NPR Takes on Pink Ribbon Fatigue: Views from Komen, Breast Cancer Action

By Rachel Walden — November 3, 2010

We’ve written multiple times about pink ribbon-type breast cancer awareness campaigns — with good reason.

Concerns abound over whether the explosion of pink products for purchase promotes a false sense of doing something about breast cancer; whether the dollars collected by these pink campaigns are directed effectively; the gender stereotypes perpetuated by both the color focus and many of the product campaigns; and whether some of those pinked-out products may actually be harmful to women’s health.

Noted author Barbara Ehrenreich explores the issue more thoroughly in this still incredibly relevant 2001 Harper’s piece, and discussions of “pinkwashing” can be readily found online.

NPR dove into the debate recently with two interviews: one with Barbara Brenner of Breast Cancer Action, which has raised the concerns above for some time, and the other with Katrina McGee of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which signs off on the majority of those pink ribbon product campaigns.

Brenner argues:

“Awareness we have, the question is, what are we doing about it? And when companies can just slap a pink ribbon on any product, then we’re in trouble, because many of those products don’t do anything for breast cancer. And many of them are actually harmful to our health.”

The stand-out line: “If shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.”

KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign, says Brenner, sends the wrong message: “You can’t sell pink bucketed chicken that’s bad for your health to raise money to help breast cancer.” BCA has more info on its website concerning the implications.

McGee, in a separate interview, seems to argue that branding unhealthy products (such as fried chicken from KFC) with pink ribbons is OK, because the organization believes “in reaching people where they live, work and play.” She continues:

“KFC helps us do that in very small communities where they may be the only fast food restaurant in town, and in many large communities where the franchisees, and those are really the people who made the contribution, sent their commitment to breast cancer to race for the cure. They did education in their restaurants and a host of other things to support the partnership.”

When asked whether there is a certain amount of pink ribbon fatigue, and whether people are somewhat jaded about these campaigns, McGee answered:

No, I really don’t. I mean, first of all, you know, nearly 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year. And until we get to the point where less women are dying, we will never have enough pink. And as long as there are still myths and misperceptions in the market, we need Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We hear all kinds of things from underwire bras cause breast cancer, to promiscuous sex causes breast cancer, to, you know, if I use a hair relaxer, it will cause breast cancer. […] It’s the reminder, the repetitive messaging that gets women to act.

Critics of the campaign would probably ask how much of those purchase-related donations actually contributes to education about such issues.

For further guidance on evaluating pink ribbon campaigns, see Breast Cancer Action’s list of questions for consumers to ask in order to “Think Before You Pink.”

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