Posts tagged Pink Ribbon
Posts tagged Pink Ribbon
Trailer for the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. The film provides a critical narrative on the growth of an empire of breast cancer awareness through feminisation and merchandise, whilst rates of breast cancer continue to rise.
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?
Photo: Frida Marie Grande / Dagbladet
This is a dense post but I hope it is long for the right reasons. I want to add som critical reflections on recent events that have highlighted issues concerning breast cancer, loss of breasts and the increased focus on reconstruction.
Yesterday, women affected by breast cancer, demonstrated in front of the Parliament in Oslo, Norway (photo above). Their uniting slogan was, somewhat bizarrely, “Boob to the people” (Norw. “Pupp til folket”) - what´s not to like? Lifting up their tops, they revealed their mastectomy scars to the public and the media, with the message “These are our scars. What you see, is not our shame” (Norw. “Dette er våre arr. Det du ser, er ikke vår skam”). This demonstration of female defiance is striking, not only because of the spectacular dimension. Baring breasts in protest is part of women´s history, and particularly a feature of political/feminist activism from Sojourner Truth to the outrageous La Cicciolina, and the tabloid favourites Femen, a Ukrainian feminist group (more on this later, I hope).
There is also precedence for showing, not just breasts, but the scars which mark the removal of the breast(s). In 1979 Sheila Metzger was photographed reaching out to the universe and saying yes to life with her one-breasted body. She chose to get a tattoo of a tree branch to “dress” the scar and turn it into something other than the site of a medical trauma.
Sheila Metzger. “Tree”. Photo by Hella Hamid
Another defining moment in the US: the American model Matusckha famously brought much attention to the breast cancer cause when she fronted the cover of the New York Times Magazine in 1993, wearing a long white dress designed to expose the mastectomy scar where her right breast had once been.
In Norway, this year´s Pink Ribbon theme was more efficient time frames for diagnosis, specialist consultation and reconstruction. That reconstruction has now become a political cause, marks a new direction in breast cancer activism. Astonishingly, the diagnostic and curative aspects of this year´s campaign were almost completely drowned out because of the emergence of a new and loud ad hoc group. It was initiated in 2011 by radio presenter Lise Askvik, who had just previously been diagnosed with breast cancer. Media sassy friends of the presenter decided to back up Askvik, demanding reconstructive surgery within one year of a mastectomy.
A Facebook group was set up by this group of resourceful women. It was members within this group, who organised the striking demonstration yesterday. The name of the group expresses a defiant and assertive attitude - “Vi venter fandenmeg ikke på ny pupp etter kreft” (loosely translated as “We´re not bloody well waiting for a new boob after cancer”). Here´s a link to the group: https://www.facebook.com/ventetidpupp
Their argumentation is that it is denigrating to have to wait for anything from 3-5 (in rare cases even 10) years for reconstructive surgery. And the waiting lists are only getting longer, as more and more women are asking to be “reconstructed” and there are not enough plastic surgeons to tackle this mountain of missing breasts in the national health service. The founders, Astrid Gunnestad and Lise Askvik, assert on the group´s FB info sheet that “they take on the fight to heal the traces from the nation´s amputated boobs”. The main message that is being presented is that reconstruction erases the (physical? emotional?) trauma of cancer, a rather simplified, if not dubious claim. (If we take this as truth - what then about the women who turn down reconstruction?) In order to illustrate what they are fighting for, some of the group members post self-portraits, showing their mastectomy scars but not their faces. The breast-less woman becomes the face-less woman. The demonstration in Oslo, does the opposite: it reinstates a sense of subjectivity by giving faces to the bodies that have been marked by cancer.
Facebook subsequently received complaints about the group, apparently from men who felt offended and were worried that children might see the pictures and be traumatised in turn. Somehow, the breast-less women were now categorised as offensive, inserted into the same Facebook censorship protocol as pornography and other sexual/nude/violent content. In 2009, Facebook tried to censor another mastectomy photo, this time posted by a woman in the UK. She complained and finally gained acceptance for her right to show herself, face and torso, bringing breast cancer awareness to the public: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1189143/Facebook-forced-lift-ban-theyd-imposed-breast-cancer-victims-sexual-abusive-mastectomy-scar-photos.html
This new ad hoc campaign signals a significant shift in priority: from a focus on increased research, improved prevention and more effective curative measures - to a consumer-orientated demand for breast-restoration (essentially a cosmetic issue, not one that saves lives). It also meets up with other cultural trends - valuing form over content, body over psyche, the growing intolerance/lack of acceptance for disability, ageing and disease, and an individualistic regime centered on the disciplining and normalisation of the body (conformity through exercise, diet - you can shape your body and ensure your own health through doing all the “right” things). The sentiment is: We do not like to be confronted with other people´s “deficiencies”, because it forces self-reflection upon us, makes us doubt physicality and health as eternal or unchangeable states, makes us face up to our own fragility.
I am in full sympathy with women who have lost one or both breasts to cancer - I realise that the disfigurement and loss is a heavy burden to bear. I also understand that it feels traumatising to be left with scars and an unproportional torso. I understand that one feels the desire to rebuild what has been taken away, to restore a sense of normality. But it also seems to me a bizarre turn of events if reconstruction of the breast is deemed as worthy or more worthy than the fight to beat the disease itself. The main fight is for life, preferably with good medical treatment and medication that doesn´t break down your general health and life quality.
It is paradoxical, I would argue, how this Norwegian Facebook group ends up asserting the offensiveness of mastectomies by implying that life without a breast is such a shocking sight to behold (a terrifying spectacle: “see how horrible I look - no wonder I can´t bear it anymore”). And this, to me, is sad because I think that we could also be fighting for acceptance of this difference, rather than enforcing the view that women who have lost breasts are de facto defective.
It is worth pointing out in this context that it is possible to live a good and full life again and be loved by others with one breast, with even no breasts. Some early feminist breast cancer survivors in fact fought for this cause. Audre Lorde and Sheila Metzger are two prominent figures who argued that the scar could be carried with pride and thought of as a symbol of loss, survival and solidarity with other women who have lost breasts.
And let´s be honest: it is impossible to recreate a breast. The organ is forever lost with a mastectomy. The only thing that plastic surgeons can re-create is the form, the breast shape. The sensitive nipple is more often taken away, replaced by a tattoo. The milk ducts are gone. The nerve connections which contribute to the breast´s erogenous qualities removed. Breast reconstruction, using tissue from the patient´s own body, which is today considered the gold standard, is in itself a serious and invasive surgical procedure which entails risks and pains all of its own. And always present in the life of a breast cancer survivor, with or without new breasts, is the threat of recurrence.
The trauma of losing a breast or having (had) cancer cannot be erased, or replaced by a shape. The scar also reminds the woman that she has sacrificed a part of herself in order to live. It is a painful but existential realisation. It is important that we make room for the woman who has lost a breast, or even both breasts - whether or not she is reconstructed. Her trauma, symbolized by the mastectomy scar, should not be censored. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. It´s time we found a way to deal with its consequences and show these women some love. And it´s time to talk about loving yourself, to see yourself reflected without feeling shame:
I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,
but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.
Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.
I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.
On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.
by Sheila Metzger