Why I Hate Pink Ribbons

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2007, and that October, I went crazy with the pink ribbons. I bought everything I saw with a pink ribbon on it. In particular, I remember being in the grocery store and seeing a coffee cake with a pink ribbon printed on the box. I did not want the coffee cake, but I found myself thinking, “I want to support breast cancer research” and so into my cart went the coffee cake. (If I recall correctly, it later went into the garbage can, with only a few pieces eaten).

Buying random pink products felt to me like a good plan, something that I could do that would further the cause of breast cancer research, and bring us closer to the cure. I imagine it feels the same way to other people. My friend Yonina has breast cancer, and by buying this coffee cake I can help her in some way.

You can get fried chicken or donuts that support breast cancer, a kitchenaid mixer, a car magnet, a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel, gel pens, a flash drive, a kindle cover, Swiffer Sweepers, dinner plates, a cooler, all kinds of clothing, jewelry, and accessories. Would you like a breast cancer supporting cupcake?

And by buying these things we make ourselves feel better. The problem is, that’s all we do. And since my mother died from breast cancer in September of 2008, I despise October and all if it’s pink crap. To me, it is like a reminder–on a kindle, on a doughnut, on a freaking Swiffer Sweeper–that my mom is dead. That no amount of future research is going to save her. That nothing any of us did made any difference, in the end. Chemotherapy couldn’t save her, and neither could coffee cake.

I was thinking about this recently because I remember watching TV once and some talk show had on a child of someone who had died on 9/11. The kid stopped watching TV entirely for a couple of years after 9/11 because the only channel that didn’t show his dad dying was the Food Network. On literally every other channel, there was some point where they showed the Towers collapsing, and this kid–wisely–decided that was too upsetting, too triggering for him. To me, the pink ribbons are like the Towers falling. It’s a trigger. A pink one stamped on just about anything you can imagine.

I also don’t like the idea that the best way to further breast cancer research is by buying stuff. Want to support breast cancer research? Great idea! Please, feel free to get out your checkbook and write a check. There is no reason at all that you should abstain from doing that, during October or any other month. It’s something you can and should do without the aid of a single pink ribbon.

I also reject completely the notion of breast cancer awareness. What does that even mean? Women are aware of this risk. If they haven’t gone to get a mammogram or have something looked at, I guarantee it’s not because they aren’t aware, it’s because they can’t afford to go to the doctor, or they’re scared. Breast Cancer Awareness does not help with either of these problems.

Pink ribbons are big business, and I do understand the impulse people have to buy products stamped with that ribbon. But I hate it.

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