Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cancer Awareness

Hi all--

I don't have an outfit for you today; I have something to say from my heart.

Like many of you, my life has been profoundly impacted by cancer.  I've been touched by the number of style bloggers who have participated in October's "Breast Cancer Awareness" month. I see it as a real, visible, material manifestation of their desire to help fight cancer and reach out to those who have experienced it.

I can't help but be bothered, though, by the commodification and commercialization of the "breast cancer awareness" movement.  I appreciate the questions posed by Breast Cancer Action's "Think Before You Pink" initiative.  They suggest that before we purchase something to benefit breast cancer awareness, we ask:

How much money actually goes toward breast cancer programs and services?
Where is the money going?
What types of programs are being supported?
What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

One of my colleagues has been researching the rhetoric of various breast cancer "awareness" initiatives, and she first exposed me to Babara Ehrenreich's important 2001 essay, "Cancerland."  I'll admit that when I first read the article, I thought she was being overly cynical.  As time has progressed, though, and I've seen cancer cells refuse to respond to treatments in the bodies of those I love, I can't help but feel indebted to Dr. Ehrenreich.  I appreciate her willingness to voice an unpopular but very important perspective on the "fight against cancer," and I hope that some of you will take the time to read her thoughts on the issue.  If you or anyone you know has ever been just downright angry about cancer, you might be able to relate to her article as strongly as I do.

I wanted to write today, also, because as breast cancer awareness month comes to an end, those of us in the States are faced with a different type of opportunity to "do something" on November 2.  If you're committed to fighting cancer, I'd like to encourage you to do some extra research into which elected officials have proven their own commitment to the same.  While this is just one of the many important factors I weigh when I cast my ballot, I hope you'll agree that it's one worth considering.

With my most sincere wishes of happiness and health to all of you,


Lisa said...

Thank you for posting this!

I would just like to add, that an awareness campaign that is built around consumerism is very much a class based campaign that has a tendency (inadvertently) to exclude women who cannot "afford" to participate. Those very women who cannot "afford" to participate are also those who are often also marginalized in accessing health care and screening services.

If you're interested in further (academic) reading, a scholar here in Canada at Queen's University has published some critical work around the philanthropy of the breast cancer movement. Her name is Samantha King.


p.s. I make this comment fully aware of the value in mobilizing people around an issue such as cancer. It can help channel resources. I just think we need to reflect on the ways in which we choose to participate.

Katie, Interrobangs Anonymous said...

I was about to suggest looking at some of Samantha King's works, too, but Lisa beat me to it.

As a museologist, I'm always interested in how things are interpreted. What stories do we tell, how do we tell them, and what provisions do we create to help people deal with the outcome of those choices. There are have been several instances of museums wanting to develop health exhibits around the subject of cancer, and more than once various groups with specific agendas have tried to influence and even dictate the messages shared. As an interpreter, that is unacceptable. Thank you for linking to "Think Before You Pink" - resources that help refine our thinking and our choices are always a good thing.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Lisa and Katie. I really appreciate the points both of you make here, and I think ideas like these should continue to be a part of the conversation that goes on around "cancer awareness."

Thanks also for suggesting Samantha King's work. I'll put her on the winter between-semesters reading list!


Shakespeare's Feminine Ending said...

Liz, I've appreciated the efforts of style bloggers who have been showcasing their pink and to cities that have lit up the tops of buildings with pink lights, etc. The thing about wearing pink is visibility--women get breast cancer and they suffer and/or die from it. The visual is a reminder and it is a memorial. Most style bloggers I regularly read have been creative about incorporating already-owned pink into their wardrobes in order to participate in a basic activism of visibility and remembrance.

But I share your concern of the idea--and I've seen it--that consumption = activism. There are a lot of men/women out there who feel compelled to buy products (that they can then wear or affix to something) instead of building a relationship (through volunteering or donations) with an organization or two that is dedicated to research, care, or counseling for those affected by breast(cancer).

Scholar Style Guide said...

SFE, it was important for me to begin the post with a comment about how I've been touched by the participation of the style blogging community because I didn't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. I've also appreciated those bloggers who have linked to different websites that generate and perpetuate awareness about the issues at stake in the movement and what can be done to help fight the disease.

If people are still comfortable wearing pink for breast cancer "awareness" after reading critiques like those offered by Ehrenreich, I'm happy to see them do so. I'm just asking that we think as seriously about our involvement in movements like these as we do about everything else. And, as you suggest, I'm asking us to think about ways that we can "do something" beyond adorning ourselves in a color that has come to suggest solidarity and memorialization.


Shakespeare's Feminine Ending said...


I stopped by again to share the following link of a book review at Katherine Russell Rich reviews "Pink Ribbon Blues" by Gayle Sulik which looks at the Breast Cancer Awareness industry and its finances.

But I also wanted to say that I think I couched my comments a little too much last time. You see, I wrote the second paragraph first (agreeing with you about the worrying popular sense that consumption=activism) and then I feared how it would read and wrote the first paragraph, especially, to draw a distinction between consumptive pink-ing and the responsible aWEARness of my colleague LHdM and the women at Academichic.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Thanks for the link and the follow-up, SFE. I can certainly relate to wanting to discuss my point of view without being unnecessarily critical, so I understand where you're coming from.