By KAREN BROOKS
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, where the country and, indeed, the globe is pink-washed.
From brooches to bracelets, key rings, balls, socks, water bottles, sportswear, foodstuffs, races, walks, dinners, auctions, raffles, hair dye and even special deals in Westfield shopping centres, pink products abound.
Invited to show support for those with breast cancer and their families, we drape ourselves in pink, attend functions, watch be-pinked sporting activities, go to work in pinkified environments, donate money, eat, drink and be suitably respectful, merry and moved, and thus do our bit for what’s a horrible scourge that takes away peace of mind, health, dignity and all too often those we love.
There’s lots of money being raised and that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? After all, we’re told this conspicuous consumption of all things pink funds research, better care and the search for a cure, and, in the case of the very worthy McGrath Foundation, currently 55 breast care nurses across Australia.
So why are critics of this annual pinking of the month emerging? There have been very legitimate concerns raised about the way in which this “pinking” of a serious disease also sexualises, trivialises and, through some of the products such as teddy bears, infantilises sufferers.
It also conveniently ignores what Barbara Enhrenreich, author, social commentator and former breast cancer patient, calls the “Cancer Industrial Complex: the multinational corporate enterprise that with the one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive, semi-toxic pharmaceutical treatments.”
Despite all these legitimate worries, as comedian Jennifer Saunders (herself a former cancer sufferer) recently discovered, it’s difficult to criticise anything attached to something so serious, terrifying and demoralising as cancer, let alone question the original intentions behind such a worthy cause as the breast cancer awareness movement and all the other ones it’s spawned.
If you do, you’re read as ill-willed, uncaring, deliberately misunderstanding corporate and individual motivation and made a social pariah. Yet if we can’t examine this now, during a month dedicated to all things breast cancer, when can we?
This October we immersed ourselves in “cancer culture” (as it has been termed) and draped ourselves in pink the same way one might use garlic to ward off vampires.
In and of itself, this is a terrific and clever movement. But how prolific and, at times, far removed from its origins this “pinking”- the numerous products being sold and corporations that become involved – has become.