The awareness-industrial complex

I hate cancer.  I hate it so, so much.  I hate it to the depths of my soul and back again.  I have never been diagnosed with cancer, but it’s taken plenty away from me all the same–the hole in me isn’t from a surgeon’s knife or a radiation beam, but from what my dear friend Liz took with her when she died of colon cancer in 2007.

Cancer is everywhere.  Members of my family have it, friends have it, neighbors have it.  Just before Thanksgiving, I learned that YET ANOTHER person I care about is under attack from the demon cancer.  I HATE IT.

You know what else I hate?  These:


A few months ago, a feminist lawyer of my acquaintance contacted me in my role as Minnesota NOW president to let me know about a suit being brought by a local girl against officials at her middle school, who disciplined her for wearing one of these godawful things.  This was a feminist/free speech/women’s health issue, she suggested.

Bullshit, I said.

As the mother of a middle schooler, I have been familiar with this bracelets for some time. Perhaps the best way to explain my position on the matter is to dramatize what occurred when Elliott expressed interest in getting one for himself.

MOM: No way are you getting one of those.  They’re sexist.
ELLIOTT: But Mom, they’re for cancer.
MOM: Oh yeah?  Did you know that men get a very serious form of cancer themselves? It’s called testicular cancer.
MOM: Are there kids at your school wearing bracelets that say “I heart nutsacks”?
ELLIOTT: (giggling uncontrollably)
MOM: I didn’t think so.  These bracelets aren’t about cancer, they’re about making fun of women’s bodies with cancer as a cover.  Until men’s bodies get in on the joke, no bracelets for you.

I planned to write a post about this lawyer’s request back when she made it, back in the thick of the  “is it or isn’t it feminist” debate swirling around SlutWalk.  This lawyer, as it happened, hinted that SlutWalk might not have been her feminist cup of tea.  I invited her to share the issue with a future meeting of Minnesota NOW officers, state board delegates, and members, all of whom could debate the issue more intelligently than me, a person who attempts to fill the Liz-shaped hole inside of her with WHITE HOT RAGE directed at ANY AND ALL CANCER “AWARENESS” CAMPAIGNS.


Because that’s where we’ve arrived in the cancer “awareness” movement.  We are aware of cancer every day.  We run in races, we walk for three days, we wear rubber things on our wrists.  We are granted freedom to make as many boob, ta-ta, knockers, bazooms, and/or tit jokes that we want to.  We paint everything pink for “awareness,” yet the dollars are not reaching the scientists in the labs who need them.  More and more of the money is kept by the pinked-out corporations and enormous foundations who exist to make you feel good, not do good.  Think about it: ever since the Empire State Building started glowing pink during the month of October, have breast cancer rates gone down?  NO. In the most egregious example of pinkwashing yet, Susan G. Komen For the Cure actually commissioned an “awareness” perfume that contained toluene, a neurotoxicant, and galaxolide, a hormone disruptor.


That’s a feminist issue.

8 thoughts on “The awareness-industrial complex

  1. Politicalguineapig

    Oh, god, yes. Breast cancer runs in my family, but I still hate October with a passion. I’d love to go work for an organization that actually does something other then perpetually fundraise. (I don’t have any money, and I’m already efficently killing myself doing volunteer work.)

  2. Anne

    This post is so spot on. And “I heart nut sacks!” You are inspiration on how to have a convo with kids on feminism in a way that actually gets through. Love it.

  3. Undercover in the Suburbs

    I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to speak up about this. I couldn’t agree more. My mother died of brain cancer, and I have never felt comforted or hopeful about the industry developing around cancer. There are also huge disparities in the funding for research of certain types of cancer than others – an “awareness gap” if you will. I’m driven crazy by those bracelets as well. And of course the hypocrisy of marketing a carcinogenic product is appalling. This is a bold statement, thank you!

  4. TheCollaboratrix

    Thank you so much for this post. Your convo with your son made me laugh out loud– I can’t think of a better way to explain just what’s wrong with those damn things.

  5. Pingback: The Radical Housewife » Blog Archive » Pink’d

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