The Explosion of Pink

By Rachel Walden — October 12, 2010

It’s October, so the explosion of pink products at the grocery and other stores shouldn’t surprise us: it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the time of the year when we’re asked to eradicate breast cancer by buying pink-ribboned  products.

Over the years, many women’s health activists have criticized the pink ribbon campaigns, protesting that these efforts do little to fund prevention, are less useful than direct donations, and promote a false sense of doing something to cure breast cancer. The New York Times Well Blog yesterday included a piece on “Pink Ribbon Fatigue,” which nicely summarizes some of the objections to the overwhelming pinkification of October and breast cancer campaigns.

Breast Cancer Action, of course, has run a “Think Before You Pink” campaign for several years, encouraging consumers to ask how much their pink purchases actually contribute and whether any of those products may actually contribute to cancer risk.

New to the conversation is a recently published book by Gayle Sulik, Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health. I haven’t read it yet, but Sulik is interviewed in the Times piece linked above, where she talks about the kind of forced optimism associated with these campaigns, the associated gender roles and expectations, and potential financial conflicts “that keep the war on breast cancer profitable.” Sulik also  blogs on the issue.

If you’re a Facebook user, you may have seen recent “I like it on…” posts and wondered what they’re about. It turns out they’re an even less useful version of the earlier bra color meme, ostensibly intended to raise awareness about breast cancer through status posts. I think it’s clear enough that while social media tools may be useful for organizing and awareness-raising, mysterious status updates with faux titillation and no actual mention of breast cancer do little to promote real action on women’s health. As the blogger at Voxygen responded, “I like it without pinkwashing.”

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