What’s the worst that could happen?

When thinking about what’s the worst that could happen if the phenomenon of pinkwashing continues down the road it’s on, I first started thinking about the consequences we (we being a collective group that is susceptible to diseases like breast cancer/cancers in general/health problems as a whole) are already facing.

The problem seems to to be two-fold. Firstly, breast cancer charities (or more general organizations like the American Cancer Society) are losing out on donations, and secondly, the wrong kind of “awareness” is being raised. When a charity partners with a for-profit business, a very small cut of the profits from whatever is being sold with a pink ribbon on it is actually going to the organization (which leads into the fact that non-profits are receiving less money the government and personal donations which is why they take these deals in the first place, but that’s a whole other conversation). While this is troubling, what is more scary to me is what that money is going to.

Groups like the NFL often tout their breast cancer awareness projects as promoting things like early detection through mammography (it’s not just the NFL, this is the most dominant conversation when it comes to “raising awareness”). Contrary to popular belief (and this is something that still is pretty confusing to me), screening mammography is not nearly as useful as it seems. While early screening does detect breast cancers earlier, it has little to no effect on the overall mortality rate of breast cancer. In fact, it often leads to over diagnosis and treatment, which results in unnecessary medical procedures, not to mention anxiety.

Ok, so very long winded answer, the consequence that I am most concerned about is the wrong kind of awareness being raised. Pinkwashing campaigns that focus solely on early screening, likely because it is a “do-able” task for many and puts the onus on the individual, is not where money should be going. Money should be going to researching things like breast cancer genetics, and not just promoting mammography that does little to save lives. If pinkwashing continues in its current state, I worry that the conversation surrounding “awareness” will be the wrong one.

2 thoughts to “What’s the worst that could happen?”

  1. Hi Katherine,
    I think this is a really interesting issue that I’ve never considered. I had never heard the term “pinkwashing” before, but it makes sense to me since I’m familiar with the concept of “greenwashing.” It’s similar in that a lot of companies will tout their products or practices as “green” and “sustainable,” when in reality any efforts they’re having to protect the environment are entirely dwarfed by their actual business, and it’s usually questionable whether their environmental efforts are helping at all.

    I think it’s really cool that you’re exposing the practice of “pinkwashing.’ And I think that you are asking the right question. At what point or in what way does raising awareness actually harm the effort as a whole? I look forward to learning more about your answer!

    1. Hi Shaylyn,

      Sorry this took so long!! Didn’t have email notifs turned on and I just saw your comment. I’ve been struggling a lot in my project in terms of when awareness becomes harmful. I question I’ve been running into a lot is that isn’t some money better than no money? Like, even if the NFL is only donating 1% of their profits, that’s still a ton of money that the ACS or whoever didn’t have before. Especially with public funding being cut so much in recent years, any money they can get can be beneficial. I think if it ever gets to the point where foundations are losing money (say, when consumers become fatigued by pinkwashed products because they’re just soooo prevalent) that it would be seriously problematic.

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