The “political realities and controversies” attached to the Pink Ribbon in the breast cancer movement were discussed by Dr. Karen Kedrowski and Dr. Marilyn Sorow in Owens Hall on Tuesday morning.
“Some people suggest that we’ve oversold the Pink Ribbon and in the process have trivialized breast cancer as a disease,” Sorow said. “I think it is oversold.”
“Breast cancer is uniquely positioned, as a disease, for political activism,” Kedrowski said. The high survival rate of breast cancer “gives people the chance to live past the disease and then become politically active,” she said.
Kedrowski gave a brief history on breast cancer activism, which began in the 1950s with the first support group and acquired the symbol of the Pink Ribbon in the 1980s. The Susan G. Komen Foundation quickly made the Pink Ribbon their own in 1982.
The problems lie in the movement’s popularity, according to Sorow. “Organizations are not in control of their own message,” she said. “Organizations that perhaps had good consequences in mind end up getting in trouble.”
Companies ranging from KFC, to Stanley Steamer, to Mike’s Hard Lemonade have appropriated the Pink Ribbon to promote their products.
Tying products to the Pink Ribbon is attractive to businesses because “they get a tax write-off,” Sorow said. “This is essentially just a marketing campaign.”
The “ubiquitous nature of the Pink Ribbon” creates some blurred lines in the public sphere, according to Kedrowski because any company or organization can use it as a symbol for breast cancer awareness.
Sophomore creative writing major Connie Shen feels strongly about the Pink Ribbon. “The Ribbon portrays a terrifying disease as sexy, pretty and feminine, which I personally find disgusting,” she said.
The lecture was presented as a part of the John C. West Forum’s Politics of the Breast Symposium, which had its first event in March and will conclude with “The Mineola Twins,” a play which will be presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance and will play Johnson Theatre April 9-13.
The symposium is the creation of theatre professor Laura Dougherty, who praised the work of both Kedrowski and Sorow. “The work they do is what makes being here at Winthrop so great,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty, who is directing “The Mineola Twins,” described the upcoming play as “completely ridiculous” and “a comedic romp that pokes of what’s expected of women.”
Kedrowski and Sorow together wrote a book entitled “Cancer Activism: Gender, Media, and Public Policy.”