If you’re one of those people who’s all over pink, can’t get enough of it, the more pink ribbon stuff the better, don’t read this post. It’ll just tick you off. You don’t need the stress, especially if you’ve already endured breast cancer. However, if you’re one of those who, like me, felt a little squirmy, nagging discomfort, beneath the overwhelming shock of hearing your diagnosis, at the instantaneous association of your personal calamity with a color that you never even particularly liked all that much, then read on.
Remember feminism? To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of its demise have been grossly exaggerated. Without its most recent incarnation back in the 1960s, it would be unlikely that women would now outnumber men in college, or that women would now sit on the Supreme Court. I am old enough to remember when Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I had actually started wearing a bra by the time women symbolically burned them in the 1968 protest of the Miss America pageant. I never actually burned one of my own, but I totally got it. I remember that when I wore my first pair of stockings, the only choices for holding them up were girdles or garter belts, and the latter were not the minimalist, lacey items sold at Victoria’s Secret. They were just girdles, those constricting beasts, with the leg parts cut off. I remember when pantyhose were a revolutionary invention. So, call me a feminist fossil. I’m proud of what we feminists accomplished then and continue to accomplish — whether it’s acknowledged or not — on behalf of women everywhere.
Pink as a symbol of the female gender (and blue for the male gender) did not start with the breast cancer awareness movement. It seems to have started around the 1950’s and was a complete reversal of the associations that had prevailed in the first part of the 20th century. According to a circa World War I issue of Ladies Home Journal, “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
The whole notion of gender-associated colors is evidently a 20th century invention entirely, and why it came to be at all, and why the associations were reversed in mid-century, is not clear. In any event, once it became an accepted notion that pink was for girls and blue was for boys, the culture heaped all sorts of other associations upon these colors that hardened into stereotypes, that themselves only served to constrict notions of self-definition, and led to all the attendant woes of which stereotypes of any kind are fraught. Thus, one of the things that feminism was happy to dump by the wayside was the color pink, and every nasty little stereotypic, gender-biased notion attached to it. “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice…” Oh, yeah?? Pink this, pal!!
So, you may perhaps begin to understand why so many of us, upon learning that we were diagnosed with breast cancer, felt squeamish about being suddenly saddled with the color pink as the symbol of our disease. This is cancer, folks, a lethal disease with a reputation for recurrence. The Stalker, dear readers, is not made of sugar and spice. Nor is its treatment or its treatment aftermath nor the painstaking research that has so far yielded perhaps more questions than answers. And who, you might wonder, decided that pink was “our” color? It seems to have started when the Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons in 1991 to the participants of the NYC Race for Breast Cancer Survivors. It was the feminist movement that helped to raise awareness of women’s health issues in the first place, empowering women to demand more answers, more effective and less gruesome treatment, better and earlier screening, and then in one fell swoop, we end up getting stuck with this bleeping color, and all its bleeping cultural stereotypes, to represent this hard-won awareness?
Are you kidding me?? Bad enough that the Nazis sewed pink triangles on the sleeves of concentration camp prisoners who were homosexual. Bad enough we’re inundated with a gazillion variations of pink fluff on Valentine’s Day. But this? Folks, let me tell you. Breast cancer ain’t no freaking valentine. So, excuse me if pink ribbons and pink tchotchkes and pink cars and guns and kitchen appliances and all the merchandising excesses of Pinktober are wont to make me gag. I am not a color. I am not a disease. I am not a stereotype. I am not the poster-child for the triumph of “positive thinking” over a life-threatening and poorly-understood illness. I am woman, hear me roar: all this infernal pink has yet to cure breast cancer. And that’s a fact.
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