The recent spate of negative publicity for Susan G. Komen for the Cure has really started me thinking. On the one hand, over the years I've been a supporter of Komen, participating in fundraising, training for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, and donating to the organization. Breast cancer is personal in my family, as it is in many. My sister and a close family friend are proud survivors, and I am grateful that we've come so far in breast cancer research and awareness that they both detected their cancers early through screening, and then were able to receive treatment that has left them both breast cancer-free. Over the years, I have supported Komen because I felt they empowered women and uplifted survivorship.
On the other hand, I've also been a huge supporter of Planned Parenthood. I wasn't always so financially comfortable in my life. Throughout most of my 20s, I did not have health insurance and was living right at the poverty level. Planned Parenthood was there for me, providing low-cost health services and cancer screening that otherwise would have broken the bank. Resultantly, much of my charitable budget each year goes to Planned Parenthood because it empowers women. It also helps women to make smart, informed choices with regards to reproduction, providing birth control to prevent both STDs and unwanted pregnancies. As a volunteer court-appointed special advocate/guardian ad litem for abused and neglected kids, I see first-hand the results of women having babies when they are completely unprepared to do so. It is not something I would wish on any child.
Naturally, with this history, I was disappointed to see Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood at odds last week. I understand that there is a staunch anti-abortion lobby in the world. I understand that other people's morals and values are different than mine when it comes to reproductive freedom; however, Planned Parenthood is about more than reproductive freedom. It's about health care and cancer screening for women, something Susan G. Komen also supports.
In recent years, I've actually moved away from support for organizations like Komen because of something that I see I don't like - pinkwashing. If you ever leave the house and go to a store, you have probably discovered all kinds of special "pink" products that claim to support breast cancer. In fact, Susan G. Komen for the Cure recently released a perfume called Promise Me that ostensibly supports breast cancer. According to many credible reports, however, the perfume contains chemicals not on the label that have been linked to breast cancer. In another ill-advised move a few years ago, Komen partnered with KFC to hawk pink buckets of chicken, which contained saturated and trans fats linked to, you guessed it, breast cancer.
Komen's corporate agenda has concerned me for quite some time because of the use of breast cancer as a marketing tool to sell more product. Sure, some of those proceeds go to support breast cancer research and/or awareness. However, as one who has seen first-hand what breast cancer does to people I love and their families, I've always resented its use as a marketing tool. I don't like that companies make extra money off my family's pain, and I've heard many breast cancer survivors echo that same sentiment. Breast cancer isn't a sexy little pink ribbon, a cute pink handgun, or a pair of beribboned tennies. It is a deadly disease that continues to kill men and women around the world. It devastates families and leaves the women that do survive forever changed in its wake. Cancer treatment isn't a walk in the park. It is difficult, often painful, and extremely debilitating. Women with cancer lose many of the things they associate with their femininity - their hair, their breasts, their shape. They are warriors who deserve more than to be used as a cheap marketing tool to sell product that benefits breast cancer a little and corporations a lot. Instead, they deserve to be hailed as heroes who have fought for their lives and families, coming out stronger and more powerful than ever.
Komen certainly isn't the only breast cancer charity that engages in pinkwashing campaigns. However, they were the first, and they are the best known.
With all I know about Susan G. Komen, I've come to a fork in the road. I remain committed to breast cancer research. I remain committed to women understanding they need to perform breast self-examinations in order to detect early breast changes. But I am no longer committed to Komen. I know that the media has widely reported they "reversed" their defunding of Planned Parenthood - something I believe the media got wrong. Komen didn't reverse - they merely changed the way they were saying the message they'd been putting out for a few days. After their "reversal," they merely said Planned Parenthood was welcome to apply for more grants in the future. They said nothing about granting them, so the proof will be in the pudding.
In the meantime, the way Komen has handled this PR nightmare has been, in my eyes, unacceptable. Their VP, Karen Handel, just resigned from Komen today. She was a very loud anti-abortion proponent who, during her run for Georgia Governor pledged to bring Planned Parenthood to its knees. Although Komen denies Ms. Handel had anything to do with their decision to defund Planned Parenthood, insiders at Komen have said quite clearly Handel drove this agenda, and on a personal level it is rather difficult to believe that with a staunch anti-Planned Parenthood person at their helm, she had nothing to do with a move that completely defunded the organization. It is my belief that Karen Handel let her personal anti-abortion zeal trump her focus on Komen's mission to support women's health, with disastrous results. Unfortunately, Komen's staunch denials that this is so have made the organization appear untrustworthy. Their original decision to defund PP angered many. Their "reversal" angered many others. It's hard to see how Komen will come out of this unscathed, and that's really, at its roots, bad for breast cancer.
Why? Because love them or hate them, Komen has driven the conversation about breast cancer in this country for years. They have been the largest and the loudest, keeping the topic at the forefront of our awareness. In spite of my own personal ambivalence towards Komen for the Cure because of their pinkwashing and this latest Planned Parenthood madness, I've always seen the underlying good in what they were doing.
I don't want people to step away from supporting breast cancer research because of Komen's bungling of the Planned Parenthood issue. Does this mean Komen for the Cure will continue to have my support? Unfortunately, no. I will, however, continue to contribute to charities that are fighting breast cancer. They will just be charities that don't pinkwash and don't play politics.
For more information.....
Think Before You Pink (Breast Cancer Action)
I Will Not be Pinkwashed (blog)
The Big Business of Breast Cancer (Marie Claire)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Movie Trailer)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Book)
Breast Cancer Charities that do not Pinkwash
National Breast Cancer Coalition
Breast Cancer Action
Research before You Donate
American Institute of Philanthropy
Learn about Volunteering to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate or Guardian ad Litem for Abused and Neglected Children
Support Planned Parenthood or find a Clinic Near You