Hadn’t been on Jeanne Sather’s blog, The Assertive Cancer Patient, for quite some time so I completely missed her ‘contest’ from three years back–How LOW will Komen Go?
I think I first found her blog when I was reading up on “pink ribbon campaigns”. I had just found Think Before You Pink, probably because of Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich, a social critic/journalist, had written a much-cited article about what she’d gone through when she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, “Welcome to Cancerland”. A lot of what overwhelmed her in terms of the ‘awareness’ was how, to her, it seemed that a lot of it completely infantilised women–she wrote about being sent crayons and told to draw her feelings in a journal, the pink ribbons on teddy bears, the baby-pink on everything.
At that very time, my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was not quite 55 at the time (within months, her mother was diagnosed at the age of 80). I had that overwhelming fear for her, and then eventually, an overwhelming fear for what it would mean for me and my daughter. I was completely useless to her as she went through treatment–she is a completely different personality to me. She was raised to quietly suffer and never complain about anything–no matter what happened to her in her life. I’ve always believed that if I’m really loud and demand attention then people will feel that they can’t get away with treating me like crap. We have an essential divide in our attitudes toward life–she believes at some level that we have no choice but to accept being treated like crap, I’m pretty sure that the only way it gets better is if I fight actively for it to be so, and I have raised my children to believe that they deserve goodness and happiness in their lives.
The long and the short of it was that I would hear about her treatment long-distance over the phone–she didn’t want us to go see her, she didn’t want company, she didn’t want visits in the hospital (they live several hours away from us). She had to be stoic, and she couldn’t be that, if I was there, visiting her because she was suffering, she was ill. And in those calls, and the occasional package and letter, I found that she was actively participating in pink ribbon campaigns, buying the teddy bears with the ribbons, buying the pretty pins.
So I bought ribbons and pins. It was a way to feel connected to my mother and her suffering–talking to her on the phone didn’t work. She was angry and scared and trying to be stoic–and there was nothing I could say that couldn’t be misinterpreted and misundertood by an angry, frightened suffering person. I wasn’t allowed to talk about her or ask her what she was going through–I could only wait to be told–but I wasn’t to talk about myself either. (Famously, I sent her a pile of photos of her grandkids once, and as a conversation-starter, called up and said blithely, “Wow, aren’t those pictures cute?” to which she said, “You know, they’re your kids–you’re the only one who really thinks that.” I hung up, completely reflexively without thinking, and she phoned back within minutes to apologise. That was typical of our attempts at conversation during this time.)
So, for a time, I too participated in the pink ribbon campaign because she appreciated that I did. I would buy her a cute little stuffed dog with a pretty pink ribbon and send it too her with the assurance that I’d bought a second one for her grandchild. Because part of what all those campaigns reinforce is the idea that if you don’t buy pink, you are betraying all those women with breast cancer. (Yes, I’m completely aware that there are men that get breast cancer–but the massive pinkness is completely aimed at the women, which is what I’m talking about).
But at some point, I found Think Before You Pink (and wished desperately that I could help them come up with a better name! Bit of a clunker, that), and read Ehrenreich’s essay. I don’t buy pink ribbons anymore. I don’t buy pink spatulas, or pink Kitchen-Aid Mixers even though the manufacturers reassure me that they will “raise awareness”. I don’t participate in any campaigns where the manufacturers assure me that they will donate money if I buy their yogourt**. Fuck you. You’re a big corporation with lots and lots and lots of money–donate your money whether or not I buy your juice.
There. Rant currently done.
(**the thing that really set me off and got me thinking was that I was in fact running around the ‘net looking for ways to donate and show that I was a wonderful, caring female person helping out other female breast cancer people. I found an article–probably from Think Before You Pink?–that talked about the pink ribbon campaign. It specifically cited a company that ran a campaign for their yogourt–if women sent in a maximum of ten lids, the company would donate 5 cents for each lid. 5 cents!! And women bought the yogourt “Well I’d buy it anyway” and sent off the lids. So, that meant buying yogourt at full price and not on sale as they probably would have normally. Then, they carefully sent off the lids which required an envelope and a stamp. At the time, in Canada, stamps were 56 cents. So…56 cents so a company worth millions upon millions would donate 50 cents. To a maximum of $50,000, by the way–no matter how many lids they were sent, they would only donate $50,000. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg donated $250,000 to Planned Parenthood this week, as a sign of support against Komen’s actions. Just to give you a sense of perspective…
It left me wondering if they even opened the envelopes from any of those women–perhaps just recorded the address in order to send them flyers and adverts? And it left me feeling awesomely stupid. Because I had fallen for this tremendous monster marketing campaign innocently started as a simple sign of awareness a la the red ribbon campaign for Aids Awareness.)