Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Color Me Pink ...With Embarrassment

I don't mind admitting that I sorely miss Rosa Brooks' columns in the Los Angeles Times. Today, however, I got a treat: her mother has an opinion piece in pretty much the same place Our Ms. Brooks occupied, and as usual, Barbara Ehrenreich challenges even the hippest of common wisdom.

Ms. Ehrenreich, herself a breast-cancer survivor, points out the rather dramatic difference in the way we all have responded to the two sizable hits women's health care has taken in the past few months.

Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult? When the House passed the Stupak amendment, which would take away abortion rights from women who get any government help purchasing insurance, the female response ranged from muted to inaudible.

Soon after, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that regular screening mammography not start until age 50, all hell broke loose. Sheryl Crowe, Whoopi Goldberg and Olivia Newton-John raised their voices in protest; a few dozen non-boldface women picketed the Department of Health and Human Services. If you didn't look too closely, it almost seemed as if the women's health movement of the 1970s and 1980s had returned in full force. ...

When the Stupak anti-choice amendment passed, and so entered the healthcare reform bill, no congressional representative stood up on the floor of the House to recount how access to abortion had saved her life or her family's well-being. And where were the "tea baggers" when we needed them? If anything represents the true danger of "government involvement" in healthcare, it's a healthcare reform bill that, if the Senate enacts something similar, could snatch away all but the wealthiest women's right to choose.

It's not just that abortion is deemed a morally trickier issue than mammography. To some extent, pink-ribbon culture has replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity. When a corporation wants to signal that it's "woman friendly," what does it do? It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some minuscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research. I've even seen a bottle of Shiraz called "Hope" with a pink ribbon on its label -- but no information, alas, on how much you have to drink to achieve the promised effect.
[Emphasis added]

(Well, it's pretty clear where Rosa Brooks got at least some of her penchant for snark.)

Ms. Ehrenreich goes even further in her analysis, as she always does. She points out that several reputable women's health groups have been challenging the mammography protocol and even questioning the possible role of the diagnostic test itself in the development of the cancer because of its reliance on radiation, and uses her own battle with breast cancer as an example. She got a mammogram because her health care provider wouldn't renew her hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescription without a current one:

...Maybe I should be grateful that the cancer was detected in time, but the truth is, I'm not sure whether these mammograms detected the tumor or, along with many earlier ones, contributed to it. One known environmental cause of breast cancer is radiation, in amounts easily accumulated through regular mammography. ... 2002, we found out that HRT is itself a risk factor for breast cancer (as well as being ineffective at warding off heart disease and Alzheimer's). So did I get breast cancer because of the HRT -- and possibly because of the mammograms themselves -- or did the HRT lead to the detection of a cancer I would have gotten anyway?

And therein lies the rub: we simply don't know, and that is Ms. Ehrenreich's real target:

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.
[Emphasis added]

Well said.



Anonymous Paula said...

Thanks for this. I missed that op-ed, and I'm glad you didn't.

I would go one further and say women should rise up to express their concern over ALL cancer, not just breast cancer. You're just as dead from lung cancer, melanoma, brain, etc. Don't women have lungs and skin? Those cancers don't lend themselves to colored ribbons, I guess.

As for Stupak, I'm not sure if already-insured women assumed they would be spared because they'd never need government assistance, or they just didn't understand it. Either way, women have to do better to protect ALL women --rich or poor, old or young. Many of us fought hard for what little women have achieved over the last 30-40 years. Today's young women better start fighting harder to hold onto what they've got.

We have a relative who almost died this year during a terrible pregnancy and extremely early delivery. Ultimately, mother and child survived, but at great emotional, physical and financial expense to everyone concerned. Long-term consequences are yet to be seen. I worry about others being forced to go through the same ordeal, in the name of protecting the unborn. Will those who are so concerned be there to pay the $million medical bills, to care for a child left disabled from premature birth complications, to comfort the rest of the family when they learn the mother does not dare get pregnant again, and may have lifelong health problems as a result of this pregnancy?

There'a lot more to big issues (like life and death) than ribbons, pretty colors and placards. Get real, women. Or, risk losing, big time.

7:12 PM  

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