In light of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s recent decision, now reversed,* to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s program providing breast cancer screenings to low income women, this post was going to be about how much I dislike pink —especially the pink ribbons that have come to symbolize breast cancer.
I was going to insert the following quote from Barbara Ehrenreich’s article, “Welcome to Cancer Land,” in which she describes her “induction into breast cancer,” and eloquently documents how the color pink and teddy bears associated with it infantilize women diagnosed with this deadly and dead-serious disease. (And by the way, men get it too.)
For me at least, breast cancer will never be a source of identity or pride. As my dying correspondent Gerri wrote: “IT IS NOT O.K.!” What it is, along with cancer generally or any slow and painful way of dying, is an abomination, and, to the extent that it’s manmade, also a crime. This is the one great truth that I bring out of the breast-cancer experience, which did not, I can now report, make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual — only more deeply angry. What sustained me through the “treatments” is a purifying rage, a resolve, framed in the sleepless nights of chemotherapy, to see the last polluter, along with, say, the last smug health insurance operative, strangled with the last pink ribbon. Cancer or no cancer, I will not live that long of course. But I know this much right now for sure: I will not go into that last good night with a teddy bear tucked under my arm.
I was going to talk about how the pink ribbons, teddy bears, product placement, and corporate cancer-related branding strategies go hand-in-hand with our inhumane health care system, where the need to throw a bake sale to help pay for an uninsured neighbor’s heart surgery or a child’s leukemia treatments is considered acceptable.
But I’m not going to write about any of that. Why should I let those annoying pink ribbons spoil my appreciation of a perfectly good color? Instead, I’m going to take back the pink by sharing a few of my favorite rosy-hued objects.
First, a painting that hangs on my bedroom wall. It was a birthday gift from my grandfather, Jacob Scheinfein. It was probably my last gift from him as he died shortly before my 11th birthday.
Then earlier this week my friend, Jane Ward, published a post about birthday cakes that included this memory from me.
My father was born on February 13. Every year on that day, my mother would pull out her heart-shaped cake pans, purchased just for that occasion. Being the 1960s, we opened a box of Duncan Hines cake mix, added an egg and water, poured the batter into the pans, and put them in the oven. The frosting was always pink.
In fact, it has been a week filled with pink. Yesterday, I came home with this bouquet of tulips. What’s not to like?
And just this morning, I had to make an emergency trip to CVS to pick up this item for my son.
He’d eaten something that made him extremely and violently ill. The fact that he is now well enough to sit up, drink some ginger ale, and eat a few crackers makes me appreciate this particular shade of pink most of all.
*This short clip on NPR includes an interview with Dr. Susan Love, a pioneer in breast cancer treatment. Dr. Love emphasizes the importance of funding research into the causes of breast cancer.
Martha Nichols said:
I love this, Judith! Feminist that I am, I’ve always loved pink—not hot pink, the color of frosting on one of my own childhood birthday cakes, as I recall, courtesy of my over-intense mother—but the delicate pink of those tulips. The pale pink of my flapper-esque wedding dress, which I combined with black velvet shoes.
And here in Asia, even in ultra-clean Singapore, Pepto Bismol often does seem to be my true friend.
P.S. I hope the son with food poisoning is now well on the mend.
I remember that wonderful wedding dress! He is better. At least he’s able to watch the Super Bowl, but all the food he planned on making will have to wait.
David Winner said:
Thank you Judith, I enjoyed that point of view very much.
Heather in Arles said:
Judith, I love your writing and at times want to think about what I have read for a bit before responding. I thought that this was a fantastic post for so many reasons and thought that you might appreciate today’s post on Carla Coulson’s excellent blog, Carla loves Photography: http://carlalovesphotography.blogspot.com/2012/02/photography-for-our-sisters-renaissance.html
Thank you for sharing Carla’s blog with me. Three women in their forties dead from breast cancer. That is why the pink ribbons and prettying up of this disease is so enraging. And it emphasizes the fact that we need to be focused on preventing breast cancer and identifying the causes — one of the points Barbara Ehrenreich made in her excellent article and one that Dr. Susan Love makes in this recent interview on NPR: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=146453130&m=146453159
And bisous right back to you Heather!
There’s been a lot to think about in the past week in the aftermath of the Komen stuff, but I’m glad you’re taking back the pink. I’ve always loved the color too, and felt it didn’t belong consigned to one group, one cause. Gorgeous birthday painting, by the way. And so glad to hear Karsten is on the mend.
Thanks Jane, the Komen stuff certainly raised a lot of issues and cemented others for me. Check out the link I just shared with Heather in the comment above. The fact that I got such great care when I was diagnosed almost 18 years ago is largely because of Dr. Susan Love and her work. I strongly agree with her point that too much of the focus at Komen is on treatment rather than on finding what is causing so many women without risk factors to have this disease.
Heather in Arles said:
Hi Judith, I wanted to give you a heads up that I just gave you two awards over on my blog. 🙂
Hope you have a great weekend.
I love that you write about things that I have thought about. I just don’t take those thoughts to the next level. You push me to challenge myself. I like that. I appreciate it. You truly have a gift!
Kathleen Volp said:
Having read your blog about a week ago, I have had plenty of time to think about it and talk to others about the subject: pink ribbons and breast cancer. The unanimous consensus was we ALL feel patronized by the pink ribbon. Like little girls getting a merit badge or straight A’s, are we to be good girls, play by the rules and hope for survival and approval? However, we are not little girls (or boys as you point out) and cancer does not play by the rules, nor should we. I don’t have an alternative to the pink ribbon. I just feel pink and breast cancer is wrong. Picture Sigourney Weaver in a pink tutu fighting the Alien.
Ah yes, Kathleen, you have captured the issue perfectly!