Although the month is coming to a close, every year you’re bound to see an endless array of color, not just from the changing leaves.
Pink merchandise and pink-related everything has become commonplace in October, all going toward the good cause of breast cancer. But have we ever really slowed down to really consider where this breast cancer awareness campaign originated? Or how it has spread to every inch of the public domain?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our immediate reaction then is to put our time and resources toward research, prevention, and treatment.
First off, when we think of all the pink surrounding us, we need to realize that for a majority of these “supporting” companies and products, pink designates awareness rather than research and treatment. Since the disease is so common, that means any contributions to public awareness are essentially pointless. When it comes to cancer, we don’t need to spend more time recognizing it’s there: we need proactive efforts to decrease the number and severity of cancer cases.
At the heart of it all, breast cancer awareness is marketing, and extremely successful marketing at that. Wearing or using pink products is an indicator for altruism, support for philanthropic causes, maybe personal ties to hardship. However, your pink doesn’t necessarily take into consideration if you’re actively contributing to breast cancer programs and what portion of proceeds you are. Any company can put a pink ribbon on its products since it’s not regulated by any agency. Some products sport pink ribbons to try to communicate that they are “healthy” and don’t contribute to breast cancer. Other products have a pink ribbon saying the company supports breast cancer programs even if the company’s contributions aren’t tied to the purchases of the specific product bearing the ribbon. Still other companies give a portion of an item’s cost to a breast cancer organization, but consumers might have to jump through some hoops for a donation to be realized.
Even if a product and company do tell people that a certain percentage of profit will fund breast cancer support, do they say which charities money is going to? As much as donating to charity sounds great, it can too often be manipulated to fund the charity and its employees only. Before making a purchase, ask questions. If money goes to “services,” are they reaching the people who need them most? How do screening programs ensure that women can get treatment? And how do breast cancer awareness programs address the fact that we already know that breast cancer is a problem and that action is needed in order to end the epidemic? Does the money go to truly addressing the root causes of the epidemic, like social inequities that lead to women of color and poor women dying more often of breast cancer, or environmental toxins that are contributing to high rates of breast cancer? I guess depending on how much you trust big business, you can take your chances, but I’d rather not. My personal values take priority, and if I’m voting with my dollar, it better be going to true support.
Some of the top-rated charities for breast cancer include the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. A big name for breast cancer donations is Susan G. Komen, but there have been mixed reviews over recent years for what some deemed excessive executive compensation and for “pinkwashing,” cause marketing with pink ribbons that allow companies to exploit the disease for profit. Despite the fact that it defines its mission as finding a cure for breast cancer, the organization spent $75 million on research in 2011, which is just 17 percent of its revenue, on finding a cure. Again, weigh things out for yourself so you can make the best decision possible.
My best advice, knowing all of this information, is to devote less energy toward pink products, allowing a middle-man to use your money without your complete awareness, and donate directly to top-rated organizations. Do your research. You’d think that if National Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1985, we’d have a cure by now. This may be due in part by corrupt spending and false marketing. Our individual intentions are good, but we also need knowledge in our back pockets before pulling out our wallets, whether the cause is breast cancer or anything else. If companies and organizations won’t be completely honest and up-front about their practices, that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the truth, regardless of what color it sports.
Are you a pink supporter in October? Are these questions ones you have considered when buying things and participating in events?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie