My son, Jordan, does not remember a time his mother was not a breast cancer survivor or a children’s book author. He and his sister, Tabitha, have an impressive resume of marketable skills they acquired while helping me establish NutcrackerPublishing Company.
|Jordan helping me out with a summer science camp group.|
While still in elementary school they were pros at collecting book sale money at speaking engagements, or creating and selling balloon animals at fundraising events, and my daughter’s personal favorite (NOT), being interviewed by media.
As they grew up they educated me on the technicalities of my first website, and later social media. They did everything from dressing up as the Tickles Tabitha character to critiquing my presentations.
It was only this year that Jordan realized, what he viewed as ordinary and often embarrassing, some of his college classmates thought was totally awesome.
So maybe I gloated a little bit. It was one of those -I TOLD YOU SO- moments every Mom with a young adult child appreciates.
|Clowning around at the Harris Nuclear Plant's|
Community Days Event.
Teachers often ask me to share how students might come up with a writing idea. I always advise educators and students to pay attention to what goes on in their own lives. Sometimes the very thing that bores or annoys them most (like having to help out with your mother’s author events) may one day inspire an idea to write about.
When Jordan called and said, he had a writing assignment he thought I might like, I knew better than to be flattered, but I could not have been prouder.
Jordan B Frahm
This essay intends to inform the reader of the ethical misconduct involved in the popularization of breast cancer awareness by various organizations. It will explore the rise of breast cancer philanthropy in the commercial setting, the effects it has had on the outlook of the disease, and the cultural implications related to the way awareness is marketed.
II. Pink Diagnosis
Prior to the 20th century, breast cancer was treated as taboo relative to today’s progressive openness on the subject. Although feminist movements can largely be credited for paving the way for breast cancer awareness campaigns, the disease’s most recognizable symbol of awareness was first used in 1992 as an object of Self magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Fernandez recounts the story of the pink ribbon’s beginnings in Mamm Magazine: A woman named Charlotte Haley had been distributing peach-colored ribbons with a card that read: "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.” Self magazine contacted Haley to harness the ribbons for national awareness, but the activist declined in favor of a less commercial approach. However, Self legally circumvented Haley’s apprehension by using pink ribbons instead. That year, Estée Lauder handed out 1.5 million pink ribbons accompanied by breast self-exam instructions. (Fernandez)
Avon and other cosmetic names followed suit with wild success in the coming years, bringing pink ribbons and breast cancer closer into the public eye. According to Fernandez, “Between 1991 and 1996, federal funding for breast cancer research increased nearly fourfold to over $550 million. And according to the American Cancer Society, the percentage of women getting annual mammograms and clinical breast exams has more than doubled over the last decade [as of 1998].” In addition to the pink ribbon, a variety of other breast cancer awareness campaigns have aided in spotlighting the once-overlooked disease. Awareness has even transcended the commercial market, reaching the levels of diplomatic implementation. In 2006, the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness was created, and soon made partnership with “the Komen Foundation, the Avon Corporation, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, and a variety of cancer care and business organizations in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Palestine.” (King 287).
III. Philanthropy Prognosis
Superficially, this campaign to end breast cancer appears wildly successful. According to Breastcancer.org, “Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades.” Yet conflicts of interest lie just below the surface and one must consider whether this campaigning has created a long-term solution to our breast cancer problem. Eli Lilly is a pharmaceutical company that sells cancer treatments (Gemzar) and preventatives (Evista) yet also markets rBGH – the artificial growth hormone it acquired from Monsanto to produce more milk in cows, despite its link to elevated risk of breast cancer (Hankinson et al, Macaulay, Resnicoff & Baserga). This suggests that Eli Lilly profits from both the treatment and the causal factors of breast cancer. The cosmetic industry, as well, notoriously uses cancer-linked ingredients in their products, yet once was the sole distributor of pink-ribbon merchandise. And despite the fact these companies raise awareness, it is clear that it is a profit-driven system. From a perspective of Virtue-based ethics, these organizations fail to do good in that they have acted for the wrong reason.
Commercial organizations recognize that consumers will respond to the opportunity to join a cause, because there is social influence to be philanthropic. According to Bolnick, there are “social pressures to contribute to the charity, and [consumers] will base their decisions upon the strength of these pressures, the utility derived from giving to the particular project, and the cost of choosing to contribute” (220). The pink-ribbon campaign has produced a huge variety of everyday items with pink labels, removing the variable of derived utility. That is, the consumer is going to buy a given product anyway, so there is only the choice between the regular brand and the one that supports breast cancer awareness. Oftentimes they are the same or similar price, removing Bolnick’s variable of the cost of choosing to contribute. Ultimately, shoppers shift their purchasing decisions toward pink labels and feel charitable with little effort involved on their part. Even the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness is suspect. Consider that “the campaign is a subproject of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), launched on December 12, 2002 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq” (bold added), and that even though the program is “encouraging companies to launch awareness programs and to offer free screening to employees, … Dubai already had in place a comprehensive free mammography service… open to foreigners as well as locals with no identification or health care required” (King, 288). Still, breast cancer screenings themselves are a matter of debate as there are many risks involved. Neither the money contributed towards breast cancer awareness, nor treatment, nor screenings can be judged as directly supportive to actually preventing or curing the disease itself. In a Utilitarian sense, then, good has not been done because, in the long term, breast cancer has only been applied a bandage.
IV. Social Side-Effects
As breast cancer awareness campaigns became washed in pink, it seemed that so too did the disease’s afflicted. Amy Langer, executive director of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations is quoted as saying, “it’s about body image, it’s about nurturing—it’s certainly about femininity,” (Fernandez). Initially it may seem fitting that breast cancer awareness campaigns be modeled after the concept of femininity, but this has had profound cultural consequences. The face of the fight against breast cancer has essentially become the young, white, attractive woman. Misleading advertisements for the risk of breast cancer in America may visually depict young women, while the actual data being presented is representative of those in their sixties and above. Mohanty comments on the “assumption that all women, across classes and cultures, are somehow socially constituted as a homogeneous group identified prior to the process of analysis,” raising the notion that this homogeneity is “produced not on the basis of biological essentials but rather on the basis of secondary sociological and anthropological universals” (22). By overlooking these biological essentials, the mainstream concern for breast cancer has largely overlooked the male population affected by the disease. For a diagnosed man, the feminized picture of the breast cancer struggle can be alienating despite how far our awareness has come. Women, too, are at risk when the disease is feminized. The emphasis placed on the sexuality of breasts has both garnered attention and given female patients a paradox - as described by Schulzke – because “once one has suffered from this paradigmatic woman’s disease, one loses the socially valued signs of femininity” (39). Schulzke even raises the concern that “The prevalence of pink indicates the lost radicalism and return to a traditional conception of women and actually helps to prevent them from taking meaningful action” (50). Pink propaganda seems an effective means to distract women from the profitable cycle of cancer described in Section III via the feeling of comradery - or even sisterhood. On all accounts, the young, attractive, female archetype for breast cancer is only valid in media, not in the true demographics of the disease. Here again, Utilitarian ethics dictates that good has not necessarily been done: the social pressures derived from feminizing breast cancer must be weighed against the awareness raised – which has not necessarily helped to cure the disease.
Marketing methods have been used to lift breast cancer into the public eye, providing awareness of its prevalence and methods of detection to the masses. Yet it is simultaneously clear that the concept of breast cancer activism has been used with conflicting interest, as even the companies that have so stridently brought attention to the disease are responsible for causing it in the first place. Meanwhile, these groups profit from marketing schemes colored pink and the mainstream media have consequently distributed a skewed vision of what it means to have breast cancer.
Bolnick, Bruce. “Toward a Behavioral Theory of Philanthropic Activity.” Altruism, Morality, and Economic Theory. Russell Sage Foundation, 1975. Print.
Fernandez, Sandy M. “Pretty in Pink.” Mamm, June/July 1998; available at http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/?page_id=26. Accessed Mar 31, 2014.
Hankinson S, et al. Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor 1 and risk of breast cancer. Lancet 351:1393-1396, 1998.
King, Samantha. “Pink Diplomacy: On the Uses and Abuses of Breast Cancer Awareness.” Health Communication 25.3 (2010): 286-289.
Macaulay VM. Insulin-like growth factors and cancer. British Journal of Cancer 65:311-320, 1998.
Mohanty, Chandra. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. New York: Duke UP, 2003. Print.
Resnicoff M, Baserga R. The insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor protects tumor cells from apoptosis in vivo. Cancer Research 55:2463-69, 1998.
Schulzke, Marcus. “Hidden Bodies & the Representation of Breast Cancer.” Women's Health and Urban Life 10.2 (2011): 37-55.
U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. Breastcancer.org. Sept 26, 2013. Accessed Apr 10, 2014.