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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

The Komen Controversy: Rethinking Pink

The internet is all in a tizzy today over the Susan G. Komen Foundation cutting off a grant to Planned Parenthood. I don’t know why everyone is so shocked that an organization founded by a major GOP supporter would have an agenda around not supporting a pro-choice organization. It’s not like Komen CEO Nancy G. Brinker has exactly been hiding her GOP light under a faux-liberal bushel or anything.

Thankfully, Planned Parenthood has already very nearly made up what they lost from the grant, which came from an organization they shouldn’t have been working with to begin with. And frankly I think it’s better in the long run that people support the work Planned Parenthood does directly anyhow; donate directly to the causes you support, and know what they stand for.

But if you are pro-choice and you’ve been donating to Komen because you think that organization is all about being pro-woman? Do your research, and then donate your time and money elsewhere. And while you’re at it, take all the money you’d have spent on glittery feather boas and pink cowboy hats and hot pink leggings and what have you, and donate THAT directly to an organization involved in researching something useful, like the environmental causes of breast cancer. Or directly to your local Gilda’s Club. Or to your local hospital’s support group for Stage 4 breast cancer patients.

In the wake of all this brouhaha over Komen, though, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the film Pink Ribbons, Inc., which I saw at Toronto last year. In case you missed it then, here’s an email interview I did as a follow-up to that film with breast cancer activist Barbara Brenner, who was not what we might call a fan of the pink ribbon to begin with. She had some fascinating things to say; here’s an excerpt:

What you found about Komen’s focus of grant funding reflects who they are, and have always been. They have not funded environmental research. They recently gave a grant to the federal Institute of Medicine to review the information on environmental links, but that is basically a literature review, not new research. And the information Komen provides about environmental links on their website is often flat out wrong. Komen can’t get involved in environmental research in a serious way, in my view, because they are partnered with so many companies that are part of the problem. That they don’t tell anyone how they decide what to fund is a sad commentary on breast cancer research.

You can read the full interview with Barbara Brenner right here.


And here’s the review of Pink Ribbons, Inc. that I wrote from TIFF:

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

This weekend, my neighborhood was filled with a parade of women (and a few men), bedecked in pink, cheerily walking for hours and hours in support of breast cancer research. At rest stations along the way, husbands banged on pink tambourines while wearing coconut bras, while moms and preschoolers waved posters bearing motivational slogans (“Go, walkers! You are the BREAST!” and “Hakuna My Ta-tas!” and the like).

Even the police bikes accompanying the walkers were covered in pink streamers, and many of the walkers were dressed in cutesy “team” outfits — hot pink ballet tutus and bike shorts and leggings, socks, custom-printed t-shirts, fairy wings, butterfly wings, hats, wigs, alien antennae headbands. You name it, someone was probably wearing it. And every single one of them, I have no doubt, had nothing but the best of intentions, and was participating because they either have a friend or relative who’s dealt with breast cancer, or they’re a breast cancer survivor, or they’ve just decided to support this particular cause.

And up until last week, I would have seen these walkers and thought little of it other than, “Oh, this must be the weekend for the big breast cancer march,” and maybe I would have tooted my horn in support or something. If someone I’d known had asked, I probably would have agreed to pledge on their behalf. But then last week at TIFF, I saw a documentary called Pink Ribbons, Inc., that completely changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the way in which corporations have co-opted meaningful causes like breast cancer research and turned them into opportunities to engage in “cause marketing,” whereby they make money themselves by donating a fraction of a product’s cost to a cause that can be seen as important.

One of the points driven home in the film, for instance, is that if you participated in the Yoplait Yogurt “save the pink top and send it in” campaign, and you ate a participating yogurt every single day of their campaign and paid for the postage to sent it in, you’d be “donating” about $30 to the actual cause while putting significantly more than that into a corporate pocket. Or, you could just take all the money you’d spend on buying yogurt and paying postage, and make a donation directly to a non-profit that has a record of funneling most of their income directly into research grants, and make a greater net impact.

Director Léa Pool skewers this issue, taking a controversial stand that a lot of people are probably not going to want to hear, because it makes them feel unappreciated for supporting a cause they believe in, or because they think she and the breast cancer advocates on her side of the argument are uncaring for saying, hey, we really need to think about what this is really about, who’s promoting it, and what the actual benefit to this important cause is.

The thing is, it’s hard to argue against a cause that people feel such powerful emotions about, without sounding like you’re somehow against women with breast cancer. And of course, no one in the film is against women with cancer of any kind; what they are against is the idea of selling people on the idea that they’re making a difference without quantifying that they actually are. The breast cancer rate has skyrocketed in the past few decades; what research is being done, the movie asks, to explore why this is, to look for the cause of the increase in cancer to begin with, rather than a cure once it’s already happened? What progress has been made, through all these campaigns, toward increasing the actual survival rates of women with aggressive forms of breast cancer? In other words, what Pink Ribbons, Inc. questions is whether all these pink ribbons and marches and rallies are actually accomplishing anything at all, other than making people feel better because they think they’re marching for a cause.

More to the point, it raises the question of whether the effect of putting a pink, cheery face on the issue, and promoting the idea of “positive” fundraising walks as opposed to telling women yes, you should be getting angry and marching and protesting and demanding more support for research for a cancer whose primary risk factor is being born female, is more detrimental to actual progress than people think.

As I passed by the scores of breast cancer walkers this weekend after seeing this film, here’s what I thought: Pink wig? About $30 at Display and Costume. Pink tutu? Probably at least $25. Those hot pink leggings and bike shorts? Probably $20-40 a pop. A pink feather boa? Maybe $15-20. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. If every single person marching had taken the money they spent on cutesy costumes, donated that cash instead directly to a foundation supporting research into causes as well as cures, and then emailed everyone they knew asking them to do the same, how much more money could have gone into the actual cause for which they were marching, than into how they looked while doing it? Now multiply that times the tens of thousands of people who participate in these fundraising walks. It’s a tough question, but one that deserves the serious consideration.

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4 Responses to “The Komen Controversy: Rethinking Pink”

  1. Fred Dunn says:

    The Komen foundation has shown its true colors and it is not hot pink but republican blue.
    I will no longer give any funds to the Komen Foundation due to it’s political bias.

    I will donate my funds directly to:

    Komen is no longer a credible charity to me and I will go out of my way to make sure others know how this came about. Komen pink is dead to me.

    Fred Dunn

  2. Barbara Berg says:

    I have been giving to Susan G. Komen for many years. We are a family filled with breast cancer survivors.I have been wondering where all of the money was going. I am so happy to find your information. I am angry that for all of the money and years of so called research there hasn’t been any results to mention. Why are we so blind? You see the color pink and automatically join in. I am an independent, I am sorry to hear that politics is involved in this issue. It seems so much is weighed in a political light. We, as women need to find the right place to put our money to get the job done and get results.

  3. Joan says:

    This is no surprise considering the Komen Foundation has put their pink ribbons on everything from kids sugar cereal to fast food restaurants, which may make them money but none of these is actually good for the prevention and awareness of the role nutrition plays in the disease.

    If you want to donate to a real non profit cancer organization that is making headway and works directly with doctors and researchers I suggest Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapy (F.A.C.T.),a 40 year old non profit that supports non toxic therapies.

    This organization and their founder Ruth Sackman helped my mother after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she has been doing very well ever since. They introduced us to doctors and therapists as well as educated us on the role of nutrition in cancer and I have learned much from both their personal attention as well as the articles etc on their website.

    The Komen foundation was a good thing for advertising awareness but what research has actually come out from them? what studies have they funded what progress have they made with all the money they have recieved? Their bias and GOP lean should be non existent when it comes to helping patients unfortunately making money is more of their business.

  4. Nancy Gosa says:

    I am DEFINITELY, Pro-Life as I’m sure you know, since I volunteered at the Women’s Choice Center on Happy Joe Drive in Bettendorf, which is right across from Planned Parenthood. To see these young girls come out of the the Planned Parenthood Clinic with tear filled eyes was a deep heart breaker for me. Many had come to the Women’s Choice Center and saw their baby on the ultrasound, thinking of going to the Planned Parenthood, but had stopped by our clinic to ‘Just See’ what and if the baby was really a ‘MASS’ or a real life.

    How it changed their lives and minds, after seeing that little 8 week old baby with eyelids and stumps of toes and fingers developing. They were amazed and were so full of happiness, knowing they changed their minds, just ‘To See.’ Planned Parenthood has a “Unknown” behind their free mamogram screenings and such to raise money or to get ‘someone’ in the door for their cause, “Abortions”. And that is their main reason. Planned Parenthood name amazes me, as if you could only see from where I did across the street, it wasn’t a ‘Plan’. We had many volunteers and mainly older people who would parade up and down the sidewalk of Planned Parenthood, all day on Tuesdays when their main abortions would take place. I truly believe that deterred some from going inside.

    I had heard that Planned Parenthood and Komen were in ‘Rambles’ about the funding of Komen, and yes, I know alot of the money is spent for the time and work they put into the fundraising. I don’t really think anyone knows as yet, if it is environmental, although with the way the atmosphere and world is changing, one never knows.

    I do give money and am a member of the Gilda’s Club also, and give money to the Trinity Health Foundation for the research of “Me” Stage 4 cancer patient/survivors.

    I guess we can base our thoughts on what one hears and sees, and then look at the ‘whole’ picture. I truly know, that Women’s Choice (which gives in some sorts a false type of outlook with it’s name, but they know when we tell them we give NO abortions here) gives you this choice, without abortion, but seeing a LIFE that is inside you that God blessed you with this little child.

    I know many women want ‘their choice’ as a women, and at this time it is, but when you see life and movement, your mind is not on you, it is on that baby.

    That is why Komen pulled out from Planned Parenthood, and if I was on the Komen counsel, I would feel the same way. Their are many studies out also on the ‘affects effects’ of abortion.

    I truly support Komen, although I know in any fundraising you have to ‘Dig’ to find the truth. I have found mine, and am happy to be a Komen supporter, Pro-Life and also a supporter of Gilda’s and Trinity Health Foundation.

    God Bless with love,


Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon