Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Bad?

Jeff likes to stutter, “B…b…b…but the corporations!”

Below is a point-by point response to a particularly gratuitous attack on the Breast Cancer Awareness phenomenon. Please read the article first, and then take a look at my responses.

“These events have been inundated with corporate sponsors who pledge to donate a small portion of their proceeds to breast cancer research—provided, of course, that you continue to buy their products. Everything, it turns out, sells better in pink.”

Yes, businesses piggyback on cultural phenomena for their own benefit. But that this purportedly “soils” the integrity of the phenomenon itself is ridiculous. First of all, businesses, especially brand-name corporations, also help to promote and propagate the cause. Yes, businesses grow because of the cause, but so does the cause. Secondly, Why is the fact that they are raising money through sales a blemish on the donations themselves? Should they not seek to make those marginal sales and have less profit from which to donate?

“The great hypocrisy of these corporations is that they purport to be raising money for a cure while simultaneously using ingredients in their products that can serve as risk factors for the disease.”

This point is totally valid. I agree with the author 100%.

“In 2011, only 15% of Susan G. Komen’s donations went to fund research grants.”

According to the same article from which this statistic was taken, “The organization’s 2011 financial statement reports that 43 percent of donations were spent on education, 18 percent on fund-raising and administration, 15 percent on research awards and grants, 12 percent on screening and 5 percent on treatment.” Such unworthy causes! It’s as if the author wants us to believe the majority of funds are going towards lavish Caribbean cruises.

“Much of the breast cancer awareness movement focuses on early detection and treatment, while a shockingly small amount of resources are allocated to prevention and research exploring the root causes of the disease.”

…So start your own damn non-profit that focuses on the root causes. It’s like saying Greenpeace is at fault for not funding aeronautics research.

“Breast cancer has only become relevant to wider society because white, middle class women have become the face of the disease.”

Thank you to all white, middle-class women who helped promote an important cause.

“The intense focus on breast cancer has also been used to water down feminism and divert attention from other more “controversial” women’s health issues, such as access to contraceptives and abortions.”

If charity is indeed a zero-sum game (which it is not because there are still untapped pockets of society who give less to charity than others), then use the force of those other important issues to divert resources back to those causes. Don’t tear down an important cause because it is getting in the way of your pet cause. That is chutzpah.

“Talk of “survivors” and the “fight” against cancer inherently suggests that those who succumb to their disease—those who “lose their battle”—have failed in a way that survivors have not.”

This strikes me as unwarranted hypersensitivity. That OBVIOUSLY is not the intent of the movement as a whole. Also, it is not the role of the “zeitgeist” to ensure the emotional security of every dying cancer patient. Different patients probably require different types of emotional support. The current culture offers an outpouring of optimism and hope, which probably soothes and comforts many, many, many patients. If the author would like to see a more realist message, she can start her own non-profit rather than shitting on hope.


– Winch


4 thoughts on “Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Bad?

  1. YESSS WINCH this was great. Well thought out, and on an important topic! People love to hate – thanks for not letting them get away with it.

  2. I don’t know that I agree with the article your critiquing, and many of your points are certainly persuasive. However, I think National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as it is currently stands, is misguided, and even harmful. I’m following (and quoting) Peggy Orenstein on this, and her NYT magazine article, “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer.”

    Ultimately Breast Cancer Awareness Month has led to an obsession with early detection, i.e. mammograms, which doesn’t actually lead to fewer fatalities among sufferers. It does however lead to unnecessary treatment (radiation, surgery, drugs) i.e. unnecessary suffering, expense, and a sense of oneself as sick i.e. psychological hardship.

    That’s why Komen’s allocation of resources is so damning: 43% on education, which very likely means a misplaced emphasis on early detection, 18% on fund-raising and administration, and 12% on screening i.e. mammograms, even though, again, something like “the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that only 3 to 13% of women whose cancer was detected by mammograms actually benefited from the test.”

    That’s why the cause of “raising awareness” seems so vapid to so many people. It’s just a feel-good waste of resources.

    “Before the pink ribbon, awareness as an end in itself was not the default goal for health-related causes. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a major illness without a logo, a wearable ornament and a roster of consumer-product tie-ins. Heart disease has its red dress, testicular cancer its yellow bracelet. During Movember…men are urged to grow their facial hair…(for) prostate cancer (another illness for which early detection has led to large-scale overtreatment) and testicular cancer. ‘These campaigns all have a similar superficiality in terms of the response they require from the public. They’re divorced from any critique of health care policy or the politics of funding biomedical research. They reinforce a single-issue competitive model of fund-raising. And they whitewash illness: we’re made ‘aware’ of a disease yet totally removed from the challenging and often devastating realities of its sufferers.’”

    Things like visibility and donations — rather than eradication — become ends in themselves.

    In sum, “all that well-meaning awareness has ultimately made women less conscious of the facts: obscuring the limits of screening, conflating risk with disease, compromising our decisions about health care, celebrating ‘cancer survivors’ who may have never required treating. And ultimately, it has come at the expense of those whose lives are most at risk.”

    • These are really great points. I wish the author had made them. Instead, she fueled her critique of the movement with anti-capitalism, muddled feminism (or, rather, misguided anti-misogyny), and poorer versions of the arguments the NYT piece makes. I have no problem with a constructive critique of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement, with an eye towards prevention and cure. But the author’s focus was blurred by petty things like the color pink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s