Breast Cancer in the Twentyfirst Century

Breast cancer fits into a twenty-first century phenomenon. . . . The critical shared issue of our time is moving from an age of extinctions to an age of renewal and sustainability. One of the principal hopes for this is the environmental health movement. . . . the role of the breast cancer movement as a vanguard of the environmental health movement is not just of parochial interest to breast cancer patients; it is core to the future of life on earth.

—MICHAEL lerner, "Breast Cancer and the Environment"

Breast cancer, as Michael Lerner declared at the International Summit on Breast Cancer and the Environment in 2002, is a twenty-first-century phenomenon. By this the founder of Commonweal (the highly respected cancer and environmental health center in Bolinas, California) meant not that breast cancer is a disease new to the twenty-first century but, rather, that breast cancer engages twenty-first-century issues of environmental health that are crucial to the future of life on earth. In Lerner's planetary vision, the women's movement holds the greatest potential for building a global environmental health movement, and within the women's movement it is the reproductive rights and breast cancer movements that hold the greatest promise. The breast cancer movement, in Lerner's view, has been more successful in "moving a specific health agenda in the United States" than any other group in recent decades. Further, as Lerner noted elsewhere, a "significant minority" of breast cancer activists "are already deeply committed to environmental health concerns."1 Thus, as Lerner declared at the summit, the breast cancer movement "is not just of parochial interest."2

I agree with Lerner's assessment. I also believe, however, that the strength of the breast cancer movement lies in the tremendous diversity of its goals and the tremendous dynamism that is fed by its internal differences. Even as key sectors of the breast cancer movement deepen their commitment to a healthy environment, other cultures of action continue to press for early detection, access to treatment, and patient empowerment. What I find so remarkable about the breast cancer movement—and I believe this is what makes the breast cancer movement so powerful—is the wide range of institutional spaces in which it successfully advocates for change. It is, on the one hand, the narrowest of single-issue movements, organized as it is around one specific disease. It is, on the other, the broadest of movements—bridging across institutional domains, disease regimes, fields of contention, and cultures of action. In this chapter I highlight several key developments in the contemporary regime of breast cancer and the breast cancer movement, paying particular attention to California and the Bay Area field of contention.

T he Bay Area Field of Contention

The most important development in California's culture of early detection occurred in 2001, when the governor, Gray Davis, signed legislation establishing the California Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, which committed the State of California, after years of resistance, to pay for the medical treatment of low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women diagnosed with breast cancer within its borders. The program was an outgrowth, in part, of the federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act (BCCPTA), which was conceived and promoted by the National Breast Cancer Coalition and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.3 It was also, however, shaped by the character of the breast/ cancer movement in California. Just as the California Breast Cancer Early Detection Program exceeded the scope and ambition of the federally funded screening program, California activists successfully lobbied for treatment legislation that expanded the scope of this federal initiative.

Federal restrictions embedded in the BCCPTA limited program eligibility to U.S. citizens and legal residents. Instead of accepting these terms, however, women's health activists and sympathetic politicians pushed for an additional treatment program, wholly funded by the State of California, for women whose immigration status disqualified them from the federal treatment program. The legislation that was signed into law in California authorized the state's Department of Health Services to provide medical treatment to all eligible women, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.4 This was an important victory, and it was spearheaded by the collaborative efforts of the cultures of screening and of feminist treatment activism.

Along with the culture of early detection, the culture of feminist treatment activism continued its development during the twenty-first century by creating new images and representations of women with breast cancer, pushing corporate sponsors and social-issues marketing campaigns to shift their funding practices and priorities, expanding direct services and access to information within underserved communities, conducting community-based participatory research projects to document the needs of women living with cancer, and expanding the social spaces, group activities, and networks of solidarity that fed and sustained the women's cancer community.

In January 2000, for example, the Breast Cancer Fund launched its "Obsessed with Breasts Educational Campaign." In bus shelters, on buildings, and in other public places around the Bay Area, the BCF placed posters satirizing the "breast obsession" of the fashion, fitness, and beauty industries. The posters featured several different images. One poster spliced the nude torso of a woman with a double mastectomy (Andrea Martin, the executive director of the BCF onto the body of a model on the cover of a magazine that looked like Mademoiselle, Glamour, or Cosmopolitan. Instead of the usual magazine title and article teasers about diet, sex, and beauty, however, the magazine was titled Mastectomy and included front-cover teasers like "1 in 8: Your Chances of Getting Breast Cancer," "Breast Cancer Epidemic: What's behind It?" "Breast Cancer Quiz: Are You at Risk?" and "Your Breasts: Not Just for Looks." A second poster in the campaign was designed to mimic the photographic style and staging of Calvin Klein advertisements. A third poster was designed as a send-up of catalogs and advertisements for Victoria's Secret. Both of these posters featured images of one-breasted women. The goal of the campaign, as the BCF indicated in its press release, "was to capture the viewer's attention and change the way we think and act about breast cancer."5 This was a very different kind of breast cancer awareness than the awareness promoted by early detection campaigns. The "Obsessed with Breasts" campaign, which was part of the BCF's larger program of "Art-Reach," caused such a public outcry that the

BCF was forced to remove the offending images from public spaces within a matter of days—which only served, ironically, to enhance the campaign's visibility.6

A second campaign, "Think before You Pink," was launched by Breast Cancer Action in 2002 through a full-page advertisement in the New York Times. The ad, which featured an image of a Eureka vacuum cleaner, drew attention to corporate "pinkwashers" that BCA charged were "cleaning up" by exploiting the good will of consumers and using the issue of breast cancer to sell products, often without contributing much, if anything, of value to the breast cancer movement. The campaign received a great deal of positive publicity around the country and continues to be one of BCA's most popular public-education campaigns. BCA helped coin the term "pink-washing" to characterize these corporate promotional campaigns.

In its 2006 "Parade of Pink," for example, BCA developed a partial list of close to forty corporate marketing campaigns that were cashing in on the popularity of breast cancer as a feel-good cause. These products included Cartier's Roadster Watch ($3,800), Breast Cancer Awareness Tweezers ($20), Pink Ribbon Tic Tacs ($0.79), an Estée Lauder lipstick named Elizabeth Pink ($22), Essie Pink Ribbon nail polish ($7), 3M Pink Ribbon Post-it Notes ($i.99—$4.95), an assortment of Ralph Lauren Pink Pony Products ($i0—$498), Playtex Passion for Living pink gloves ($2.99), Pink M&Ms ($2.99), Qwest and Sanyo pink cell phones (from $79.99), and Everlast pink boxing gloves (from $30).7

"Navigating the sea of pink ribbon promotions," BCA explained, "requires consumers to ask a few critical questions." How much money actually goes toward breast cancer—related causes? Is the corporate donation a percentage of the purchase price, or is it based on the number of items sold or the net profits or some other formula? Are there minimum and maximum limits? To whom and to what is the money being donated? Does any of it directly aid or improve the lives of women living with breast cancer or women without access to basic services, treatment, and screening? Does the philanthropic promotion contribute more to the corporation's bottom line than it does to the intended beneficiaries? In a 2005 article in PR, for example, 3M bragged that its seventy-foot-tall pink ribbon of Post-it Notes, which was erected in New York City's Times Square in 2004, reached more than three million people and exceeded by more than 80 percent the anticipated increase in sales. Although 3M reportedly spent

Obsessed with breasts. Image courtesy of the Breast Cancer Fund's "Obsessed with Breasts" ad campaign,

It sounds noble: 8uy this vacuum cleaner and Eureka will give a dollar to a breast cancer organization.

8ut wait. A dollar gift on a $200 purchase is less than one percent— and Eureka caps its annual contribution from the sales at $250,000.

Is the company spending more on its "Clean far the Cure" ads than it's donating to the cause?

It's not just Eureka. American Express donates a penny per transaction when you "Charge for the Cure." BMW kicks in a buck pee mile when you test-drive its cars, which produce chemical compounds linked to breast cancer.

Avon lipstick. plait yogurt—the list goes on and on. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink-ribbon promotions are everywhere.

Breast Cancer Action urges you to "think before you pink." Wili your purchase make a difference? Or is the company exploiting breast cancer to boost profits?

Preventing, curing and guaranteeing quality treatment for breast cancer will require real change — and not the kind you carry in your pocket.

10 Ways To Fight Off Cancer

10 Ways To Fight Off Cancer

Learning About 10 Ways Fight Off Cancer Can Have Amazing Benefits For Your Life The Best Tips On How To Keep This Killer At Bay Discovering that you or a loved one has cancer can be utterly terrifying. All the same, once you comprehend the causes of cancer and learn how to reverse those causes, you or your loved one may have more than a fighting chance of beating out cancer.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment