I have reached the point of pink ribbon fatigue to the point of anger. My Pinterest feed is filled to overflowing with images of breast cancer tchotchkes: pink and beribboned images, with butterflies and flowery fonts, and gimmicky faux-empowerment statements like “To Do: Kick cancer’s ass!” But this t-shirt–“I have an angel watching over me. I call her Grandma! [pink ribbon]”– I just can’t take it any more. Seriously, what is the message of this shirt supposed to be? “Hey kid! Buy and wear our cutesy t-shirt and we’ll donate 5 cents so maybe you won’t die of what killed Grandma too!“??
To be clear: if the ribbons and memes and t-shirts and coffee mugs bring you personal comfort or strength or a smile on a day when you really need one, I am glad for you. But dear god! The marketing of this, the ubiquitous girly-girl pink and the saccharine images, the “save the ta-tas!” and “raise money for boobies!” sloganing–I can’t help but see the salivating faces at product development tables: “Yay! Finally a way to appear socially conscious while simultaneously reducing women to mere body parts (and sexxy ones at that!) and infantilizing them to baby-girl-pink status, all the while expecting they’re so silly they’ll mistake a coffee mug for activism!”
And any men who get breast cancer? Tough luck, dude–here’s hoping you’re pretty damn confident about your masculinity.
Look, my grandma was a stylish lady and also a tough broad who faced and survived breast cancer at a time when treatment was a helluva lot more brutal than it is now. (Looking at that “angel grandma” tee, it is her derisive snort I hear.) I watched my mom deal with her own cancer in ways that were vulnerable and brave and scared and human, and saw my dad back her up every time as she battled yet another doctor to be treated in ways that respected her voice and agency, her right to decide what would be done to her own body. The woman my brother loves endured an almost unthinkable diagnosis, and he stood with her as she underwent surgeries and radiation and countless medical poisons. They stand together now, and she is alive and angry and brave in her own ways and still fighting back when she needs to.
If–perhaps when–I too get this disease, it will feel like a family heritage of sorts. I’ll be third-gen in the lottery of compromised boobies. It feels personal. It is personal.
You want my money for your compassion, American corporations? Then show me how you lobby for universal health care. How you oppose the unconscionable constraints our states are placing upon women’s health care access and options. I’ll collect your pink-n-pretty yogurt lids the moment you convince me you give a shit about the human beings the “tee hee! ta-tas!!” come attached to.
And while you’re at it, I could use a purple ribbon on my coffee mug, too. After all, survivors of domestic violence and their allies claimed October as their awareness month in the early ’80s. Black eyes and violated souls may not be quite so sexxy sexxy funtimes, but with 1.3 million women assaulted by their intimate partners each year, there’s a good bet some of them may get breast cancer too.