Thursday, October 04, 2007

not in my name

In 1992, when I adopted my first dog, I started noticing dogs everywhere I went.

When I was first pregnant and then became a mom, it seemed like every woman I saw was having a baby.

So last October, when it seemed to me that the whole world had turned pink, I first chalked this up to my own increased awareness. Then I realized that there was something much more insidious behind the pink ribbon bandwagon. And I wrote about it here, in a post-entitled "Not Enough to Think Pink."

These are just some of the things I have come across or been asked to promote in the last couple of weeks:

Pink acrylic sweaters with little pink ribbons on them.
Pink vaccuum cleaners.
Pink towels promoting a sports beverage.
Pink candies.
Pink manicures (there is a nail place down the street from me that is decorated in pink that claims to donate part of its profits to "fight breast cancer." I mean, I love a good pedicure as much as the next girl but do you know how many carcinogens there are in nail polish?)
Pink coffee mugs.
Pink yogurt.
Pink soup.

When someone you love gets cancer, it is very normal and understandable to feel that you want to do something for them. But please don't let that inclination lead you to buy some crappy, plastic doo-hickey (pink and gold-coloured angel pins, for example) that was made under dubious working conditions and that created carcinogenic by-products in the process.

Fight the urge to buy something pink, just because the company tells you that some of the proceeds will go to "fight breast cancer" (fight it how, exactly?).

If I sound pissed off, it's because I am. I resent big corporations (many of whom have built empires contributing to rising cancer rates) increasing their profit margin while improving their philanthropic image. And I resent that this disease that has ravaged my body, shortened my life and cost me so much is associated with the kind of pale pink crap that idealizes a kind of subservient femininity that I loathe. I resent big business getting richer when breast cancer patients get poorer. And I really resent feeling exploited.

Suzanne Reisman is a contributing editor over at BlogHer and she wrote the following in "Pink Ribbon Madness: Say No to Breast Cancer Exploitation for Corporate Profit":

Corporations push breast cancer in October because it works to sell more products. Women worry that some day they will face breast cancer or already know someone who has. They want to help. And what way is better than to buy something that promises to do good? The reality is that very little of the amount women spend on the pink products wind up at charitable institutions. An ABC News Report from last October pointed out that Campbell's donated a whopping 3.5 cents for every can of soup it sold. To raise a mere $36 to fight breast cancer from the Yoplait campaign, a person needs to eat three cups of yogurt a day for four months.

Some companies may well be genuinely well-intentioned. And sometimes they donate all of the profits from a particular product to breast cancer research. But even this leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Jeanne, from the Assertive Cancer Patient explains this well in a post called, "Gag me with a Pink Ribbon" (I love that title!):

[In 2004] I work[ed] as a freelance Web writer for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where I'm also a patient, receiving ongoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer. I recently sampled the pink dessert at the Dahlia Lounge in order to write about it for the SCCA site—and it was delicious... I enjoyed every bite, except for the ribbon, which I left on the side of my plate. The dessert costs $8.

So let's do the math. You order the dessert for $8, plus a cup of coffee for, say, $2. Add in tax and tip, and the bill comes to about $13. Of that, the restaurant gives Athena the net profit, generally between $3 and $4, according to Trish May, founder of Athena Partners and a breast cancer survivor herself. The Dahlia Lounge had sold 34 desserts in five days. So, say they sell 204 in the month; that's only a donation of about $800. Pocket change. One small research project costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, if not more.

There's a simpler solution: Skip dessert and send $8, or the whole $13, directly to your favorite hospital or research center. I don't like to criticize local restaurants that step up when asked to raise money for cancer research, but I think the "pink dessert" campaign is misguided.

If you really, really want that piece of cake with pink frosting, by all means, go ahead and indulge.

Just don't do it in my name, OK?

Further reading (or 'women who've said it much better than I can'):

To come: Organizations that deserve your breast cancer fighting dollars and non-monetary ways to show your support.


Suzanne said...

This is great. I also can't wait to see the list of places that people ca give money to or do other things to support the "cause." People want to help - let's get them the tools they need to direct their resources where it makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

I think you said it quite well yourself. These are very interesting points and something I had never considered from this angle... I can't promise I won't be sucked in by some pink cake...that actually sounds pretty good right now...but I will do my part to think beyond the little pink doohickeys and try to remember where they came from, what it took to make them, and why I can do something much more important, llke volunteer my time, than sport a pink angel pin...thank God.

jacqueline said...

Actually, these books are a very nice gift to someone freshly diagnosed with breast cancer and/or their support team of loved ones. All of the proceeds are going towards creating/restoring a recovery retreat for women at a beautiful little island get-away house. It's a one-woman effort and I think it's fantastic. I purchased the books and they are full of very thoughful, useful information. They are beautifully written, and NO PINK language. I have corresponded with the author on several occasions- she's got a huge heart and her items transcends typical "awareness" stuff and speaks from genuine experience (they don't look like "cancer" merchandise...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the mention and I am looking forward to reading on what people can do to help, in a good way!

Anonymous said...

Funny - I thought of you while I was at Target this weekend when I was trying to figure out why they were selling pink skillets. I'm all about color in my kitchen but that seemed weird. Then I realized what it was for and sort of groaned.

You did nail it tho - when someone you love has cancer - or any illness or crisis - there is this need to do something. But, I realized w/my SIL who has cancer and watching people when my son was ill - that that is a way to make their crisis about me - not them. So when I have that urge I try to ask myself - is this to make me feel better (e.g. guilt that they're sick and I'm not) or for real - about them.

Your thoughful blog is a real eye opener. thank you for sharing

laurie said...

Thanks, Maria for an very insightful comment. And thanks for understanding what I was getting at.