Go Pink, or Go Home!

Last year, NASCAR fans at at Lowe’s Motor Speedway cheered, “Go Pink or Go Home” as five pink cars raced around the track in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The president and CEO of Komen served as the honorary race director, and Candy Coburn performed the song “Pink Warrior” during the pre-race celebration, which was written for Komen and for breast cancer survivors. Komen includes a write-up about the event in the organization’s website.

The cheer unequivocally reinforces the us/them scenario that is so prevalent in pink ribbon culture. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Go pink, or go home. Message received. And this message is so strong that many people try to avoid any kind of confrontation with the pink monolith. Even though scientific controversies, policy disagreements, modes of survivorship, and different ways of dealing with breast cancer are common in reality, there is no room in the dominant pink ribbon culture for anything other than cheerful agreement.

An article in the Boston Globe last year with the title “Sick of Pink,” told the stories of several diagnosed women who were not pleased with all of the pink ribbons and products that invade public space, especially during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One woman, diagnosed at age 24, described a self-imposed pop-culture blackout in October. She tries to avoid TV, magazines, and especially shopping. She said, “I want to buy my English muffins and not be reminded of [my cancer].” While many people wrote in support of the article’s message that perhaps some companies were using women’s pain to increase profits, one response in particular revealed the anger and defensiveness that can occur when anyone, including the diagnosed, raises questions about whether the ends (alleged research dollars) justify the means (cause-marketing and pink ribbon culture). A person with the screen name eoleary29 wrote:

I really find it incredible that people are actually complaining about receiving donations from corporations. Breast Cancer   generates more awareness and charitable donations than ANY other fatal disease in the US. They keep talking about being disrespected or used… HOW ABOUT BEING GRATEFUL PEOPLE CARE ENOUGH TO BUY THOSE ANNOYING PINK PRODUCTS!! (original emphases).

This response is a harsh and thoughtless rebuke of the breast cancer survivors who went against the grain of optimism to reveal their feelings of distress and concern. Questioning the pink status quo seems to call into question the good intentions of those who consciously buy and display pink. In this type of cultural environment even the diagnosed must carefully decide what to reveal about their illness experiences, and what to hide.

But, it doesn’t stop there. The pink bandwagon thunders through a multitude of social institutions. In an article in The New York Times (October 21, 2009) about the eventual acknowledgment that the benefits of mammography screening had been exaggerated, Dr. Peter Albertsen of the University of Connecticut Health Center explained why it took so long for such a statement to come out. He said, “If you question overdiagnosis in breast cancer, you are against women.” Even the weight of scientific evidence is no match for pink ribbon culture.

Pink fundraising is the new American past time. Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and pink ribbons. We’ve got comedy shows, musical events, NASCAR, Bowling for Boobs, and shopping galore. The cause has made its way into football stadiums and concession stands. Addison Trail High School had a pink performance in 2008 that also used the name, “Go Pink, or Go Home.” Cheerleaders and dancers dressed in pink stand in a pink ribbon formation on the football field and then dance to Christina Aguilara’s Fighter and Survivor by Destiny’s Child. They had another pink performance in 2009, and I can only imagine that there will be a repeat performance this year.

I have no doubt that many of the people who buy pink or who are involved in pink ribbon fundraising events have good intentions, that they raise money, that some of that money supports useful endeavors, and that the diagnosed and their caregivers are thankful for their effort. Corporations certainly are. If, however, we do not consider the constraints of pink culture and the unintended effects of pink fundraising, we will never eradicate breast cancer. For this reason there are growing numbers of us who will neither go pink, nor go home. Won’t you join us?

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4 comments to Go Pink, or Go Home!

  • Gayle…I completely identify with this quote from your post….”In this type of cultural environment even the diagnosed must carefully decide what to reveal about their illness experiences, and what to hide.”… I think for many of us dealing with catastrophic illness, this feeling of being unable to express ourselves fully for fear of how other people might react is a major source of frustration and anger. At least it is for me. Ironically, I was even severely rebuked at a breast cancer support group that I attended (and never went back to) when I vented my frustration on this very issue.

    The kind of comment made by eoleary29, is one that I hear quite frequently. In fact I saw this one just the other day which I found utterly disturbing and offensive in the extreme……

    “……….I would hope that instead of being bitter over a simple color, you would appreciate that you’re still alive and do your part to help future generations. That includes buying things for the cure AND spreading knowledge.”

    We shouldn’t really be surprised. Comments such as these come from a position that really is a direct consequence of the pink marketing movement. That is, the pink movement has done a spectacular job in training the masses to buy into the pink ideology by using fear AND guilt as fundamental tenets of it’s campaigns. The unfortunate flipside of that message is that we, as poor little breast cancer victims, should be eternally grateful for benevolence of any kind and basically put up or shut up. Not me, that’s for sure.

  • FYI, here is the link to that comment that I quoted….


  • I hate all the pink stuff, and find these opinions a real breath of fresh air. At last. I know that I have been shunned by the pink brigade when I wouldn’t go along with the pink, and their attitude to me was to exclude me. Thanks sisters!
    It is great to know that there ARE other women out there who will not, cannot, go along with this pink tide of cheery optimism and want to ask the real questions about the causes of breast cancer.

  • I hope we’ll be able move beyond pink to take more meaningful action, to find a balance between mobilizing support, raising funds, and representing the variety of experiences people have with this disease, and others as well. All the pink can sometimes drown out the very real difficulties people have. In the end, it’s not even about pink. It’s about finding the means to live healthy and free lives!

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest cutt.ly/jei8WJr

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