Criticism of pink-washing undermines successful charities

Every October, businesses and organizations across the United States show their support for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Geneseo Colleges Against Cancer supported the cause by coordinating “The Breast Week Ever” in the MacVittie College Union the week of Oct. 17. In addition, many students attended the Making Strides of Rochester walk on Oct. 16, which raised over $294,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Despite the general widespread success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, however, many are brutally critical of its nature. The arguments made are not only extremely insensitive to the millions of people whose lives have been affected or lost by breast cancer, but also many times hold little factual value.

Article and blog headlines such as “I hate Breast Cancer ‘Awareness’ Month” and “Why breast cancer awareness month is bullshit” show how people are missing the entire point.

The main criticism is that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is simply a marketing ploy to sell more “pink” products by large companies who participate––most notably nonprofit Susan G. Komen of For the Cure. In fact, in her Huffington Post article “Why I Am Anti-Komen,” Lara Huffman writes that breast cancer is a “pink elephant on a rampage, mowing down innocents in the street” and she claims she was “assaulted by crap with pink ribbons” throughout October.

Due to the widespread popularity of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some consumers like Huffman have become irritated by the noticeable amount of pink shown because of the event. In her Jezebel article “Breast Cancer Is A Disease, Not A Marketing Opportunity,” Kate Harding writes, “It looks like a four-year-old interior decorator named Emily got a contract to do the whole country. It's a little much.”

This complaint made by Harding and many others seems to be self-centered and egotistical. The fact that the excess of pink products bothers you during the month of October seems irrelevant if you look at the startling statistics from—for instance, that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers and can be treated if detected early. This is why the obvious goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the most important: to make people more aware.

The excessive publicity that breast cancer receives in October due to businesses creating pink products aids in the spreading of awareness that can save lives. The American Cancer Society works to educate men and women on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, to provide instructions on how to perform self-examinations and also to promote the use of mammograms.

While I encourage consumers to be educated on where their money is going when they purchase breast cancer-related products, criticisms of a cancer awareness month should not be based on your frustrations with personal consumerism.

One of the goals of the American Cancer Society is to “help raise funds for groundbreaking breast cancer research … and critical patient services.”  This is an extremely commendable cause, and the money raised by official events such as the Making Strides walks can change lives.

As someone who has had a relative suffer from breast cancer, it is absolutely devastating to hear people nit-pick something that has helped so many people. Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity for those battling the disease to feel the support of others, for survivors to acknowledge their feats and for everyone to join and fight an awful disease.

Although Breast Cancer Awareness Month is often over-sensationalized, this is the entire purpose of the event. Getting the word out about breast cancer, early detection and prevention is imperative. The success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its positive influence cannot be understated.

During this time, I encourage everyone to focus on the true meaning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and refrain from allowing negativity to diminish both the struggle and accomplishments of past, current and future survivors.