Think Before You Pink » History of the Pink Ribbon
New Balance, for example, donates money from the sale of its Race for the Cure caps, socks and T-shirts to the Komen Foundation, but its pink ribbon sneakers, a Foundation spokesperson says, are “just for awareness.” The sneakers have the tiny pale-pink outline of a ribbon sewn onto the corner of their tongues—difficult if not impossible for anyone except the owner to see. The possibility that those two wan loops might remind woman to get the mammogram that saves her life, however, provides the sneakers with their raison d’étre.
It is this dynamic that drives the pink ribbon’s detractors to distraction. “There is a value to awareness, but awareness of what, and to what end?” asks Barbara Brenner, activist and executive director of Breast Cancer Action (BCA) in San Francisco. “We need changes in the direction the research is going, we need access to care—beyond mammograms—we need to know what is causing the disease, and we need a cure. The pink ribbon is not indicative of any of that.”
Of course, not everyone in the breast cancer movement thinks that commercial benefit is bad. “Avon has used the symbol to touch people’s hearts and put money back into the cause,” says Beverly Baker, executive director of the Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer, which receives pink ribbon funding. “I certainly wouldn’t take issue with that.”
Between 1991 and 1996, federal funding for breast cancer research increased nearly fourfold to over $550 million. And according to the American Cancer Society, the percentage of women getting annual mammograms and clinical breast exams has more than doubled over the last decade. While the Komen Foundation lost out on patenting the ribbon, it has collected millions from companies that use it and donate the proceeds. Avon, which has raised $25 million purely from merchandise, is today the largest private funder of community-based nonprofit breast cancer programs.