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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WTH?! Wednesdays: Pinkwashing Hall of Fame

Now that we're seeing pink ribbons literally adorning everything, I've become acutely aware of them when I'm out shopping and doing things. They're everywhere. They're multiplying, it seems, and can be found on the strangest of items.

This Pinterest board is worth sharing, as it highlights the absurdities and questionable practices surrounding the breast cancer awareness campaigns. One thing is quite clear: whether they donate to research or not, it's an industry - a marketing ploy that gets you to feel better about spending money. I wonder, what do cancer victims and survivors think of that? That someone is basically making money off of their disease? Has anyone ever asked them or are they just "bitching?"

This election cycle we're constantly hearing about the "war on women." I argue that there are many of them being waged, some silently, some not so much, and this is just one of them. Because it won't take long before someone criticizes your "poor attitude" in questioning the ethics of raising money for cancer awareness, or where the money really goes. If you dare question it, you're unfriended, blocked, criticized, told to "get a life" because you want to show what real awareness looks like: maybe a recovering mastectomy patient, not someone decked out in pink and white and prettied up for the cameras. It seems to be the one real truth no one wants to see.

One thing that really makes me shake my head are the campaigns to raise awareness that are from products that can actually raise your risk of cancer. Some of the companies responsible for donating millions (hey, good for them!) are also simultaneously marketing products that are putting their very user at risk for the disease. Go figure. Here's a short list:

Nestle has donated probably gagillions of money (Ok, I don't have a source for that LOL) towards breast cancer awareness and research, yet is only "phasing out" the cancer-causing plasticizer BPA from their water bottles. While I don't necessarily fault them for that, I do fault them for their long-standing heavy marketing of infant formula to mothers who are either in vulnerable populations or just being part and parcel of convincing otherwise capable women that breastmilk is inferior. You can slap the words "breast is best, but...." on your container a hundred times, but it doesn't help. Guilty of sending in official-looking "milk nurses" into poor African nations, Nestle effectively 'hooked' mothers on the stuff and had them believing their own milk was inferior. Not only would their breastmilk then dry up, but they'd be forced to buy more of the product they had no money to buy, and reconstitute it with contaminated water, leading to sickness and even death of the baby.

While only recently has the link been made to breastfeeding and cancer prevention, the health benefits to both mother and baby have been well-established. The presence they and their counterparts had (and continue to have) in influencing cultural trends and thus destroying any chance of a successful breastfeeding relationship could very well have lead to increasing cancer rates among women for decades.

Exposure to cleaning products is one plausible link to breast cancer, according to some studies. When you think about it, females are generally more likely to be in more direct contact with these products, and for longer periods of time (no offense to guys who clean). It's reasonable to suggest that products can also be leached into the bloodstream and can affect the offspring of their users as well. Have you ever looked on a bottle of cleaning solution? The ingredients are usually not listed - either because there wouldn't be enough room on the label, or they're too scary to think about.

Many of the products that contain known carcinogens are manufactured by companies that donate heavily to breast cancer awareness and research. One marketing ploy I find kind of annoying is how many of these products are geared towards women - even though yes, men do clean, and men do get breast cancer. A pink mop or Swiffer? Pink dishwashing gloves? Gee, thanks a lot.

The cleaning aisle at Walmart was awash (no pun intended) with a sea of pink ribbons, mops, dusters and other garbage. As far as I could tell, when I looked closely for the "We donate money to the cause" disclaimer, there was nothing on the label - or on Swiffer's website - that indicated any money went towards breast cancer anything of any kind. Not surprising.

The chemical industry also produces plasticizers that have known feminizing agents in them, that have been in use for decades. Plastic wraps, containers that are re-heated again and again and leach into your food, as well as agents in shampoos, makeup, personal care products, children's toys  and baby bottles are also points of controversy, and many of these byproducts would be found in the bloodstream of just about anyone - including unborn children.

Photo credit: USAToday, 10/5/2010
The alcohol industry has also been quick to jump on the bandwagon, but not without notice. Many are questioning that one, since studies have shown that alcohol consumption can be a risk factor in the disease. The image above angered some cancer survivors, and I can see why. Another article from CNN with the headline "Buy a bottle, save a breast" irked others who felt - and I agree - that we're focusing more on the breast than the person attached to it.

The sex industry seems to be the most recent player in the "awareness" game. Although I can't prove it anymore, this image was taken last year from the "Save the Boobies" breast cancer "awareness" fan page on Facebook, but when I went back to look for it, it had been taken down. This is their idea of a "breast exam."

The porn industry has graciously? donated a penny per view of their breast-related content towards breast cancer awareness, but I argue that really the only thing we're aware of is breasts. Not the illness itself, the risk factors or prevention techniques, not the reality of it at all, but simply breasts. It's another way to use controversial, if not completely offensive images, slogans and questionable marketing ploys to get people to support a feel-good cause. It goes much further to damage any real awareness, though, because we are so used to seeing images like this one in public - yet one very good way to lower your risk is to breastfeed, which no one wants to see you do. With the combination efforts of the infant formula industry and overt sexualization of the breast, an important preventative measure has now been nearly quashed.

Using cutesy slogans like "boobies," "tits," "hooters" and other sexualized euphemisms is equally offensive, in my opinion, because it not only sounds degrading and juvenile, but tends to make light of a very serious, often debilitating, disfiguring and deadly disease that can devastate entire families. I know we can't all be serious all the time, but I think because we often see too much of this kind of "advocacy" we don't take it seriously enough.

The food industry is equally guilty of just slapping a ribbon on things and calling it "good." I can't even begin to detail the chemicals and other crap we're ingesting every day, meal after meal for years, that likely contributes to breast cancer (if not a whole host of other cancers). Some additives actually have estrogen-like qualities and therefore could contribute directly to estrogen-fed cancers. Of course some foods have naturally-occuring estrogen-like properties (soy, for instance).

It's impossible to pinpoint so we use terms like "could" and "probably," because there are so many factors it might be impossible to tell for sure. But just in reading the list of ingredients, you know it can't be all that good, can it?

Ultimately there is so much we don't know, at least for now. I don't want to come off as a complete wacko conspiracy theorist, but even these obvious links should be enough to make you wonder where we get our information from, and make us question the motives of people and companies who want us to think we're helping for a good cause. Questions we should ask ourselves before we "think pink" include:
1. Does this product contribute to cancer in some way?
2. Does this product or slogan objectify the breast and women in general?
3. Is my money even going to the cause?
4. How much money is this group actually donating to research? To raising "true" awareness?
5. Does this campaign, slogan or product do more to hurt cancer victims and survivors than actually help them?

More reading:
Buying pink may not mean what you think - YouTube
Seven controversial pink products for breast cancer awareness


Erin Cadie said...

All scientific research is funded by SOMEone...

The Deranged Housewife said...

What motivation do they have to fund a cure when the very people who donate millions towards research are producing things that are known carcinogens? If, for instance, a large XYZ manufacturer was shown in studies to be a direct cause of breast cancer, then what would happen to that funding? Could their results be skewed so as to give "inconclusive" data or data that shows there is no link? Would we really put it past our standards of ethics today in modern medicine? Ultimately I think a statistic and research can be manipulated to show whatever you want it to - and if they carefully select their questions or research criteria to not implicate anyone, then a "cure" will probably never be found. That would essentially be biting the hand that feeds them.

AmandaRuth said...

Yes! I saw that same Mike's Hard Lemonaide the other day and about choked! LOL

I wrote this nonsense as well:


The Deranged Housewife said...

Thanks for sharing! I'll post this to my FB pages.