To paraphrase a quote from the clip in Think Pink, Part One, if you must think of breast cancer, think pink! And why not? Pink is cheery, feminine, affirmative of all that one fears lost with breast cancer. Peggy Orenstein in last Sunday’s NYTimes has a different understanding.
But a funny thing happened on the way to destigmatization. The experience of actual women with cancer … — women like me — got lost. Rather than truly breaking silences, acceptable narratives of coping emerged, each tied up with a pretty pink bow. There were the pink teddy bears that, as Barbara Ehrenreich observed, infantilized patients in a reassuringly feminine fashion. “Men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not receive gifts of Matchbox cars,” she wrote in her book “Bright-Sided.”
Instead of bracelets with “I ❤ boobies” we might be more in touch with cancer sufferers if we used the slogan,”“I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny.”
And now breast cancern concern is getting tied up with sexiness. For example, there is “Project Boobies (the slogan on its T-shirts promoting self-exam reads, “I grab a feel so cancer can’t steal,” though the placement of its hot-pink handprints makes it virtually impossible for them to belong to the shirt’s wearer).” Another example was discussed here before, in our post on the Save the Boobs Campaign. According to Orenstein:
Rather than being playful, which is what these campaigns are after, sexy cancer suppresses discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — the ones whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible. It also reinforces the idea that breasts are the fundamental, defining aspect of femininity. My friend’s daughter may have been uncertain about what her bracelet “for breast cancer” meant, but I am betting she got that femininity equation loud and clear.
How far the ‘think pink’ approach to breast cancer renders its sufferers invisible may be debatable, but surely the danger is real. It seems pretty clear that we have a problematic campaign that should be discussed for a variety of reasons.
I think the thing that worries me most is that ‘thinking pink’ seems to emphasize getting women into medical treatment and renders the very serious topic of environment causes moot.
[Thanks to MD, who wrote us about the article!]