Do you remember how it started out tiny? A small metal pin worn discreetly on ones lapel.
Then it started growing, a subtle reminder of the horrible nature of cancer itself. October was declared Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Ribbon imagry was used on merchandise and we got slogans like Think pink and Real men wear pink.
The ribbon itself quadrupled in size. It was transformed from metal to a piece of neatly arranged silk ribbon. Not only more soft and feminine, it’s also smarter, fundraisingwise, the fabric will get frazzled and bent in your pocket or on your lapel and you have to get out shiny new dollars to buy another one soon. Generating more money to research the disease.
Funding science is good, right? I guess. And still, I seem to object. I’ve been annoyed for the better part of October by the pink ribbons all over town. In magazines, on tv, in shops. Pleading for support. And me, resisting to join in.
It should be said that I’m not one for collective action. I have trouble standing in line waiting for the bus, for the risk of being mistaken for anything but a very individualized individual. A deeply unoriginal fear, and of course I realize that collective action has its benefits.
I just can’t stand the smug self-inflicted collective of obvious causes. You want to donate a few bucks to science? Go right ahead. You want to tell the world about your infinate generousity? All right then. But what do you think it means, pinning the ribbon on your chest or wearing the pink t-shirt? And what is the underlying assumption about everyone else? Are we for breast cancer? Do we simply not care?
Of course I care.
Hey, I hate when people use this card but it always works, so I will tell you that my grandmother and aunt have survived breast cancer. I suffer from breast cancer too, every time I try to do a self-scan I find giant lumps and the last time I went to my doctor with my lumps (actually I just casually mentioned the lumps when seeking advice for my imaginary goiter), he told me that with my condition I should keep my hands off my mammas and stop googling symptoms. My condition being hypochondria, that is. Or having a vivid imagination, as my doctor kindly put it.
Just to point out that it’s not that I don’t take the disease seriously.
Here, my brain kicks in and I think myself into trouble. Is breast cancer a disease? Isn’t cancer the disease and breast cancer only one form of it? Is it really helpful to have the different body parts fight each other for funding in stead of campaigning the need for science in general?
Breast cancer isn’t the leading cause of death in women. Heart disease is. Cancer is number two. All kinds of cancer. Lung, pancrease, skin. And breast. The only one we escape is the prostate one.
This rant is self-evident. A collection of clever and cerebral facts. But my annoyance of the fluttering pink silk goes much deeper, like the fear it generates.
I mentioned that it’s not that I don’t care. If anything, care too much, I take all symptoms too seriously. I’m the worst kind of patient, a sponge for trends, seeking information withouth the knowledge needed to prosess it or put it into perspective. That makes me a good indication of society’s current nightmare. I had AIDS for a long time, but that’s subsided. Skin cancer, of course, but that is so 2002. Now I’ve started to worry about chemicals in cosmetics subtly melting from my skin into my bloodstream and DNA.
I’m like the tip of the thermometer, the first part of molecules of quicksilver reacting to a little information that will send shockwaves of fever through the great masses. I twitch a lot. I get scared really fast.
Which is why I get really mad when someone triggers my fear. And breastcancer really knows how to do that. Breast cancer is easy to sell, compared to AIDS, skin cancer or other diseases.
It can be championed by mature and dignified survivors with bald heads. Its symptoms are hidden to the world, survival symbolized by smooth silicon prosthesis and a life almost the same.
Its horrors go right to the core of being a woman, a mother, not only fear of dying but our identity. What kind of woman are you without your breasts? (A living woman, that’s what!)
It’s easy to spin: Supporting breasts. It’s easy to explain to men: Protect your woman!
I understand the need to raise money. understand the need to take advantage of emotions and current disasters. I donated money during the tsunami even though I’m aware that there is suffering every day. I’m ashamed to admit that every day suffering doesn’t quite do it for me, it takes a wave of identification to open my wallet.
But this smooth and candy coloured campaign doesn’t only ask me for support or awareness. It triggers my fears to be able to offer me comfort. It sells me protective trinkets, good luck charms, a tiny life insurance. I want to buy this cute little ribbon. Just in case…
So when I see the pink ribbons everywhere in October, I don’t see funding research. I see the fear. – They got to you too, sister, I think. But I will resist. I donate money to general research that benefits us all, not a fear mongering campaign that tries to adress me as a woman.
Please do the same. If for nothing else than to stop scaring me every October.