breast cancer detection.
Historically, the ribbon tradition is tied to the yellow ribbons that symbolised a family´s longing for their soldier-sons to come home from war. Then AIDS arrived, and the need for a symbol of solidarity and de-stigmatisation was needed - hence the Red Ribbon was born. The Red Ribbon of AIDS with its connotations of gay activism, has now been practically pushed out of the collective consciousness by the heteronormative Pink Ribbon, adding further evidence to the colonizing powers of the pink wave.
According to the pink.org website, the Pink Ribbon didn’t start out pink at all. It started out as a homemade peach ribbon, the creation of Charlotte Hayley, who had herself been diagnosed with breast cancer and campaigned for more research funding: ” She attached them to cards saying, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is 1.8 billion US dollars, and only 5 percent goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Strikingly, Hayley resisted attempts to commercialise her ribbon but eventually joined efforts to raise awareness about the disease:
The cosmetics industry got on board in 1991 to promote breast cancer awareness with the help of Evelyn Lauder of Estée Lauder Cosmetics and Alexander Penney, the editor-in-chief of SELF magazine. When Evelyn Lauder and Alexander Penney were working on their breast cancer awareness promotion, they liked Charlotte Hayley’s concept of giving ribbons to promote the support of breast cancer awareness.
It seems to me a fair claim to state that capitalism has begun a process of hijacking breast cancer. Why? Because cancer mamma is seen as a kind of grotesquely “glamorous” female disease. It is a far more alluring cancer than cancer of the ovaries or uterus, or even prostate cancer, for that matter. The market segment is potentially vast, as breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women - and many women fear the disease.
The sexual and symbolic allure of breasts in western culture acts as an aggressive contagion, even in the complicated field where these organs become a severe threat to a woman´s health. Culturally, the glamour persists, even where breasts radically change their symbolic character and begin to embody the tension between life and death, the cure for which can only be shiny Swarovski-bejewelled Pink Ribbon products. The entire “business” of this exchange is gendered - the colour of the logo is just the start. The Pink Ribbon products that are supposed to fight breast cancer are mainly clothing, cosmetics and jewellery - deliberately targeted at female consumers, superbly feminine in their branding and packaging - typically toxic for the environment and our bodies, possibly even carcinogenic.
Because many women dread breast cancer and most of us know someone whose life has been affected by the disease, we are emotionally coerced into embracing the Power of the Pink Ribbon as the only means to show solidarity with other women. Instead of donating money directly to cancer charities or research organizations, instead of showing more love for women with breast cancer, we are channeling money to major corporate brands, who then, charitably, give a share of their profits to the Pink Ribbon campaigns. It is a win-win situation, for the Pink Power Brand - a fertile allegiance between cancer research/awareness organizations and the many corporations who want a piece of the action (and come across as “nice” by doing so).
The Pink Ribbon is a brand of global stature. It now stands as a massive conglomerate of commercial and idealistic agents - a vast breast cancer empire.
The questions is: who profits most in the long run?