As I was making a purchase at a store the other day, the checkout process included a donation request for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I declined.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The pink ribbon has become a symbol for millions of people fighting against breast cancer. But all month, I feel like a total killjoy explaining why I don't support Komen.
We should take time to reflect on how the disease has touched us—remembering the people whose lives have been forever changed, the lives lost and the loved ones who have been affected. But reflection alone won't make an impact.
Every October, almost every company in the country suddenly—and suspiciously—cares about the health of womenfolk and wants to stop breast cancer. I say "suspiciously" because many of these same companies seem to care nothing about polluting the environment with chemicals linked to cancer or putting known carcinogens in their products.
Revlon and Avon, who host huge breast cancer fundraisers each year, have yet to remove known carcinogens from many of their products, according to the Environmental Working Group—but they will slap a pink ribbon on them. It's called "pinkwashing": putting pink ribbons on potentially harmful products and using breast-cancer awareness as a promotional tool to increase business.
"Pinkwashing" is why Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, began the "Think Before You Pink" campaign. BCA is not the only organization criticizing the "pink-ribbon culture." Their main critique is that groups such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation seem more focused on internal fundraising and awareness campaigns than in pushing to learn the causes and developing a cure for breast cancer.
Some campaigns come off as just wanting to say "boobs." We don't need to "Save the Ta Tas"—we need to save lives. I saw my mother's best friend, Cathy, shortly before she died from breast cancer, leaving her two young sons without a mom. I don't believe she was thinking about saving the "boobies."
It makes me angry to see a disease reduced to a pretty ribbon or to hear talk of saving breasts rather than people. Cancer isn't pretty. It's a disgusting killer. It's a thief that scars, steals lives and robs the world of valuable people.
I would never say that awareness is a bad thing. Awareness is essential. It focuses us on a target, and at their best, awareness campaigns tell us what we are fighting and how to fight it. But when it comes to winning the battle with breast cancer, we aren't sure how to fight it, yet. We haven't focused enough on primary research looking for a cause—and that's where we'll find the cure.
As with any issue, awareness is not the sum total of activism.