Resistant to All Things Pink

Though I’ve never had breast cancer, I think it’s fair to say the disease has shaped my life. My mother [Paula Hyman] was diagnosed at age 32, when I was 5 years old; she battled the disease for 33 years before dying of her sixth recurrence last December. Four years ago, I learned that I carry the BRCA genetic mutation, and I chose to have two prophylactic surgeries — bilateral mastectomy and the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes — taking drastic action in order to reduce my risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

So one might think I’d spend the month of October festooned with pink ribbons, buying up pink products, marching through the streets in a “Save the Ta-Tas” t-shirt, to raise awareness of this disease that has haunted me for nearly 35 years. But the truth is: I’m emphatically pink-resistant.

“Awareness” is…well, it’s certainly better than ignorance. But it’s so abstract. What kind of awareness does this month really spark? Awareness that women get sick and sometimes lose their breasts? Awareness of breast cancer’s environmental causes? Awareness of the political, racial, and economic inequities that are part of this disease and its treatment?
Some people argue that the few cents that might go to breast cancer research when you purchase a pink product are better than nothing. But I wonder how to measure the cost of this kind of corporate-driven and consumer-oriented pinkwashing. If we think we’re helping the cause by “shopping for the cure,” does that distract our attention from other political actions we could be taking?

And as someone who grew up with a one-breasted mother and voluntarily gave up my own “ta-tas” to avoid breast cancer, I’m put off by the objectifying humor of much of current breast cancer advocacy. I’m all for playfulness, and I know I’ll be labeled a humorless feminist for saying this, but is it really worth capitalizing on the sexual objectification of women to attract support for this disease? Why reduce a woman to her breasts, especially when she might be about to lose them?

Judith Rosenbaum from, October 29, 2012