What if instead of wearing pink and “I LOVE BOOBIES” bracelets we got down to some nitty-gritty, non-consumer-based activism like Occupying Wall Street?

(originally posted as “What if you could buy social justice? Think Pink: Cancer Profiteering” in 2009)

The pinking of cancer is arguably one of the most well-known examples of the cultural misconception that we can buy social justice. Starting out with the pink ribbon, this consumerized think-pinking has, as Ayelet Waldman details in her Salon.com article, made us “awash in a sea of pink”:

“Pink ribbons, pink wristbands, pink Cartier watches, pink makeup kits, pink Tic Tacs, a pink Delta airplane, pink nail polish, a pink Montegrappa Micra Pen, pink bouquets, pink tweezers, pink candles, pink jeweled key fobs, pink totes, pink shower gel, pink tea, pink moisturizer, pink Lean Cuisines, pink teddy bears, pink Waterford crystal, pink Post-its, pink M&Ms, pink sneakers, pink umbrellas, pink yogurt, pink golf balls, pink pencil sharpeners, and even pink toilet paper. That’s right, wipe for the cure.”

Wipe for the cure?!? Ha! I wonder, are there pink condoms so we can also fuck for the cure?

While this pinking of cancer began with the pink ribbon, the history behind how the ribbon became pink is worth considering in more detail. In fact, the cancer awareness ribbon was originally PEACH. This peach ribbon was part of a GRASSSROOTS ACTIVISM campaign, not a corporate profiteering label. As Sandy M. Fernandez details in her excellent article “Pretty in Pink” (read it in full here):

The woman was 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer. Her peach-colored loops were handmade in her dining room. Each set of five came with a card saying: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”

Haley was strictly grassroots, handing the cards out at the local supermarket and writing prominent women, everyone from former First Ladies to Dear Abby. Her message spread by word of mouth. By the time Liz Smith printed her phone number, Haley had distributed thousands.

Then Self magazine called.

“We said, ‘We want to go in with you on this, we’ll give you national attention, there’s nothing in it for us,” Penney says. Even five years later, her voice still sounds startled by Haley’s answer. “She wanted nothing to do with us. Said we were too commercial.”

At the end of September 1992, Liz Smith printed a follow-up to Haley’s story. She reported that Estee Lauder had experienced “problems” trying to work with Haley, and quoted the activist claiming that Self had asked her to relinquish the concept of the ribbon. “We didn’t want to crowd her,” Penney says. “But we really wanted to do a ribbon. We asked our lawyers and they said, ‘Come up with another color.”

They chose pink.

So, the real history is that pink was chosen as a way of STEALING and PROFITING from one woman’s idea. Holy pink crap! (And, if you need more proof that Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source, their entry on the history of the pink ribbon does NOT cover this information.)

As Fernandez writes,

“…because of Haley’s ribbon, Self and Estée Lauder had traded in a color that was merely peachy for one that was an icon, a semiotic superstar. “Pink is the quintessential female color,” says Margaret Welch, director of the Color Association of the United States. “The profile on pink is playful, life-affirming. We have studies as to its calming effect, its quieting effect, its lessening of stress. [Pastel pink] is a shade known to be health-giving; that’s why we have expressions like ‘in the pink.’ You can’t say a bad thing about it.” Pink is, in other words, everything cancer notably is not.”

While peach would have been problematic too, given its false associations with being skin color or “flesh” (thanks for nothing Crayola!), it might have been preferable to the bubble-gum faux-female-empowering and infantilizing pink.

Further, the shift from peach to pink, or from somewhat natural to neon, symbolically echoes the shift in cancer activism. As David Bollier notes in his article “The Pink Ribbon Juggernaut”:

“At one time, activists focused on the environmental causes of breast cancer and the importance of prevention. But as corporate marketers came to recognize that breast cancer awareness offers a great way to position one’s company as a champion of women, the ‘social meaning’ of the disease changed. The ‘pink ribbon’ branding of breast cancer has made the disease an upbeat, emotional celebration of ‘survivors,’ women’s fitness, civic voluntarism – and selling.”

Thus, when peach went pink, an activist movement became a consumerist movement. Yet, as noted by Barbara Brenner, executive director of BCA (Breast Cancer Action),  ”If shopping for pink ribbon products was truly the path to a cure, we’d have solved the breast cancer problem by now.”  Yeah, and if SHOPPING was a CURE for anything, we would have also saved the environment, the economy, and eradicated poverty!

However, instead of “shopping for the cure,” we are ironically “shopping for the spread.” Or, as Ayalet Waldman points out:

“There is a particular irony in this corporate sponsorship. Many cosmetics contain parabens, estrogenic chemical preservatives that can disrupt normal hormone functions, and exposure to such external estrogens has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The link between environmental pollutants and breast cancer is also becoming clearer. When absorbed into the body, certain pesticides, plastics additives, and chemicals present in foods, household dust and air act like estrogen, possibly increasing the risk of breast cancer.”

Even more ironic, as pointed out by Professor Julia Mason, is that “The largest drug companies who make cures also make carcinogenic products, which cause cancer.” Wow, talk about lining your own pockets!!! Give em cancer, then sell em ‘cures,’ and THEN sell em PINK products that show just what a caring corporation you are!

Along with capitalizing on disease, the think-pink paradigm also works to “pink-wash” products. Akin to “green-washing,” pink-washing presents products and the corporations that make them as caring about women in general and preventing/curing breast cancer specifically.

Further, even people, it seems, can be pink-washed. As David Bollier reports, “after a series of prominent NFL players were involved in serious crimes such as rape, domestic violence and DUI, the NFL launched a “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign. This PR effort enabled the NFL to showcase its players as community-minded volunteers who care about women and children.”

As this example reveals, there is a serious lack of social critique accompanying the think pink movement. When rape and violence can be pink-washed away, we must question if the pinking of cancer is ultimately doing more harm than good…

In addition to allowing corporations to plaster their image with a pink happy face, pinking also obfuscates critical analysis in favor of feel-good consumerism.

Got cancer due to that toxic waste dump you live near? Forget about it! Put on some Avon pink lip-gloss, some pink tennies, and walk your way to feel good oblivion! Forget that you no longer have the time or energy (and never did have the money) to examine how poverty, racial inequality, and a rabidly unequal healthcare system contribute to unequal rates of breast cancer among different race/class groups. Forget about the economic injustice that translates into you living next to the toxic waste dump and put on your pink happy face already! If the pink ribbon people don’t advocate for federal budgets/laws to prevent cancer, and it they are not pressuring corporations to research and then stop using cancer-causing chemicals, who are you to complain? (A disclaimer – there are campaigns and groups that step away from unexamined pinking – notably Think Before You Pink launched by Breast Cancer Action).

So, while Kristin McDonald argues that the pink ribbon is “a symbol of the new spirit of activism that is changing the way we face breast cancer,” I disagree. I think instead it is a symbol of the new spirit of commodification that is consumerizing the way we face not only breast cancer, but ALL social issues and injustices.

Pinkwashing will not bring the cure let alone bring about prevention. What it will bring about is “healthier industry,” as noted by Penni Marshall in her piece “Pink to Green.” As Marshall indicates, this cancer profiteering is not about saving the planet nor the women who live on it, but about allowing industry to continue to use cancerous toxins as it claims to be working towards a cure. As Marshall argues, “Above all else, the bottom line on breast cancer has to be what’s healthy for the environment and for women’s bodies, not what’s healthy for industry.”

Perhaps in October, when we are again inundated with pink products, we can reflect on the peach history that has been forgotten, or on the ways in which cancer harms the flesh of individual bodies (and disproportionately harms bodies of color due to systematic poverty/unequal healthcare) and DOES not harm, but BENEFITS corporations – the very same corporations that have put on pink happy faces while their products and manufacturing practices rely on known cancer causing toxins…

Addendum:

This October finds many, many people participating in “Occupy Wall Street” protests. Hurrah! Now this in not only non-consumer-based, it’s anti-consumerist, anti-corporatizatoin, and pro-justice. Hurrah!!!

 

What if Barbie went for a swim? Thoughts on the “Drown the Dolls” Project

“For decades, Barbie has remained torpedo-titted, open-mouthed, tippy-toed and vagina-less in her cellophane coffin—and, ever since I was little, she threatened me,” writes Susan Jane Gilman in her article “Klaus Barbie.”

This sentiment towards Barbie, one Gilman describes as “heady, full-blown hatred,” is familiar to many females (myself included) – but, so too, is a love of Barbie and a nostalgia for Barbie-filled memories.

Feelings towards Barbie often lie along a continuum that shifts with life’s passages –as children, many love her, then as tween and teendom sets in, she is tossed aside, forgotten about her for many years, and then later, when children come into one’s life – through mothering or aunty-ing, Barbie once again enters the picture. For feminist women, the question of whether or not Barbie is a “suitable” plaything for the children in their lives often looms large as they navigate the toy-fueled world of early childhood.

“Drown the Dolls,” an art exhibit premiering this weekend at the Koplin Del Reio art gallery in Culver City, California by Daena Title continues the feminist tradition of analyzing Barbie, this time with an eye towards “drowning” (or at least submerging) the ideals of femininity Barbie embodies. In the video below, the artist explains her fascination with Barbie as “grotesque” and how her distorted reflections under water mirror the distorted messages culture sends to girls and women about feminine bodily perfection.

Title’s project and the surrounding media campaign (which asks people to share their Barbie Stories in 2 to 3 minute clips at You Tube), has garnered a lot of commentary. Much of the surrounding commentary and many of the threads have focused on the issue of drowning as perpetuating or normalizing violence against women. For example, this blogger at The Feminist Agenda writes,

“When I look at the images… I don’t so much get the message that the beauty standard is being drowned as that images of violence against women – especially attractive women – are both acceptable and visually appealing in our culture.”

Threads at the Ms. blog as well as on Facebook include many similar sentiments. While I have not seen the exhibit yet, the paintings featured in the above clip are decidedly non-violent – they do not actively “drown” Barbie so much as showcase her underwater with her distorted image reflected on the water’s surface – as well as often surrounded by smiling young girls. As Title indicates in her discussion of her work, it is the DISTORTED REFLECTIONS of Barbie that captivate her – as well as the way she is linked to girl’s happiness and playfulness – a happiness that will be “drown” as girls grow into the adult bodies Barbie’s plastic body is meant to represent.

The reactions thus far of “drowning” as violent focus on the project’s title alone, failing to take the content (and context) of the paintings into account – they are not a glorification of violence but a critique of the violence done to girls and women (and their bodies and self esteem) by what Barbie represents.

To me, Title’s work is in keeping with the earlier aims of the Barbie Liberation Organization who infamously toyed with Barbie’s voicebox to have her say GI Joe’s line “vengeance is mine” rather than her original “math is hard!” Her work adds to the tradition of feminist work on toys, gendering, and girls studies – a tradition that is thriving and continues to examine new and old toys alike (as here and here).

The negative commentary regarding Title’s work as perpetuating violence seems to me a knee-jerk reaction – one not based in critical reading of her work. While maybe Barbie (and the bodily perfection her grotesquely ABNORMAL body represents) SHOULD sink, Title’s work – and the critiques of Barbie it is fostering, deserves to swim…

What if you are “Team Fat Vampire”?

Fat hatred is ubiquitous in US culture, abhorred as a sign of laziness, stupidity, and gluttony. Given that last one, it seems like we might have a few fat vampires amongst the contemporary undead grazing our television screens, our movie theatres, and the pages of many a books. Alas, fat-positive vampires don’t get much play. Just as most characters in film and television are thin in the extreme, so too are most vampires. This post, which is part of my new “Monstrous Musings” column housed over at Womanist Musings, ponders why there are (virtually) no fat vampires. Please give it a read and add to the comment thread!

What if menstruation was accepted as a fact of life rather than cause for shock and awe? Reading around the I-pad

The clip below, from MadTV in 2007, muses on the need for an I-pad to have “vaginal firewall protection.” Though hilarious, it does trade in the “ewww, periods are so gross” paradigm criticized in the recent “The iPad: Love It or Hate It, but Leave Periods Out of It” post from Kate Dailey.

As noted in The I-Pad Oh My Periods from Womanist Musings, “Moving from we can’t talk about periods because they are dirty to tee hee is not really any form of progress.”

Or, as asked over at Feministig, The iPad: Where are the women on Apple’s branding team?”
Might all the “tee-hee-ing” going on (as Renee calls it) indicate some internalized misogyny on women’s part (as asked in this thoughtful post here at Gourmet Goddess)? Or might it, as the Goddess questions, suggest feminists need to “grow up,” sharing that “ I do think the fact that a name like the iPad is cause for such vocal derision by feminists, of all people, just shows how far we feminists have to go to fully accept ourselves as women.”

I partially agree, but I also know I wouldn’t really like a product named after hemorrhoidal cream (the iItch?) or after semen (the iCum?). Yes, females bleed, we have periods – they are not something to silence or mock, but neither are they something I want to think about all the time. But, then again, the name I-pad didn’t make me think of menstruation – perhaps because I am a fan of the diva cup. Now there’s a good name, the iDiva.

What if New Year’s Eve programming didn’t put our sexist, look-obsessed culture into such sharp relief?

As I flipped through various New Year’s Eve shows while I sucked down bubbly, I noticed a common thread – male performers had virtually no skin showing, females had a lot. From Rihanna, who HAD to be freezing in that stomach bearing outfit in the freezing NY weather, to Shania Twain, whose torn t-shirt revealed a skinny-minny stomach, to Fergie’s oddly shiny legs, the female skin was out in full force.

In contrast, Daughtry was covered up in a head to toe black outfit with a white scarf covering every bit-o-chest-n-neck.  Flo-rider didn’t have a scarf, but he too was in a black outfit that covered all but his hands and head.

Flash to Carmen Electra, in a cleavage popping skin tight white dress, whose bubbly-brainlessness made me want to gag. Even poor Allison Iraheta, whom I love, had on a poofy-ultra short red-prom dress number and a crazy long red hair that kept blowing into her mouth as she tried to sing. I am sure this was the work of some “image management” person who is busy trying to make her look more white, more skinny, more sexy, less Latina, less subversive, less smart… And poor, ditzy Carmen couldn’t even pronounce her name. Sorry, Miss Electra, but I think you may need to spend less time on that body and more time exercising your brain.

As per usual, for the men, it was about their music, their art – their bodies were the background, hidden by non-skin bearing clothing. For the women, the skin, the appearance, were foreground. Hence, the fact our culture continues to suffer from a sexism that objectives and sexualizes women was out in spades. Made me choke on my champagne.

Don’t get me wrong — I find female bodies beautiful and I don’t think they need to be hidden or shamed. But, I find male bodies beautiful too. Couldn’t there be some equal opportunity showing of both male and female skin? (Not of the objectifying variety, but of the celebratory, body-loving, aren’t we lucky to live in these great prison-houses of flesh variety.)

Then, there was all the glorifying of hetero monogamy and that golden grail/prison – marriage. How many damn proposals do they have to show? And do I need to see all those hetero couples lip-locking for so damn long? Where was the non-hetero love? Sorry, LGBTQ peeps, your kisses are not New Year’s Eve television worthy!

Ageism abounded too with cameras focused on the young and perky, with presenters with nary a wrinkle in sight, with musicians straining too look like they are still 20 even when they are NOT – Shania, I am talking to you…

Here’s hoping the second decade of 2010 can keep us moving along the progressive track where more women, more people of color, more different ages and body types can be celebrated for their contributions that are not only of the good body/perfect legs variety…

What if Santa brings out the fat-haters?

I was about to re-post a popular xmas piece of mine from last  year, What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa? when I came across this tweet from Bitch Media:

“Our culture’s knack for fat-shaming is now being directed at Santa? Oh no! No one is safe! http://bit.ly/5CsWDo

According to the NYDaily news link “A party-pooping public health expert in a top medical journal says Santa Claus needs to cut back on cookies” and “swap his sleigh for a treadmill…”

This message also ran through Fred Klaus, which I watched the other night. The very authentic looking Santa (played by Paul Giamatti) was continually berated about his weight by Mrs. Klaus (played by Elizabeth Banks). This movie had some funny bits, but I could have done without the fat-shaming.

Seems shaming Santa for his body is popular on Twitter, too. Here’s a quick sampling with added commentary by yours truly.

“BlondHousewife Santa Claus is a terrible role model. He’s fat, he drinks and he speeds. Breaks into people’s homes and abuses animals.” Being fat makes one a terrible role model? How about being a body-policing hater? Is that role model behavior?

“sophiemitch Dear Santa, Don’t bother coming to my house this year I’ve been Naughty! and it was fucking worth it… you fat, judgmental son of a bitch!!” Yup, if you want to insult someone, be sure to throw the f-word in there.

“jbouzou Fat Santa Claus / Think he surely ate / his reindeers. #senryu :o)” Uh-huh, cuz we all know fat people will eat ANYTHING.

“TrendTweetTopic Is Santa naughty if he’s fat? http://twa.lk/VvfLt about 3 hours ago from API” Cuz nothing says your bad like fat.

“Jazbyl24 I wonder if santa got my letter that fat mother fucker didn’t answer me back” Why is fat so often included as a descriptor when thin/skinny is not? Kinda like how we label non-white people but not white ones… As in “a black man was arrested” vs “a man was arrested” — when the person reported on is white, rarely is the whiteness mentioned…

Hope you can ignore all this fat-hatred Santa. Seems like your body size should be the last thing people focus on. But, when you’re fat, doesn’t seem to matter what you do or what kind of person you are, the thing people will focus on and shame you for is fat. Just imagine if you were (an out) female — then you’d likely see a load more fat-hatin and fat-shamin!

What if ….? Short Takes 11/19/09

As life and other projects are drastically reducing my blog-time here at Prof What if ? I have decided to start posting some short takes consisting of brief musings on recent news and events. Kind of like tweets I suppose, but I have not dipped into that world yet. Maybe soon.  Can someone as verbose and opinionated as me limit herself to 140 characters? Time will tell. For now, on with today’s short takes:

1.    KPBS this evening featured a cosmetic surgeon lamenting that healthcare reform is unfairly targeting cosmetic procedures with a 5% tax hike. He claimed this is sexist, using the rational that  86% of cosmetic surgical patients are women.  No, 86% of such patients are women because we live in a SEXIST SOCIETY that evaluates a woman s worth based on her looks!!! Duh! Profiting off this fact is not some altruistic anti-sexist endeavor as Dr. Knife-man claimed! Another Mr.Cut-em-up told sob stories about women who had been laid off and come into his office hoping to finance surgical procedures so they can look younger and  land a job. While the job-market (especially in certain fields) is undoubtedly lookist, making cosmetic surgery more affordable is not the answer!!! Instead, how about trying to dismantle the beauty/diet industrial complex? Instead, the fake boob factory scalpel boys are boo-hoo-ing their fat-sucking and botox-injecting are being targeted and it’s sexist. How about attacking the Stupid Amendment instead — you know, the one that limits a woman’s reproductive choice. This seems a little more pertinent to the sexist healthcare argument to me…

2.    Read today that the Pentagon is going to launch an investigation into the Fort Hood shootings  — isn’t that kind of like having the fox investigate why there are so many dead chickens in the hen-house?

3.    Saw a girl who looked about 5 wearing and  I love Edward  t-shirt. I am wondering how she knows this. Is someone reading the Twilight series to her as a bedtime story?  “Oh mommy, read to me again about how girls are so clumsy and I need a man to make happy!!!”  It’s Snow White but instead of just cooking and cleaning, Bella also trips over her own feet and reproduces sparkly human/vampire babies! Plus, she has headboard busting sex on a private island! Ooh, even better than Beauty and the Beast!