With October being breast cancer awareness months, we're flooded with messages of “awareness” = thinly disguised merchandising, and slogans like “Save the tatas” and other nonsense featuring words like boobs and tits, making the whole cancer thing oh-so-sassy. There's a lot of information out there about pinkwashing, and that's all good stuff. My issues with the way breast cancer is packaged go beyond that, however.
Sassy slogans that place the focus on eroticized notion of breasts is problematic, of course, because it sort of tends to overshadow the fact that there's a human being attached to the tits that need saving; secondly, as mastectomy IS often a life saving although drastic procedure, the focus on saving the breasts can be actively damaging to survival and health of women. Also, can we please talk about serious illnesses affecting women without trivializing, sexualizing and sassifying? Can we ever talk about women's cancers as human suffering? Is that too much to ask?
Now, to the notion of buying pink-ribbon stuff. Even if you follow the Think Before you Pink guidelines, I would still advocate separating your philanthropy from your consumerism. I'm deeply disturbed by the increasing tendency to merge them together – as in, buy yogurt and we'll donate a few cents off the profits to a charity. How about I just donate to the charity I want, and buy yogurt separately? I mentioned it before – I am troubled by the notion of voting with your wallet, as consumer decisions are becoming the main vehicle for political expression and activism, for a fairly significant portion of the population. We buy hybrid cars and long-lasting light bulb to express our commitment to the environment (rather than, you know, reducing waste or carpooling, god forbid), and now we have to buy t-shirts to support breast cancer? Which create more waste and pollution, which in turn increases cancers?
And much like with the environmentalism-based consumption, charity-linked spending creates a false sense of doing something good, while contributing little. A direct donation of $20 to a proper charity is philanthropy; buying yourself a $20 shirt (that comes with a promise of profits being donated to charity) is just buying yourself a shirt (and likely contributing to unfair labor practices). Any benefit for charity etc is likely to be negligible. And that's $20 you won't be donating, and another shirt you don't need.
And at the bottom of it all, why hand over your power to make charitable contributions to some manufacturer? Ultimately, you often don't know if they are doing what they say they are doing, and you almost never know how much their manufacturing practices are contributing to the carcinogenic environment we live in. So I think I'll stick to keeping things separate – and I think there's value in recognizing when one's engaging in consumerism, rather than pretending that it's something else.