Yesterday’s Brown Bag, “ReThinkPink: Moving Beyond Breast Cancer Awareness,” featured health activist and medial sociologist, Gale Sulik. Dr. Sulik, is the author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, an active blogger, and founder of the Breast Cancer Consortium. Her presentation was educational, enlightening, and provocative in which it focused on the history and evolution of breast cancer awareness campaigns in America.
In terms of how it all started, what began as a disease that no one wanted to talk about, eventually turned into movement of female empowerment. As breast cancer became more widely recognized and awareness grew, corporations capitalized on the campaign and branded the pink ribbon campaign. In essence, the ribbon turned into a corporation advertisement strategy by increasing pink consumerism and raising billions of dollars for a “good cause.” Dr. Sulik argued that the consumerism of breast cancer has undermined women’s lived experiences and obscured controversies surrounding research, diagnoses, and treatments. By turning the Pink Ribbon into a logo, it ignores the reality of what living with breast cancer is really like and undermines women’s health.
An important question that Dr. Sulik raised was, “Why breast cancer?” When looking at the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death among women in the United States is: 1) heart disease, 2) lung cancer, and 3) breast cancer. Not to diminish the impact on breast cancer in America, but why aren't there campaigns as commercialized as the pink ribbon campaign against heart disease and lung cancer? Dr. Sulik believes that our fascination with breast cancer is because it pertains to the breast. In other words, Dr. Sulik called it the “sexy” cancer. When taking a step back, it is easy to see why corporations have capitalized on the pink ribbon campaign. It’s as simple as “Sex Sells.
In essence, Dr. Sulik challenged us to question the goodness of the pink ribbon campaign. Not to totally reject awareness and fundraising campaigns, but to ask the tough questions. Where is the money actually going? Who benefits from awareness raising campaigns? Can corporations become health advocates without some underlying benefit? Which awareness-raising campaigns continue to objectify women and hold them under the male gaze? Is the information you are getting from these campaigns truthful or accurate? Asking questions is what being a curious feminist is all about (Enloe). These questions may not be easy, or always taken well, but they expose the often well-hidden truth. These are the tough questions that Dr. Sulik, as a health advocate, pursues.
- Michelle Van Veen '14