It’s # BreastCancerAwarenessMonthwhich means that the world is awash in pink. You can get pink ribbon sprinkles for your cupcakes and ice cream. You can garment your puppy in a fluffy pink ribbon sweater. You can get an official NFL football with a pink ribbon on itso that you can raise awareness while you field pass. You can even get a pink-ribbon clad Nintendo DS, presumably so that you can feel like you’re curing breast cancer while outwitting Wario. All of these products are meant to somehow combat breast cancer, but very few of them actually do anything concrete.
According to the organization Think Before You Pink, a pink ribbon slapped on an item can signify almost anything and doesnt mean youre actually donating fund or supporting breast cancer research:
Any company can put a pink ribbon on its products. The widely recognized pink ribbon symbol is not regulated by any bureau and does not inevitably mean it effectively combats the breast cancer outbreak. Some products sport pink ribbons to try to communicate that they are healthy and dont contribute to breast cancer, such as a number of natural health and beauty products. Other products have a pink ribbon in order to indicate that the company subsistences breast cancer programs, even if the companys contributions are not tied to the buys of the specific product bearing the ribbon.
This is exactly why that emblematic pink ribbon has become a symbol of the larger issue of slacktivismthe kind of armchair activism that allows you to take little actual action on a social issue but still feel good about yourself. After all, the pink color of your rad sneakers or the ribbon on your coffee mugpaired with a Bible verse and the word fortitude in bold lettersis helping person , right?
When confronted with fact that shelling out fund for a special pink-washed version of a product doesn’t do muchif anythingto combat breast cancer, many people will only shrug and mumble something about awareness.
You can even get apink-ribbon clad Nintendo DS, presumably so that you can feel like you’re curing breast cancer while outwitting Wario .
That nebulous idea of awareness was purportedly the driving force of Tuesday’s # NoBraDay, a hashtag campaign on Twitter that asked females to post braless selfies to social media. As EJ Dickson reported last year for the Daily Dot, its unclear exactly where #NoBraDay originated. Dickson writes, #NoBraDay is clearly the heir apparent to similar campaigns like Save the Ta-Tas, which was criticized for sexualizing breast cancer awareness back in 2013.
Barbara Brenner outlines these exact issues in the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc ., which have stimulated breast cancer the poster infant of cause marketingchiefly because of the questions ties to female sexuality.
Twitter users concurred, lambasting the campaign for pointlessly belittling an important issue. British journalist Lily Bailey argued that while the campaigns heart is in the right place, its methods are not. Pert nipple selfies is not current realities of cancer, Bailey wrote. Los Angeles-based novelist Liz Dwyer concurred: As a survivor who’s srsly fed up w/ pink Breast Cancer Industrial Complex, this #NoBraDay idea is BS. Not wearing a bra does not save lives. And novelist, actress, and activist Mara Wilson tweeted: By all means, take cute selfies. But dont pretend its for this.
In an interview with the Daily Dot, Wilsonwhose mother succumbed of breast cancer when she was 8 further explained why shes frustrated by the tactics of these campaigns. Mara Wilson said that she detests not only the sexualization of breast cancer but also the mindset thats sadly prevalent in mottoes like Save Second Basethe idea that a woman is not a woman without her breasts intact.
Breast cancer has been sensationalized because it affects a sexualized body component, Wilson explained. The reality of it is not fairly and pink, and often a mastectomy is a womans merely chance to get better. Yet we value the breasts over the women. Her commentaries are reminiscent of Angelina Jolies 2013 decision to have a doubled mastectomyover the shouts of men on Twitter who felt that cutting off her rack kinda induces her pointless.
This is exactly why that emblematic pink ribbon has become a symbol of the larger issue of slacktivismthe kind of armchair activism that allows you to take little actual action on a social issue but still feel good about yourself .
Wilson also argued that awareness is something of an empty promise. She told, Most people do not … give to groups that, for example, offer free mammograms, help women living with breast cancer, or help find a remedy . … There are many more types of cancer and diseases that could use the publicity.
Wilson’s commentaries exemplify the crux of the problem with awareness: It is often deployed as little more than a buzzword, a way of generating a lot of talk but not much else. In some lawsuits, when facts and figures are being shared that the public might not yet be aware offor example, highlighting statistics on deaths of trans femalesraising awareness can be a positive and beneficial act. In the case of breast cancer, however, it accomplishes little.
An example of a successful awareness campaign would be the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, whose videos of both celebrities and non-famous people being doused in frost water took the Internet by cyclone last summer. At the time, the campaign was criticized for being yet another example of meaningless activismas well as for wasting water during a record-breaking drought in California. One calculate calculated that over 6 million gallons of water have been poured out in the name of Lou Gehrigs Disease.
But there was one crucial way that the ALS challenge succeeded where Breast Cancer Awareness Month so commonly fails. The campaign created enormous amounts of fund for ALS researchto the tune of $115 million dollars. Those gifts rapidly had a critical impact on seeing a remedy for the ailmentcontributing to researchers at Johns Hopkins University isolating a particular protein that fails in the cells of most ALS patients. This breakthrough could lead to better prevention and treatment options for millions of Americans.
The reason that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ran was because it tied a fun way of disseminating information about the disease to a concrete actionin this case, making a donation to a specific charity that is known to use percentage points of the money it receives for research.
Wilson’s commentaries exemplify the crux of the problem with awareness: It is often deployed as little more than a buzzword, a way of generating a lot of talk but not much else .
In contrast, part of the reason campaigns like #NoBraDay fail is because they don’t promote donations to charities that money research or assist females living with breast cancer; another reason is that theyre not sharing anything anyone doesn’t already know. Weve already gotten the message that breast cancer exists. What we need are campaigns that raise awareness about how to check breasts for clumps, when and where to get mammograms, and how to access free or subsidized health services.
We also need greater public understanding of what campaigns to support and why. Online activism can be very effective in a variety of ways: It can mobilize people, it allows information to be shared at an incredible speed, and can create a positive kind of peer pressure where people become more likely to engage with a cause because they insure others doing so. The problem is that it can be tricky to discern which activism is useful and which is not. Bandwagons are fun, and people don’t always think critically before adding their voices to a campaign.
When approaching a new campaign, it’s important for people take a moment and consider what the message actually is and who it benefits. Will what theyre sharing actually help anyone? Or are they doing it mainly because they want to look good or be part of the crowd? Ultimately, its on us to figure out what campaigns deserve our attention and which should be ignored. A hashtag can only survive on social media so long as people are use it.
So if we want online activism to be successfuland we shouldwe as a culture need to work harder to make sure the right campaigns succeed.
Anne Thriault is a Toronto-based novelist, activist, and social agitator. Her run can be found in such varied publications as the Washington Post , Vice, Jezebel, the Toast, and others. She’s also really good at attaining up funny nicknames for cats . Photo via bilbord9 9/ Flickr( CC BY 2.0 )