I have nothing against the color pink — except that it looks bad on me. And if people with cancer, or people who have loved ones with cancer (or who have died of cancer) find it comforting to wear or use the pink items sold as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, then I firmly believe they should go right ahead and do so, and take that comfort.
But there's also something a bit unsettling about the "shop to fight breast cancer" approach. Many years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the "cornucopia of pink-ribbon-themed breast-cancer products," saying:
You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pajamas, lingerie, aprons, loungewear, shoelaces, and socks; accessorize with pink rhinestone brooches, angel pins, scarves, caps, earrings, and bracelets; brighten up your home with breast-cancer candles, stained-glass pink-ribbon candleholders, coffee mugs, pendants, wind chimes, and night-lights; pay your bills with special BreastChecks or a separate line of Checks for the Cure.And that was back in 2001. There are many more pink items to choose from now.
Reactions are decidedly mixed. Many people buy such products — but some, like Tim J, find the whole pink ribbon thing hurtful: "My mom died of BC last year; I work at a place that makes bagels in the shape of 'pink ribbons' all October. I hate it."
This year, the person whose voice I'm noticing the most is Xeni Jardin, who has been undergoing her own treatments for breast cancer since her diagnosis in December 2011, and sharing her experiences on the internet. Lately she's been writing about the profusion of pink, and today she posted this series of tweets on Twitter:
Instead of #PinkNausea, use $ to help a woman dealing w bc: cooking dinner, taking out for coffee, etc.And I'm noticing this because it's such a stark reminder that the best gifts we can give people are often not things, but our time and our assistance.
If you want to “support women with breast cancer” in #pinktober, find 1. Bring her groceries. Pay a medical bill. Drive her kids to school.
Reject pinksploitation. Help directly. Volunteer to drive a woman in your area who needs help getting to/from chemo, radiation, surgery.
Reject breast cancer profiteering. Find someone in treatment. Buy her a housecleaning. Or @uber credit. Or delivery.com takeout.
One of the most beautiful things you can do for a woman w/breast cancer is accompany her to treatment. Just bear witness. Don’t wear pink.
Instead of buying #pinktober crap where most $ lines corporate pockets, use your money & time one-on-one to help a woman with the disease.
Amazon or Whole Foods certificates are even cool. Be creative & pragmatic. Reach out. Engage. Help one of us directly. BC isn’t contagious.
American Cancer Society matches volunteer drivers w people who need help getting to/from treatment. Road to Recovery.
So give it some thought, and then do what seems right for you this October. Certainly, not everyone selling pink stuff is doing it from an exploitive standpoint, as even the famously "anti pink ribbons and teddy bears" Barbara Ehrenreich stated in that article I quoted. And Xeni says her line above about "don't wear pink" was a joke. "Not interested in being combative or telling anyone what to do," she wrote. So wear that pink if you want to.
But also consider making a direct donation to one of the many organizations funding cancer research and/or support services for cancer patients — and then following Xeni's advice about reaching out to help a patient who could use a hand.