Monday, September 05, 2011

When Pink and Baseball Collide

This isn't really a post about baseball, but I'm gonna start there. On Sunday I went to the baseball game, and I think it was maybe the bajillionth time I've run into Breast cancer Awareness day at the game.


Six hundred plus breast cancer survivors put on neon pink jerseys and form a pink ribbon on the field and release pink balloons and doves and more people wear pink in the stands and there are pink give-aways and pink between-inning speeches it's all very pink and emotional and inspiring. (Way better than the game I went to on Saturday that turned out to be Christian day at the games, though unannounced, and really bugged me. See my previous encounter with religion at the ballpark.) I'm not upset that it was cancer day- I mean surviving cancer is a wonderful thing. My grandmother had breast cancer and lived for about 30 more years and died of something entirely unrelated (though it may or may not have been cancer), and as cynical as I am, I'm certainly not going to begrudge celebrating life. (OK, I'm cynical when it comes to the yearly baseball Michael Milken campaign about prostate cancer, but dude's a thief. I can't help it.)

Well, actually the Milken story is rather relevant here, but this is where the story veers from baseball. One of Milken's lines, apparently, was "Greed is Good." And this is the problem with the prostate campaign, and why I get so frustrated that I'm cynical about a cause that fights a deadly disease: The fight against prostate cancer is run by the man who said "greed as good." And though Milken isn't running the breast cancer campaign, the line might as well apply to the campaign against breast cancer. There is a Problem with Pink. Here are some stats for you, as broken down by The Cancer Culture Chronicles: Komen, the "charity" behind much of the pink stuff out there, contributed less than 19% of their resources to breast cancer resources in 2010. So I'm at this game Sunday watching all of these women proudly standing on the field in solidarity and sisterhood with other survivors, wearing pink jerseys that were funded with money that could have gone to actually making a difference for them and other women. And fuming, of course.

So we've got problem number 1: The main foundation funding ("funding") breast cancer research is actually quite lame about distributing their abundant wealth. But there's more, of course. The Pink message encourages us to miss the target: breast cancer doesn't just happen, and the causes of breast cancer are Big Picture- not just genetic and not just solved with self breast-exams or mammograms. This blog from one of my favorite online action sites, Think Before You Pink, reminds us that though breast cancer affects individuals, it's a social and environmental issue as well, and must be "cured" as such. The decidedly non-pink Breast Cancer Fund website has clear sections on the kinds of environmental things that can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, including population markers such as genetics, race/ethnicity, where you live, and where you work. The research is being done, but sadly, the annual report is only in its sixth year. Contrast this with the Very Pink and glitzy shiny Susan Komen site. It's easy to see how much more research could be done, and how much more could be done with research at the Breast Cancer Fund site. Instead, we've got Pink.

And back to one of my favorite websites, Sociological Images, a recent study found that pink was self-defeating. Women exposed to all this Pink crap felt a personal threat- pink is so overdetermined as feminine that women take the Pink=Women's Disease to heart, and try to ignore it as a defense mechanism. This leads women to be less likely to donate money to anything breast cancer related and less likely to take the idea of breast cancer affecting them seriously. On the one hand, Pink makes the disease a personal, not global threat, and on the other, when the threat becomes personalized, natural defense mechanisms cause women to shy away from taking it seriously.

I don't have answers for this one, but as usual, when something is sending a very strong traditional cultural message, there's usually more to the story, and probably a better solution. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow along with Think Before You Pink, both the blog and the action campaigns, check out the research at The Breast Cancer Fund, and The Cancer Culture Chronicles, which can be a very difficult read, which is honest, not Pink. Pink is not difficult. It's traditional and trite and cheerful, and so not-cancer-like. I mean no disrespect for the strong women on the baseball field. I just hope we can change the marketing in time that the 600 survivors are the last 600 survivors, because there's no more cancer. I don't think Pink will do this.