Got Pink?

If you’re one of those people who’s all over pink, can’t get enough of it, the more pink ribbon stuff the better, don’t read this post. It’ll just tick you off. You don’t need the stress, especially if you’ve already endured breast cancer. However, if you’re one of those who, like me, felt a little squirmy, nagging discomfort, beneath the overwhelming shock of hearing your diagnosis, at the instantaneous association of your personal calamity with a color that you never even particularly liked all that much, then read on.

Remember feminism? To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of its demise have been grossly exaggerated. Without its most recent incarnation back in the 1960s, it would be unlikely that women would now outnumber men in college, or that women would now sit on the Supreme Court. I am old enough to remember when Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I had actually started wearing a bra by the time women symbolically burned them in the 1968 protest of the Miss America pageant. I never actually burned one of my own, but I totally got it. I remember that when I wore my first pair of stockings, the only choices for holding them up were girdles or garter belts, and the latter were not the minimalist, lacey items sold at Victoria’s Secret. They were just girdles, those constricting beasts, with the leg parts cut off. I remember when pantyhose were a revolutionary invention. So, call me a feminist fossil. I’m proud of what we feminists accomplished then and continue to accomplish — whether it’s acknowledged or not — on behalf of women everywhere.

Pernicious Pink

Pink as a symbol of the female gender (and blue for the male gender) did not start with the breast cancer awareness movement. It seems to have started around the 1950’s and was a complete reversal of the associations that had prevailed in the first part of the 20th century. According to a circa World War I issue of Ladies Home Journal, “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

The whole notion of gender-associated colors is evidently a 20th century invention entirely, and why it came to be at all, and why the associations were reversed in mid-century, is not clear. In any event, once it became an accepted notion that pink was for girls and blue was for boys, the culture heaped all sorts of other associations upon these colors that hardened into stereotypes, that themselves only served to constrict notions of self-definition, and led to all the attendant woes of which stereotypes of any kind are fraught. Thus, one of the things that feminism was happy to dump by the wayside was the color pink, and every nasty little stereotypic, gender-biased notion attached to it. “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice…” Oh, yeah?? Pink this, pal!!

Pervasive Pink

So, you may perhaps begin to understand why so many of us, upon learning that we were diagnosed with breast cancer, felt squeamish about being suddenly saddled with the color pink as the symbol of our disease. This is cancer, folks, a lethal disease with a reputation for recurrence. The Stalker, dear readers, is not made of sugar and spice. Nor is its treatment or its treatment aftermath nor the painstaking research that has so far yielded perhaps more questions than answers. And who, you might wonder, decided that pink was “our” color? It seems to have started when the Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons in 1991 to the participants of the NYC Race for Breast Cancer Survivors. It was the feminist movement that helped to raise awareness of women’s health issues in the first place, empowering women to demand more answers, more effective and less gruesome treatment, better and earlier screening, and then in one fell swoop, we end up getting stuck with this bleeping color, and all its bleeping cultural stereotypes, to represent this hard-won awareness?

Are you kidding me?? Bad enough that the Nazis sewed pink triangles on the sleeves of concentration camp prisoners who were homosexual. Bad enough we’re inundated with a gazillion variations of pink fluff on Valentine’s Day. But this? Folks, let me tell you. Breast cancer ain’t no freaking valentine. So, excuse me if pink ribbons and pink tchotchkes and pink cars and guns and kitchen appliances and all the merchandising excesses of Pinktober are wont to make me gag. I am not a color. I am not a disease. I am not a stereotype. I am not the poster-child for the triumph of “positive thinking” over a life-threatening and poorly-understood illness. I am woman, hear me roar: all this infernal pink has yet to cure breast cancer. And that’s a fact.

Please click on the post title or the comment link below to post a response.

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 12:01 am, filed under Attitude, Fighting the Pink Peril, Making A Difference, Nitty Gritty, Survivorship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

20 Responses to “Got Pink?”

  1. Thank you! I am SO SICK of all the pressure to think positively, the vapid repetitions that against all available evidence ‘we might find the cure tomorrow’ (how is that going to happen when most of the studies are just repeated testings of the same drugs that have been failing us for decades, just in different combinations? when so little money is spent on development and testing of new treatment options?)

    Worst of all, I HATE the way everyone insists on calling us all ‘survivors’. I’ve got stage iv, grade 3 cancer. I’m entering my third year since diagnosis. Less than 5% of all stage iv bc patients make it to the 5 year mark, and a friend who was diagnosed a mere 3 months before me just died. I am NOT a survivor. I’m a fighter, but I’m not going to survive, and I fail to see why I should pretend otherwise. If we just fade away quietly, then nobody will see any reason to stop making obscene profits from my death and the death of my sisters-in-arms. They won’t see any reason to put serious money and effort into finding a cure.

    I’m not going to be positive, or quiet, or conformable, and I refuse to fade into a comforting pastel pink background. I’m going to be obnoxious, I’m going to raise a fuss, I’m going to be difficult – because it may be too late for me, but I owe it to my niece, my young friends, my daughter in law, and any grandchildren that might come after I am gone. I want better for them. They deserve better. They are worth fighting for.

  2. Bingo, Anna & Eileen. It breaks my heart. It really does. When I was going through treatment during my first October with breast cancer, I know that a lot of friends meant well & felt helpless, but inviting me to attend fundraisers when I felt sick, tired & broke was not helpful. Buying me pink stuff was not helpful. I fondly remember one colleague dropping off a full bag of groceries two days after my surgery. THAT was helpful. Driving me to appointments was helpful. Letting me cry and not exhorting me to be “positive” was helpful. Coming up with more options for treating and preventing mets would be helpful. A cure would be really helpful. And I’ve always said exactly what you said about the money, Anna. Rather than spending $140 dollars to buy Oakley Special Edition pink sunglasses, I’d rather just put $140 dollars in the hands of a woman who’s lost her job because she used up her medical leave, or who can’t afford her prescriptions. Pink duct tape & pink lingerie & pink car deodorizers don’t help.

  3. Kathi, I hear you roar. And I’m roaring as well. Pink Ribbons have made us “aware” but they have also made us lazy with our philanthropy. That’s why we’re not getting anywhere in this fight. Because people’s hard-earned dollars are now going to buy a pink-ribbon product and perhaps a small % from the sale of that product goes to breast cancer charity. Then that % is allocated by the charity to it’s programs. If it’s Komen, it seems pretty evident that the % going to research is around 23% on average. So let’s just do that math.

    Pink-Ribbon Sale Price = $10
    Cost of Manufacture = $4
    Other Costs = $2
    Net Profit = $4
    10% Donation to BC = 40c

    BC Allocation to Research @ 23% = 9c

    This is a hypothetical example, but probably not too far from reality. How about just forgoing the pink-ribbon stuff, donating the entire $10 and digging a little bit further to find out where your money is really going. Enough with the pink-ribbons !

  4. This is such a great essay. It’s disheartening that the hard won successes of the women’s movement have been converted to empty empowerment rhetoric painted in pink and repackaged for quick sale. Luckily, there are still many like you who are committed to feminist ideals oriented to elevating the social position of women, ALL women. Boobies bracelets and cutesy slogans in the name of “the cure” dilute, trivialize, and undermine not only that goal but also women who are literally fighting for their lives.

  5. Thanks for this Kathi, another woman here who remembers feminism also. Proud of feminists’ achievements and the amazing work they’ve done in women’s health. But when it comes to breast cancer – what happened?

  6. Sarah, that’s what we need to figure out. And try to help steer this ship back on course somehow. Maybe we need to get back to basics. We need to do some 21st century consciousness-raising!

    Thanks, Gabby. xx

  7. agree totally, great article x

  8. Well put, Kathi! I have no problem with pink as a colour, but I detest the trivialising fluffiness that it symbolises. You can’t beat a bit of purple, green and white … E.

  9. Kathi, I’m driving on 95, and I see a large Gulf Oil tanker trunk and the pink ribbon is drawn across the truck, with usual Komen lapel ribbon at the door: and it says something like “The Orange for the Pink”, and I look and the Gulf logo is surrounded by orange.

    So, we have the epitome of toxic waste festooned with corporate Pink.

    The irony was astounding.

    Thanks for your amazing, honest and incisive blogs.

  10. Great article KAK (as always)!! I get sick of seeing the “sea of pink” too. But something in this particular article stuck out more!! I “think” I have that beautiful flower picture in my kitchen window in a frame:) Thanks to you for sending it when a “little bug got me down”….LOL! Luv U girlfriend!!!

  11. Hey, Coonie! Thanks, girlfriend! I had to include some good pink, and I thought of that photo of the cosmos. πŸ˜‰

    Judy, I’m just speechless. My friend Jeanne took a photo of a trash hauler that was painted pink!! Oy…

  12. I love this, Kathi. DO I ever remember the movement, women’s studies, bra burning, MS Magazine, OurBodiesOurselves. I loved all of it.

    There are times when I’m out in the community and wonder where that all that passion for a wider whole went.

    It’s here, that’s where it is. On posts like this.

    Thanks for a great post. The comments in and of themselves are priceless as well,

  13. Oh I LOVE this post!! Spot on! And very funny πŸ™‚

  14. Thank you, Sandhy! There’s much more, believe me. Even a song!

  15. omg…hilarious!! Susan Komen has a LOT to answer for πŸ˜‰ Remember the Pink Hope 22 Susan G. Komen handgun?? Shooting for a cure?


    the scary thing is, it works. I am fund raising for three women’s cancers [won’t bore you with all the details – it’s on my blog] – ovarian [teal], cervical [cerise – pink in disguise…] and breast [PINK]. And I have discovered that the general populace now identify ALL cancery stuff with pink [grr]. I design event posters all the time, and I literally HAVE to put pink in, or people don’t understand that it’s a cancer fund raiser…

    personally I think the colour should be black; overwhelming – the colour for rage. But evoking a sense of potential and possibility

    Pink just makes me think of Barbie?

  16. OY!!! Yes, black would be good. Or maybe RED!!

  17. or both!

  18. Got to go visit your blog. πŸ˜‰

  19. don’t worry, there’s NO pink, not much teal – but rather a lot of swearing πŸ˜‰ Just found your facebook page! Good idea! Like that you’ve made a whopping 20 bucks!

  20. Cussing is very healthy, I’ve always thought. Also it is frequently the most appropriate response!

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