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Gender Block: pinkwashing

Hillary Di Menna

When the calendar flips to October, shelves are stocked with pink products and pink ribbons are all around. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, tackling the most common cancer, and the second leading cause of death from cancer, among Canadian women, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Companies, like Procter and Gamble (P&G), use this time of year to push cause marketing: a for-profit business using a not-for-profit’s cause to market their product. So even though cyclopentasiloxane—an ingredient shown to cause cancerous tumours in test animals—is the first ingredient in P&G’s Secret Scent Expressions deodorant, people can feel good buying their products because they have plans to donate US$100,000 to the American Cancer Society. This is pinkwashing, where companies mask the bad (sometimes cancerous) parts of their products by exploiting women’s vulnerability to breast cancer.

“Raising money has become the priority,” says Dr. Samantha King in Pink Ribbons, Inc. “Regardless of the consequences.” Distributed by the National Film Board, and directed by Lea Pool, the 2011 Canadian documentary is based off of King’s book of the same title. In it people such as Barbara Ehrenreich, a writer and breast cancer survivor, talk about how the capitalism of breast cancer awareness is serving as a distraction from how the movement originally started, with a sisterhood critically looking at the health care system.

“To expect you to add social purpose to your business just because it’s a good thing to do, is foolish,” writes Olivia Khalili of Cause Capitalism.  “You have a bottom-line and other obligations to meet.  You don’t have extra resources to allocate to ‘doing good.’”

Obviously businesses have a bottom line that doesn’t include helping others for the goodness of it. But where is this money really going? Walks and parties are fun—I’ve done fundraising for cancer research efforts myself—but after the high of solidarity wears off, and the hype dies down, we must ask: what progress health care wise has been made?

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her first year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.








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