Reading Guide

The questions that follow are intended to enrich your discussion of Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbon Blues.

Background Questions:

  1. What do you know about the pink ribbon?
  2. What does breast cancer “awareness” mean to you?
  3. Are we winning the war on breast cancer, and how do you know?
  4. Who do you know who has faced breast cancer? How much do you know about their personal experiences, feelings, decisions, and ways of coping? Do you think that person’s experience is common? Is it similar to those who face other types of cancer?
  5. Have you thought about the system and industry that functions beneath the pink ribbon? Why might this be important?
  6. If you had a chance to learn about breast cancer and make a difference, would you want to do so? What if what you learned was new, challenging, and potentially uncomfortable?
  7. Why are you interested in Pink Ribbon Blues?

Questions about the Book:

  1. What is “Pink Ribbon Culture?”
    • What are the dimensions, and how do they work together?
    • What are the intended (positive) consequences of Pink Ribbon Culture?
    • What are the unintended consequences?
    • Why is it important to consider both the intended and unintended consequences? Have you had opportunities to think about them before?
  2. What has been the role of advocacy in promoting pink ribbon culture, shaping it, and changing it?
    • What was the early focus of advocacy in the United States, and how did it change?
    • What strains of organizations comprise the breast cancer advocacy movement?
    • How do these organizations work together (or not)?
    • What is the role of “the survivor” in breast cancer advocacy? How does this role empower or constrain those who are given that label?
    • What’s next for breast cancer advocacy?
  3. What is the role of language in perpetuating pink ribbon culture and particular coping strategies?
  4. How does pink ribbon culture use gender? (pink femininity, body image, the she-ro, care work, getting/asking for help when diagnosed, lifestyle)
  5. What is the role of consumption in pink culture?
    • branding, cause-marketing, mass media
    • selling particular means of survivorship
    • particular means to “support” the cause
    • selling medical diagnostics, interventions and controls
    • supporting what kinds of industries
    • How does a consumption-based logic affect survivorship, support, and society’s approach to the war on breast cancer?
  6. What are the scientific controversies that affect breast cancer?
    • How are these understood in pink ribbon culture?
    • How does medical information make its way to the public?
    • How do people make informed medical decisions?
    • How does the organization of medicine and health care affect the options available to those who are diagnosed?
    • What should every woman and every man know about breast cancer?
  7. How does pink ribbon culture impact the diagnosed?
    • For whom does it work? For whom doesn’t it work?
    • Does the she-ro exist in real life? How does this ideal shape how women respond to breast cancer?
    • How has breast cancer become re-stigmatized within pink culture?
    • How has pink culture been transcended or transgressed?
    • How can the culture create a bigger umbrella of support?
  8. How do families cope with breast cancer?
    • How to women balance their obligations when they are diagnosed with breast cancer?
    • What are some of the barriers women face when they are sick?
    • Why might it be difficult for women to ask for help from others, or even accept help when it is offered?
    • How might friends, co-workers, and loved ones help?
  9. What are illness narratives?
    • How do illness narratives help people to cope with cancer?
    • Which narratives are promoted in pink ribbon culture?
    • What are the benefits and limitations of these narratives?
  10. What is the legacy of the counter-pink culture?
    • At one point in our history it seemed that the anguish of breast cancer had been revealed in such a way that society was ready to accept it for what it was and move forward with real progress. What happened?
    • Is there a place for anger when getting on with life after cancer?
    • How did women such as Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, and Christina Middlebrook make sense of their cancer ‘outside the frame’ of accepted responses?
  11. Why has pink ribbon culture generally been beyond critique?
  12. What does it mean to “eradicate” breast cancer?
    • After 30 years of breast cancer advocacy, what major shifts may be necessary to change the future?
    • What is at stake for breast cancer advocacy, for the system of medicine, for those who are diagnosed with breast cancer, for those who are at risk for breast cancer, and for the future?
  13. Why does Sulik argue that it is vital to “take a road less pink?” Do you agree? Why, or why not?
  14. How have your thoughts about breast cancer and pink ribbon culture shifted since reading Pink Ribbon Blues? What else do you want to know? What can we do as individuals, health practitioners, organizations, and policy-makers?

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