Why I Will Still Never Wear Another Pink Ribbon
Earlier this week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation made headlines when it decided to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates, ending a 7-year partnership that had been successful in providing accessible and affordable mammograms and early breast cancer detection to thousands of lower-income and underinsured women. Like many other women across the country, I felt deceived.
I grew up in a “Race for the Cure” generation–in an era where both men and women could speak openly about breast cancer without embarrassment or fear of stigma. We had the Susan G. Komen Foundation to thank for much of that. Unlike our parents’ generation, we understood that there is no shame in having breast cancer or in being a survivor. We understood that the disease was blind to age, race, income, gender, and yes–political affiliation. Moreover, the movement to find a cure for breast cancer taught me that I should never be made to feel ashamed of my female body, or silenced on the health issues that impact me.
This sense of confidence led to my first foray into public health organizing, which uncoincidentally, benefitted the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I vividly recall the first Pink Ribbon Drive that I launched at my high school at sixteen years of age. I enlisted the help of friends and volunteers to buy spools upon spools of pink ribbon, which we cut, hot glue-gunned, and sold for $1 apiece. With the support of school administration, our humble week-long campaign generated over $3,000 in sales. When it was time to draft the donation letter to the Komen Foundation, I felt proud of what we had accomplished. Each pink ribbon that we made, sold, and wore represented not just a monetary value; these pink ribbons signaled that women mattered–that their health and well-being mattered to all of us as a community.
After this experience, I came to see myself as an advocate for women’s health. As a youth activist, I quickly learned that a commitment to women’s health cannot be tied to a singular issue or cause. Just as caring for my body cannot be reduced to timely breast cancer screenings, advocating for women’s health cannot be compartmentalized. After my initial activism around breast cancer, I took up other women’s health campaigns and initiatives–from lobbying for comprehensive sexual health education in California, to supporting the national red dress campaign for heart disease awareness.
Like me, the women I care about and love–my sisters, my mother, my grandmothers, my teachers, my friends, my colleagues–have comprehensive bodies, and so merit access to comprehensive health education and services, politics or not.
After this week’s political gaming, I no longer felt like I could trust the Komen Foundation to act on behalf of women’s best interests. I vowed to never wear another pink ribbon or participate in another “Race for the Cure.” I publically declared that I would never shop with a Komen corporate sponsor, or write off another direct donation to the foundation. I signed petitions after petitions urging the board to reconsider its decision.
At first, the Komen Foundation defended its actions, denying political influence and hiding behind a policy technicality. It wasn’t until our senators, mayors, and other power-players stepped forward to publically chastise the organization—and in many cases withdraw monetary support–that the Komen Foundation issued a public mea culpa and reversed their funding decision.
I should be thrilled, or at the very least relieved. But I still feel deceived; I still don’t know if I can trust the Komen Foundation to set aside special interest and act in the best interest of women. I don’t know if the Komen Foundation is a fair-weather friend who will stand by women only when it is politically popular or convenient to do so.
What I do know is that Planned Parenthood has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to women’s health, even in the face of partisan politics, ideological wars, and budget shortfalls. For this reason, I stand by my commitment to redirect my support to organizations who stand by their missions at all times. I urge you to stand with me. The women we love and care about deserve better.