The documentary “Taking Our Bodies Back: The Women’s Health Movement” highlights the issue of breast cancer examinations during the 1970s Women’s Health Movement. Breast tissue that was found to be malignant after a biopsy was immediately and non-consensually followed by a radical mastectomy (on an anesthetized patient). It was believed to be the best method but the truth was that doctors did not convenience anyone but themselves in this terrible “1-step” process. Two women in the documentary were interviewed and they spoke about their displeasing and confusing experiences with breast biopsies. One woman notes that she was thrust a consent form, and she did not understand it but signed it anyway while under pressure to do so.
A woman named Rose Kushner challenged this “1-step” process in her “greatest triumph [which took place at the] 1979 National Institutes of Health (NIH) conference on breast cancer treatment…a consensus panel concluded that radical mastectomy was no longer appropriate; smaller operations, often combined with radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or both, provided equivalent survival with less disfigurement…”
What would Rose Kushner, who worked as an activist to gain respect and the inherent right to control what happens to her body, think about all of the breast cancer activism today?
She would most likely be proud of how far people have come in the fight against unjust medical practices, and the increasing awareness of breast cancer. But, I wonder, would she be proud of this current representation of breast cancer activism?:
Barbara Ehrenreich and a blog poster named Nancy both unlovingly refer to a “pink ribbon culture” that has formed around breast cancer. They speak of how break cancer has suddenly become trivialized and marketable (mainly, in a sexual manner). Truthfully, I had never really thought about this fact. The pink ribbon has certainly been omnipresent in my life. My friend wears her “I heart boobies” wristband and displays her “save the ta-tas” bumper sticker on her car with great amusement. I can’t help but think, after reading Ehrenreich and Nancy’s articles, that breast cancer has become just that. Amusement. Surely people mean no harm by injecting some light-heartedness into a very serious disease. But there seems to be too much focus on the symbol of breast cancer, rather than the actual cancer. This over-marketing of breast cancer can seem patronizing and, maybe, the humor is making people forget about the real health issue at the core. Nancy asks three questions:
When did a cause that’s supposed to help women get so off-track?
When did a women’s cause like breast cancer awareness lose focus of feminism?…
When did it become more about saving breasts than about cancer and saving lives?
While Nancy provides the questions, Ehrenreich provides the answers:
What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly lifestyle) causes of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments such as chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what is the course of this disease (or diseases)? What we don’t need, no matter how pretty and pink, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.
Society is now startlingly aware of breast cancer, thanks to the “pink ribbon culture.” Next time you are donating to breast cancer, try not to forget breast cancer and Kushner and reevaluate what the “pink ribbon” truly means.
I leave you with a cringe-worthy men’s T-shirt that, I think, speaks volumes for my post: