Modern Lady v. “Pinktober”

Last week on Infomania, Erin Gibson took a critical look at the corporate-sponsored pink-ribbon madness of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Gibson, who is clearly all for awareness and research funding, is nonetheless skeptical of companies that slap a pink ribbon on their products for the month of October, and of people who buy those products and consider their part done. “These products are magic!” Gibson says, “They make consumers and corporations feel like they’re actually doing something good, even if they’re not sure what that is!”

Like Gibson, I see the need to raise awareness of breast cancer and money for research. I have a breast cancer survivor in my family, and I know that some of these corporations and some of their customers are genuinely committed to promoting prevention and funding a cure. But I agree with Gibson that Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or Pinktober, as she calls it, has been somewhat hijacked by companies more interested in boosting their corporate social responsibility bona fides than in raising awareness or finding a cure. It’s also a convenient way for consumers to feel like they’re doing something about breast cancer without having to expend real effort or change their behavior in any way. If there is any behavioral change, it’s that people might buy more stuff. But for this one month, it’s not really shopping. It’s not consumerism. It is charity. Because the stuff has a pink ribbon on it!

Bottom line: awareness and early detection save lives, and funding research is crucial. But buying eggs with pink ribbona stamped on them doesn’t make us better or more aware than if we bought unstamped eggs. And while some portion of the profits will go to a breast cancer charity, and that is great, we shouldn’t imagine for a moment that because we buy those eggs, our contribution to this important cause is complete until next October rolls around.

As Gibson says, you could go out and buy a whole bunch of pink-washed products this month, and be pleased that 5% of the profits are going to a breast cancer charity. Or you could send that money directly to a breast cancer charity.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/cppant/ Paige

    Erin Gibson is not very funny, but her editing team who pasted all those product clips together is. the footage raises an important point of awareness, although i’m not so sure every consumer who buys a “pink” product believes they’re committing an act of good will rather than engaging in consumerism. and anyways–mocking this bizarre hybrid of slacktivism and consumerism is much less interesting and accomplishes much less than asking the question: how can we give other women’s health issues (and especially sexual health issues) as much attention and awareness as the little pink bow has for women’s breasts?

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    Ohhh, I love Erin Gibson. Volunteer for the American Cancer Society people!

  • http://feministing.com/members/m00se/ m00se

    Pink ribbons make me just short of physically ill. A breast cancer awareness campaign of a different kind opened in NYC last week under the tag line, “breast cancer is not a pink ribbon.” The Scar Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors. A book is in the works. You can also check it out on facebook.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cactuswren/ Susan C Mitchell

    Not loading for me. Is it anything like what Barbara Ehrenreich wrote?

    There are 2.2 million American women in various stages of their breast-cancer careers, who, along with anxious relatives, make up a significant market for all things breast-cancer-related. Bears, for example: I have identified four distinct lines, or species, of these creatures, including “Carol,” the Remembrance Bear; “Hope,” the Breast Cancer Research Bear, which wears a pink turban as if to conceal chemotherapy-induced baldness; the “Susan Bear,” named for Nancy Brinker’s deceased sister, Susan; and the new Nick & Nora Wish Upon a Star Bear, available, along with the Susan Bear, at the Komen Foundation website’s “marketplace.”

    And bears are only the tip, so to speak, of the cornucopia of pink-ribbon-themed breast-cancer products. You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pajamas, lingerie, aprons, loungewear, shoelaces, and socks; accessorize with pink rhinestone brooches, angel pins, scarves, caps, earrings, and bracelets; brighten up your home with breast-cancer candles, stained-glass pink-ribbon candleholders, coffee mugs, pendants, wind chimes, and night-lights; pay your bills with special BreastChecks or a separate line of Checks for the Cure. “Awareness” beats secrecy and stigma of course, but I can’t help noticing that the existential space in which a friend has earnestly advised me to “confront [my] mortality” bears a striking resemblance to the mall.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kaelin/ Matt

    Really, it was a given that the NFL had to be covered. Although like with Paige, I didn’t find the video entertaining besides the clip montage.

    Corporate charity and patriotism are problematic in that corporations seem to use them to bolster their bottom line. If the NFL auctions off pink equipment worn by players, they can lay claim to raising so much money and providing “awareness” in exchange for the cost of the equipment and administration. And businesses often do even less — telling consumers to mail in their yogurt lids at ten cents a pop is pretty much a guarantee to get most people to not actually hold the businesses to that promise (between the mailing costs and inconvenience compared to just making a direct donation). A scheme with that much overhead (paid by the consumer) is essentially a fraud.

    I also wonder how these events may raise the moral perception people have of corporations, which are still capable are committing many manners of injustice that can get overlooked in the light of the “charity” they do. Watchdogs should put these events in context, but their responsibility is still to look beyond appearances and make sense of the business operations.