With the new guidelines on mammography and Pap smears (short version: they're not as necessary as we thought) kicking up a firestorm of conservative idiot behavior (Fox News: "Healthcare Rationing Begins!!!"), Barbara Ehrenreich helpfully takes to task the "pink ribbon breast cancer cult," an unnecessary obsession with breast cancer, that she claims has excluded legitimate women's health concerns from public debate.
She's right, obviously, and she reminds readers how much money was made by oncologists and radiologists made when mammography and the cancers it inevitably detects (not all of which require treatment, and some of which might be caused by the radiation in mammograms) became de rigeur for women.
I went to one of the first Races for the Cure, not long after my mom had breast cancer, and I remember it being a meaningful event--but that was before Komen started putting its name on everything from OPI nail polish to New Kids On The Block tank tops to lingerie from fucking Frederick's of Hollywood to the special edition KitchenAid Cook For the Cure mixer. You can see the exhaustive list of Komen's corporate partners here.
When a corporation wants to signal that it’s "woman friendly," what does it do? It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some miniscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research...When Laura Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2007, what grave issue did she take up with the locals? Not women’s rights (to drive, to go outside without a man, etc.), but "breast cancer awareness." In the post-feminist United States, issues like rape, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancy seem to be too edgy for much public discussion, but breast cancer is all apple pie.She's right--breast cancer is even becoming kinda sexy, like the "Save the Tatas" ("Who said fighting cancer can't be fun?") webstore hocking sexy tank tops and "boob lube" to make your BSE easier.
Ehrenreich reminds us that medicine is a business, and that people make money from testing, diagnosis and treatment of all diseases, but especially cancer. She calls attention--young women, I hope you're listening--back to the National Women's Health Network, which has been a cassandra on the risks of mammography, hormone replacement therapy, and overscreening of cervical cancer for ages.
It is also helpful to remember that in the midst of the healthcare debate, the fact that fundamental women's healthcare needs--abortion, contraception, maternity care--are even up for debate reveals how deeply entrenched are the ideas that "women's troubles" are dirty, not appropriate for public debate, and shouldn't be funded.