When trying to untangle thorny social problems, people need to work within existing social institutions. As we all know, these institutions are flawed. They work for some and not for others. They produce intended and unintended consequences. Some of those consequences are positive, and others are negative. Inadequacies, inequities, and rewards are built into the system. But even though social institutions shape what individuals can do, individuals also influence the system. The interplay between these forces is the essence of status quo and social change.
Throughout the essays on this blog, I have argued strongly that pink ribbon culture needs to change, to build on the strengths and lessen the weaknesses. To see what needs to change, it is necessary to shine a light on the consequences that cause damage. Commercialization, trivialization, marginalization, isolation, objectification, infantalization, sexualization…all of these “TIONS” exist in what has become the dominant pink culture, but do they have any business being there?
Strong advocacy brought people together to support one another, share information, and empower patients to make informed decisions about their health. It also sought to influence the health system in ways that would promote access, options, equity, and quality care. It was built from a shared intention to make a difference in the lives of the diagnosed and to ultimately eradicate the disease. The “TIONS” have not only diverted our attention from these important goals, they have divided what had been a strong and more inclusive movement.
The “Go pink, or go home” sentiment that has emerged among some in pink culture has not only marginalized many of the diagnosed, it has disallowed adequate critique of the culture’s consequences. Whenever people ask me if I’m against the community events, I always reply, “Run if you want to! Just don’t run away from the complexities of breast cancer and advocacy that need deep and urgent attention.” Critique is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. We need it. Our institutions need it. The eradication of breast cancer depends upon it.