Earlier this week, I took the Swagger Wagon into the dealer for a three-month check up. Yes, I know how insane that sounds, but they told us to bring her in after about three months just to make sure that everything was doing OK, tires were holding pressure, battery its charge, fluids not leaking. The check-up is included in our warranty so my only cost was my time and effort.
My original plan was just to drop of my van and head to a friend’s house for play with the rental car but The Dragonfly got sick so my friend was aminable to The Bear coming over to play solo. The van check up was to only take 15-20 minutes, so we waited rather than getting the rental. While in the lobby, my eyes spotted… something. Actually, I saw it when I pulled into the lot but I thought that it was some sort of sales gimmick. This is what I saw:
I just finished reading Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health by Gayle A. Sulik, Ph.D and the irony was not lost as to what I was looking. Pink. Eyelashes. On. A. Car. I get the van dropped off and head inside and my suspicions were confirmed. The product is called “CarLashes” and they come in black or pink and have clear or pink crystal “eyeliner” that is sold separately. The pink ones at my car dealership are tagged with the additional information to “Show support for Breast Cancer Awareness with our PINK lashes!” Is this what Breast Cancer Awareness has boiled down to, a way to sell women anything while at the same time making them feel altruistic? According to my most recent read… yup.
The basic thesis of Pink Ribbon Blues is this: the pink ribbon culture has brought cancer advocacy much attention but there has not been an effect of improving women’s health. I first began to hear the term “Pink Ribbon Effect” when I was trying to find out why the Catholic Church and Susan G. Komen Foundation were at loggerheads. Looking more into things, a complicated web begins to be woven among cancer advocacy groups, pharmaceutical companies, cancer patients and their families and the consumer and her money.
According to the author, breast cancer “survivors” are in constant “battle” with and for their lives and daily wage a “war” against cancer. The language choice is not accidental, as the prototypical breast cancer survivor has to play the role of the “she-ro:” always optimistic, always thinking of self first and, if the first two do not apply, a certain level of guilt about not being she-roic enough (Chapter 6.) In addition to making survivors into she-ros, the choice of the pink color hyper-feminizes the roles of women, basically boiling them down to just their breasts and equating their worth with their breasts. In the words of Audre Lorde:
A kindly woman from Reach [to] Recovery came in to see me, with a very upbeat message and a little prepared packet containing a soft sleep bra and a wad of lambswool pressed into a pale pink breast-shaped pad… Her message was, you are just as good as you were before because you can look exactly the same. Lambswool now, then a good prosthesis as soon as possible and nobody will ever know the difference. But what she said was, “You’ll never know the difference,” and she lost me right there, because I knew sure as hell I’d know the difference… (pgs. 340-341)
This focus on having breasts and keeping breasts (and thereby keeping external appearances of what it means to be a woman in Western culture) also leads to cute slogans and breast cancer awareness events: Blogger Boobie-Thon, T-shirts that read “I love breasts,” “Stop the war in my-rack,” “Tatas are awesome” (for the guys.) According to the author:
Sexualizing women in the name of breast cancer is only one of the detrimental consequences of many pink ribbon campaigns. They also infantize women and emphasize their traditional social roles. Teddy Bears, rubber duckies and M&Ms are used to comfort and pacify children, yet companies sell them to grown women in the name of the cause. (pg. 373)
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you do know that I have no problem with being feminine and embracing my feminine nature, but I do have to say that I am inclined to agree with what the author is saying about how breast cancer awareness does overly sexualize women. Why don’t we see much by way of testicular cancer or prostate cancer? Is it because these parts of the male anatomy are not secondary sex characteristics and therefore not easily marketable? Why aren’t we selling Action Figures or Toy Cars to Men to raise funds for those cancers?
But, you may ask, tons of money is being raised and going to research to get rid of this disease, right? Well…
…the American Cancer Society publishes facts and figures on cancer in the United States, including incidence and mortality. From 2000 to 2006, the number of invasive cancers rose from 182, 800 to 212,920… The number of breast cancer deaths estimated each year from 2000 to 2008 has averaged 40,314. (pg 59)
The argument could be made that the number of incidences has increased because more women are getting tested earlier and getting diagnosed sooner, but questions remain about mammography including its accuracy, benefit and the long-term effects of radiation exposure. Add this to “pinkwashing,” the tactic that some companies use in which they raise breast cancer funds while at the same time divert attention from the potential hazards, such as producing toxins or chemicals, that may contribute to the disease. Hmmm… kind of like this?
Mmmm… fried chicken. Perfect for combating obesity (which is a breast cancer risk factor.) Oh, there’s some grilled in there too.
So what’s a gal to do? I don’t know. I guess don’t base your shopping habits on where monies may or may not be going. I’ll admit it, I have been a Pink Ribbon shopper (Estee Lauder makes this fantastically flattering pink shade, and I can’t wear pink well and it’s offered during Pinktober… oops, I mean October) but I will say my motivation was mostly for the color. Will we see more transparency in the major breast cancer fundraising efforts? That would make things easier for people to donate. I mean, if you know more about where your money is going, you might be more inclined to donate without the need for a pink thing-y, or to donate just to make yourself feel good about doing your part in the war on breast cancer. From page 375:
The generic survivor has become so central to pink ribbon culture that any survivor will do. A name on a T-shirt or a pink hat is all we need to happy fight the war on breast cancer. The personal struggle of the disease is left on the sidelines, transformed into a transcendent story, or left back at home where no one will ever see.
Pink Ribbons: Cute or harmful? Do they really do the job or are they just placating the masses? What do you think? I’ve been told I need to read some happier books, by the way!