by Caitlin Carmody, BCA Membership Coordinator
Usually when I tell people I work at Breast Cancer Action, they start to talk about pink ribbons and races. This requires me to do some conversation steering. Last week I felt like I had one of my best “conversation conversions” to date; we went quickly from “race for the cure” to “toxins in our world,” and covered pesticides, shampoo, and pink ribbons on products that contain carcinogens. As we ended the conversation lamenting about the ineffectiveness of natural deodorants, I had a nagging sense that I hadn’t gotten to the heart of my unease with pink ribbons. It was only on the bus later that I got it: pink ribbons don’t encourage us to think about social justice.
My question, and the question BCA has been asking for many years, is: What do pink ribbons encourage us to be aware of? My experience is that pink ribbons tell individual women to focus on individual choices in our private lives. “You are at risk for breast cancer and must protect yourself,” pink ribbons tell me. To reduce your risk of breast cancer, and maximize your chance of survival if you are, God forbid, diagnosed, make changes in your own life.
“Get a mammogram”
“Do a breast self exam”
“Eat fruits and vegetables”
“Eat organic fruits and vegetables”
“Avoid toxins in your life”
“Find the best doctor you can”
To some extent, these mandates are empowering. I believe women should take as much action as they want and need in their own lives. I believe we deserve information to empower our decision-making. I believe the pink ribbon has been a powerful tool for breaking the silence about this disease. I also believe the pink ribbon focus on individual behavior discourages our awareness and action about the context in which breast cancer risk and diagnosis occurs.
What if your primary language is not English? (my primary language is English and eliminating toxins in my personal life is still a full-time research project requiring three dictionaries)
What if you do have health insurance but not an extra $8,000?
What if you bear the burden of this country’s environmental waste, which is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer? (major kudos to the President’s Cancer Panel for acknowledging this)
What if the federal agency entrusted to ensure your food is safe, approved a growth hormone that increases your risk of breast cancer?
This October, I am reminded that justice is not comprised of a million individual choices made in private lives. It is about a lived public commitment to just systems, systems that ensure the protection of everyone’s health.
Currently our brains say: “Pink ribbon! Breast cancer! Must get mammogram!” I long for a pink ribbon campaign that makes our brains say: “Pink ribbon! Breast cancer! Injustice! Must take action with my sisterhood!”
That campaign does not exist yet. Until it does, here are some ways you can take action right now to impact the lives of millions of women:
Share this article now with your friends and family.