It is October, and so as I do every October it is time for me to talk to you about Breast Cancer Action and their Think Before You Pink campaign. While it seems the whole United States goes crazy with pink ribbon madness, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign exists as a brazen counterpoint; arguing for more transparency from breast cancer charities and fighting against pinkwashers. (A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.)
This year it appears they have decided to hand pick a few choice examples to pursue with their Stop the Distraction campaign: (from their email campaign)
• The NFL is spreading misinformation about breast cancer by repeating disproven and misleading advice about mammography screening in their “Crucial Catch” campaign.
• Kohls’ recent “Pink Elephant in the Room” promotion was outrageous profiteering; it exploited concern for women affected by breast cancer to make millions for the company.
• Alhambra Water is pinkwashing by selling plastic polycarbonate water bottles which contain BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to breast cancer.
• NASCAR is selling breast cancer awareness t-shirts that say “Check Your Headlights” which degrade women by objectifying and sexualizing women’s breasts and bodies.
• Hooters’ breast cancer campaigns obscure the harsh reality of breast cancer by promoting a story of triumphant survivorship based on positive thinking, beauty tips, and sanitized, carefully chosen images of women.
• Oriental Trading is spreading empty awareness via its endless supply of plastic pink ribbon trinkets – the company pockets all the money from these sales!
Years and years ago, the former executive director of Breast Cancer Action, Barbara Brenner said something that at the time seemed odd and always stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was essentially that the reason breast cancer “awareness” has taken off like it has is because sex sells. At the time I was like, that’s stupid there is nothing sexy about breast cancer. (This was before I realized what a total bad ass she was and that she only dropped the realest of knowledge.) However I get what she meant now.
There are a bazillion diseases and chronic debilitating conditions. Where are their month long, ribbon-a-tastic ticker tape parades? They ALL have awareness ribbons, because goodness knows everything does. They all have their own awareness months. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease. Too apples and oranges for you? How about something a little more comparable then? What about cervical cancer? It’s actually a cancer. It’s even a cancer that affects women. Yet it has no month long, awareness raising party. Why no love for these guys?
Because sex sells. What’s sexy about some elderly, forgetful person? What product or company wants to be associated with that? When I think Kohl’s, I think of the elderly. (They usually forgot their Kohl’s cash at home! Cheap joke, but I never claimed to be classy.) Okay smart ass, what about cervical cancer? Can’t have sex without, well, you know. However you can’t really package and sell a cervix. (Don’t tell that to AdamandEve.com) What I mean is, most companies or products don’t want to be associated with what’s between a woman’s legs. Just ask most conservative, Republican, and/or Evangelicals, what’s between a woman’s legs is filthy at best, and a ticking time bomb to damnation at worst. NO ONE WANTS THAT.
That’s leaves us with breasts. Women’s breasts. Perky, bouncy breasts. Breasts have fun names like ta-tas, boobies, headlights, etc., that you can say in public and more importantly….put on t-shirts. Breasts you can stuff into tight Hooters shirts for ad campaigns. Breasts are beautiful, fun, and sexy. What product or company wouldn’t want to be associated with that? And the best part, the very best part, is that all you need to do to capture just a tiny bit of that lighting in a bottle is to put a pink ribbon on whatever it is your company sells. It’s for a good cause you know.
Breast Cancer Action claims much of this is degrading to women. I don’t. I think it’s a lot of people counting on consumers being easily manipulated, and once I saw it, I can’t help but see it everywhere.