October is a time for ghosts, goblins, pumpkins and happy children dressed in costumes with their tummies full of sweets. But aside from Halloween fun, it is also Breast Cancer Awareness month – in which many of us (understandably) don pink ribbons in honor of loved ones (or ourselves) and proudly continue the fight against Breast Cancer. Some of us may even buy “pink ribbon products” in order to show more support, or choose brands who produce pink ribbon products to show loyalty to the cause.
These efforts leave a lot of questions for someone who has been doing this for quite some time. For example, do you ever wonder why, with all the runs / walks, pink ribbon products and fund raising, we haven’t found a cure yet? Have you ever paused to consider that “awareness” may not be the issue so much as “the lack of a cure” is the issue? And have you ever wondered how scientists, researchers, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations are using your money?
I do. And I have. And so when I received an e-mail earlier this month about a “Think Before You Pink Party,” I immediately opened it up.
The email, sent to me by a professor I had enjoyed having for a past class, was short and sweet:
As many of you know, I joined the Board of Directors of Breast Cancer Action last year. This year, as we enter “Pinktober,” I thought it would be fun to have a Think Before You Pink party to get together with friends, have a drink and some appetizers, and introduce you all to Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign. Breast Cancer Action is a great organization for feminists who care about women’s health so I hope you all can make it!
…Bring a pink ribbon advertisement or picture of a pink ribbon product. The person with the craziest one will win a prize! For example, I find the pink ribbon handgun pretty nuts! If you think Breast Cancer Action is worthy of your support, I am asking for a suggested donation of $25. However, please come even if you can’t swing the donation.
Knowing very little of the Breast Cancer Action Organization, the event sounded enticing (and my professor’s invitation was incentive enough to go). The gathering was held in her apartment in Long Beach, California near the CSULB campus. When I arrived, the living room was filled with former classmates, fellow alumni and previous professors, all of whom were socializing with ease. After eating, drinking and catching up with familiar faces, my professor, Dr. Baralt, began a brief presentation explaining the Breast Cancer Action Organization’s goals, purpose and accomplishments while providing us with informative booklets – “Think Before You Pink” toolkits.
“Despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on pink ribbon awareness campaigns, research, screening, and testing, women continue to get breast cancer,” the booklets began. “Do you ever stop and ask yourself why?”
I’ve seen the pink ribbon symbol throughout my life. I’m “aware” of its significance, and I allowed it to influence my purchases and my brand loyalty. But never did it occur to me to question the companies who were receiving my money and support.
We looked these brands in the face at the Think Before You Pink Party; after watching a short film about the Pink Ribbon Problem, each person in attendance presented their advertisements or products from participating brands and explained why they chose that specific item to bring to the party. Mine was an advertisement of a woman running in the street with her right breast exposed (with no explanation as to why) with a simple pink ribbon placed strategically in the corner. (At the end, we all voted for the best and most ridiculous ad. I didn’t win, but was in the top three.) Other folks showcased everything from pink ribbon hamster cages to pink darts, a pink-ified Swiffer Wet Jet to a pink snow blower. The items exemplified the capitalization brands are making on pink ribbon products – and demonstrated how disconnected they are from the cause.
For years, many of us have trusted major companies to do right by our in-kind donations to breast cancer, purchasing their products with our money with good intentions and assuming, in return, that they would utilize our contributions to the best of their ability and support Breast Cancer research as much as possible with each cent. In reality, the only guarantee is that we are feeding profits. The Breast Cancer Action Organization coined the term “Pinkwasher” to describe “a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.” Some of the biggest Pinkwashers are Avon, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Yoplait Yogurt, KFC and General Mill; these companies produce products that contain chemicals such as PhIP, coumarin, toluene, galaxolide, oxybenzone and the hormone rBGH – all of which are known to cause Breast Cancer – and these large corporations make billions of dollars by associating their products with the pink ribbon. By earning my trust as a consumer, these companies had ensured an easy buck – without a cure in sight.
Luckily the BCAction has had many victories in demanding companies to change their evil ways. For example, the passing of the Initiated California Safe Cosmetics in 2005 helped identify and label women’s cosmetics that contained paragons and phthalates. Due to the BCAction’s consistent and resilient activism, people everywhere began to question what was really in pink ribbon products. I’m one of those people: I left the “Think Before You Pink Party” feeling enlightened and a more intelligent and conscious consumer. No longer will I allow brands, companies, and corporations to disguise themselves as saviors for those suffering when in reality they’re just corporate monsters thriving off of false trust. I now have the tools to unmask the creators of pink ribbon products. Just in time for Halloween.