If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Think Purple Not Pink

I used to enjoy the month of October.  I lived UpNorth where the leaves turned pretty colors and you knew it was your last chance to enjoy a sunny day for months.  Here in SouthLite the weather has turned beautiful but the leaves won't really change until November and it won't be as pretty. However my problem with the month of October is not the lack of fall foliage.  My problem with October is the color pink.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  The ribbon color is purple.  You may not be aware of this fun fact since October is also Breast Cancer Awareness month.  If you have any contact with the world outside your home you know the ribbon color is pink.  In recent years the hype around the pink ribbon has gotten out of hand.  Don't get me wrong I am all for finding a cure (or better yet preventing the high prevalence rates) to breast cancer but I wonder how much more aware can we be?

October pink is all about buying products that make you feel socially conscious.  Buying the yogurt is not only good for you (actually quite questionable--have you seen what's in yogurt these days?) but a few pennies will also go towards breast cancer research.  Today at my favorite coffee franchise I had the opportunity to buy a pound of coffee dedicated to their roastermaster, Amy, who died of breast cancer.  My coffee purchase would, supposedly, help another woman out in the future.  Although I didn't buy the pink coffee I was given a pink coffee sleeve for the hot coffee I did buy.

Unfortunately not all pink donations are what they appear to be and Breast Cancer Action urges you to "think before you pink."  The donations are often not as generous as they appear and it is questionable how much money goes to actual research (or providing free mammograms or any other helpful preventive measure).  The research it does go towards is usually not environmental, which many reputable scientist believe is the most likely candidate for the high rates.  For an excellent read on the entire subject, check on Samantha King's book Pink Ribbons, Inc..

Currently the chance of having invasive breast cancer in your lifetime is 1 in 8 women.  The chance of dying from it is 1 in 35.  Nobody wants to face those odds.  Breast cancer research, prevention, treatment and advocacy is important and I am not arguing that.  However breast cancer has become the face of women's health in our country and I don't agree it is the top issue. One in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (most likely by someone in their family or someone they know); 1 in 4 will experience domestic violence.  I don't know if domestic violence should be the top issue either but violence against women deserves some attention.

But we like breasts.  Breasts are sexy; breasts are fun; breasts are functional.  Domestic violence (or violence against women more generally) is harsh.  The poster doesn't sell.  Breast cancer also seems blameless (I'm not actually convinced of this--see comment on environmental factors above).  It is not a woman's fault that she gets breast cancer.  Many people still blame violence against women on the woman.  Breast cancer also doesn't call attention to our gendered interactions in this society.  Sure we pinkify and infantialize breast cancer patients (see Ehrenreich's article "Welcome to Cancerland") but the solution to breast cancer doesn't include changing how we see masculinity.  Men don't actually have to do anything but support their women to support breast cancer.

All I'm asking is if we can "Save the Ta-Tas" why can't we "Stop the Violence?"  Why do we have "Bikers for Boobs" but not "Bikers Against Battering?"

So this October, when you see pink, think purple.  I'll leave you with one of my favorite ads for domestic violence by one of my favorite actors.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brigindo,
Patrick Stewart is one of my favorite actors, too. I had no idea about his background, and the article he wrote is powerfully and honestly written. I experienced childhood abuse, and wondered why it was no one could see, or help me; but it was a time when no one talked about such things, and it was common to pretend all was well. There was always a feeling of tension in my home, and I wondered why no family member or adult neighbor ever interceded, not just for me, but for all of us. It was not a thing a child could talk about, but only hope, and internalize the fear and anger, growing silent in the face of trauma. (Though I did have many friends in middle and high school, in other ways, it was difficult, and I could never have shared what was going on in our family. Through my own actions, I stopped the abuse, but there were costs.) Drama "saved" me. I started acting classes and oral interpretation in my Junior year of high school, abandoning art because there was no time in my schedule for both. It gave me a mode and a method to express all of the emotions I'd held in reserve, and I majored in drama my first years of college. Writing does that for me now. Thank you for your article. I recall you've written about this before, the idea that everyone can support breast cancer research, because no one assigns blame to the woman, and it doesn't require a man to change. As Patrick Stewart points out, and you explain, women and children are often blamed for their own abuse. Why not Bikers Against Battering? ~ Annie

ruth pennebaker said...

I loathe all this Save the Tatas business, even more than the pink haze every October. Breast cancer survival rates haven't improved, even though all this hoopla goes on year after year.

Maggie May said...

i love Patrick Stewart. thank you for caring and informing.

Julie said...

The commercial is powerful. You make great points about the pink campaign. I see a lot of products being sold in the name of breast cancer, and I always wonder how much of the money actually goes to help people with breast cancer. In contrast, there is not much "out there" about domestic violence. Thank you for the links and information.

rented life said...

very late in reading this and I'm not sure I've ever commented here. Thank you for this post...I work at an org that thinks it's doing breast cancer research good, but the more I learn about the work the more disgusted I am. "The research it does go towards is usually not environmental, which many reputable scientist believe is the most likely candidate for the high rates." This is exactly what I see. In fact the data that is being collected does not include ANY demographic information at all. If I had the financial means, I'd quit, but I can't.

When I tell someone I'm much more interested in other research or other causes, (especially if I tell this to a co-worker) they are horrified that I'm not all about the pink.