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Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health [Hardcover]

Gayle A. Sulik
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2010 0199740453 978-0199740451
Pink ribbon paraphernalia saturate shopping malls, billboards, magazines, television, and other venues, all in the name of breast cancer awareness. In this compelling and provocative work, Gayle Sulik shows that though this "pink ribbon culture" has brought breast cancer advocacy much attention, it has not had the desired effect of improving women's health. It may, in fact, have done the opposite. Based on eight years of research, analysis of advertisements and breast cancer awareness campaigns, and hundreds of interviews with those affected by the disease, Pink Ribbon Blues highlights the hidden costs of the pink ribbon as an industry, one in which breast cancer has become merely a brand name with a pink logo. Indeed, while survivors and supporters walk, run, and purchase ribbons for a cure, cancer rates rise, the cancer industry thrives, corporations claim responsible citizenship while profiting from the disease, and breast cancer is stigmatized anew for those who reject the pink ribbon model. But Sulik also outlines alternative organizations that make a real difference, highlights what they do differently, and presents a new agenda for the future.

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Review

I felt I was listening to real women expressing their suffering, rather than watching lines of happy pink she-roes. [She-ro is the feminine form of hero.] IAHPC Newsletter, April 2013

About the Author

Gayle A. Sulik is a medical sociologist and Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Texas Woman's University.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important perspective March 4 2011
By miri
Format:Hardcover
As a breast cancer survivor of five years, I have come to dislike the pink ribbon culture intensely. It is false, dishonest and condescending to women by treating cancer sufferers as women who should be cheerful, upbeat and above all hopeful. It allows no room for the terrifying reality of cancer. This book is a refreshing, honest, fascinating look into the world of pink ribbon culture. Ms. Sulik carefully and reasonably examines the motives and drivers behind the overwhelming culture of "survivorship". The manipulation of statistics, false promises regarding screening benefits, denial of the reality of cancer patients' lives, etc, are all dealt with in a most honest and readable manner. For me, the book is a confirmation that for many women, like myself, pink ribbon culture is oppressive, false and demeaning in its denial of the vast differences and feelings among women who have been through, and continue to deal with, this horrible disease. I highly recommend this book.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pink backhoes! Oh, my! Oct. 26 2010
By C. Wagner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We are indeed surrounded by the pink do-gooders. I even saw a pink backhoe on display.
Now, our brave author seeks to separate well-grounded hope from misleading hope. And, says Sulik, "The goal to eradicate breast cancer is not being realized." (p. 9.) Further, the advantages to screening have been exaggerated. (p. 20.)
My somewhat paranoid furniture stripper said that no one really wants to cure cancer because then the money would be gone. He is correct about the money being gone. Imagine, if a vaccine were created to prevent cancer or an inexpensive injection to cure cancer were developed, how many folks would be off their feed. There would no longer be a need for expensive research, oncologists, medications, treatments or miscellaneous paraphernalia. "The industry that benefits from increased use of mammography and pharmaceuticals is at the core of what has become pink ribbon culture." (p. 210.)
The author contends that exposure to common chemicals in the environment may contribute to high incidence of breast cancer (p. 60.) while the pink ribbon culture emphasizes the courageous survivor.
Again, many of the largest corporate donors to the pink culture derive huge profits from the treatment end of the business. This includes hardware and pharmaceuticals, and so forth...
Yet, breast cancer rates have risen (dramatically in my opinion) since 1940 (p. 159.) And, there is still no sure cure or prevention method.
Proper treatment and "cure" of the disease are essential.
However, to get back to my outspoken furniture stripper, this is not my priority. I have a wife and two daughters. I do not want them to be survivors. I want them to never contract the disease. I want to know what causes breast cancer. How can it be prevented? Can an effective vaccine be developed? How are U.S. cancer rates comparing with, say Germany?
I know there are geographic cancer hotspots. I know there are some buildings that produce cancer in their employees and at a high percentage rate. I know there are no serious investigations into these issues. I want to know the cause and potential methods to prevent all forms of cancer and the pink culture, that I have seen, has not been working in this arena. I do not want to see any more pink backhoes.
Sulik's books should be required reading.
Readers may also be interested in the "No Family History" by Sabrina McCormick.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This breast cancer "survivor" loved it. Nov. 12 2010
By MeredithK02 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I absolutely loved this book. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I didn't have the vocabulary to explain what I found so disturbing about the pink ribbon culture into which I was suddenly immersed. Gayle Sulik does a fantastic job of systematically laying out the flaws that plague the current pink-think, and I've come away from reading her book with a reading list from the books and articles she cites.

I've read critiques of many of the issues she lists, but never in such a comprehensive and well-researched unit. I started reading the book still bothered by my lack of verbal ammunition to articulate my gut dislike of the industry of breast cancer awareness, but I've come away with an arsenal. I especially liked a section of the last chapter, "Rethinking Pink Ribbon Culture," that deals with the question of whether the ends justify the means regarding the problematic (to put it mildly) nature of some breast cancer awareness campaigns.

I'd highly recommend this book to anybody who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, or knows anyone who has.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provocative but disappointing June 17 2011
By Martin Hughes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had great expectations of this book. With its provocative subtitle and the blurb stating that it was based on ten years of research, I thought it was really going to blow the lid off 'pink ribbon culture,' exposing all the things that were wrong with the 'cancer industry' and how it has 'pinkwashed' Americans -- especially American women -- into supporting breast cancer research through the use of pink ribbons. What I found instead was a book that was reasonably informative and interesting, but with a confusing array of concepts that never really coalesced into a coherent framework of analysis.

This book is long on description. I learned quite a bit about the various types of breast cancers and their relative rates of incidence. I also learned about the history of the various treatments developed over the past 30-40 years, and how those treatments have or haven't improved -- the results are mixed and subject to interpretation -- survival chances for women. Finally, I learned about the history of the breast cancer awareness movement and its troubled relationships with corporate funders and manufacturers (i.e., Big Pharma). All of this was presented in roughly the first half of the book.

Meanwhile, I was frustrated by the attempts of the author to analyze 'pink ribbon culture.' I do get that there's something unique about breast cancer that warrants a gender lens, but rather than situating pink ribbon culture into a feminist critique of culture more generally, the author tries to make a case that there's something uniquely insidious about a breast cancer culture that silences women's voices and limits their options. Women have been dealing with that for a long time in the home and the workplace; why should it surprise anyone that they confront it in the hospitals and doctors' offices? Yes, they have to deal with constraining and conflicting gender expectations, but they do that already, even in the best of health. And they are at least partly complicit in supporting this culture. After all, breast enhancement surgeries are among the most popular cosmetic procedures, and their popularity among women continues to rise.

The second half of the book is organized around the exploration of illustrative case material. The point I think the author was trying to make was that many women with breast cancer resist the model of the 'she-ro' presented to them by the culture, and that without a culture that validated and supported their experiences, this resistance made their lives and ordeals more difficult than they otherwise would have been. Fair enough. But how is that any different from *ANY OTHER* debilitating illness or condition or situation that women contend with? I kept looking for the angle that the breast cancer story is somehow different or unique from what women face more generally. Women have always had it harder than men. The takeaway seems to be that if we should expect to see true female empowerment anywhere in society, we should see it here, but we don't. The big charities and movement organizations sold out the grassroots by cozying up to partners with deep pockets -- partners who don't have women's interests at heart because they're not only profiting off the disease (e.g., by selling lucrative pharmaceuticals and expensive mammography units) but also often profiting off the products (i.e., chemicals, etc.) and the environmental conditions that increase the incidence of the disease in the first place. From this critical perspective, 'pink ribbon culture' serves to distract and co-opt the general public. And that's an important takeaway.

So in general, I'm glad I read this book, and I would encourage others to do the same, but I can't help but feel like it over-promised and under-delivered. The author's strongest contributions come from her big-picture, historical review in the first half. Her attempt in the second half to introduce individual case histories to illustrate her points fell a little flat for me. I realize, however, that that's precisely what many readers respond to the most powerfully. They want to see their own lives and stories -- or those of their loved ones -- represented in the pages, so I understand why the author wanted to include them, and why the editor/publisher allowed them to be included. I personally found them to be less insightful than I'd wanted them to be; they ended up taking away from what came before, not adding to it.

I close this review by expressing my biggest frustration. The author was not shy about identifying 'the bad guys', but I kept waiting for her to identify 'the good guys' -- those organizations most strongly committed to doing breast cancer awareness, research, and treatment in a way that truly empowers and respects all women. I'm still left to wonder whether there are any national or local breast cancer organizations that are 'doing it right'. It would be nice to direct our support toward them and away from the others.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Speaks the truth and honors breast cancer patients Jan. 2 2011
By Irish Gal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
By the time my father died of complications from surgery (not cancer related), he had endured 30 days of hell. At his memorial service, the minister earnestly said, "He suffered." Those words were a comfort to me. In not minimizing his suffering, his life was more fully honored.

After reading "Pink Ribbon Blues," I think that breast cancer patients must feel exactly the opposite. If pink buckets of fried chicken and pink Barbie dolls are emblematic of your disease, how bad can it be, really? We are not recognizing their suffering if we think we can merely "shop for a cure", treating ourselves to a new pair of shoes in the name of support. I'll take that new pink designer tshirt, but I don't want to see anyone's mastectomy scar.

Sulik's book presents many aspects of the pink ribbon culture including the profits of the drug companies, the sexualiation of breast cancer, and the real statistics on cure rates. I was interested to read the details of DCIS and how it is classified and treated as cancer, which pollutes the stats of more serious forms of breast cancer, making the cure rate appear higher.

I encourage others to read this book, not only for the well-reasoned arguments and comprehensive research presented, but also because it forces us to face the truth of what breast cancer patients endure. And it's definitely not pink.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the perspective of a registered nurse Nov. 3 2010
By RN - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have an active background in cancer care and treatment, and frankly am getting a little tired of all of the Pink Ribbon Celebration. I'm uncertain about how much money goes to the cause and how much profit the manufacturers and marketers are making from this disease. I'm also concerned that other cancers are being put on the back burner, while all attention goes to the pink ribbon. Cancer is a horrible disease and a cure would be great, BUT, we need to put our money into research for the PREVENTION of cancer.

I was very interested in this sociological approach to breast cancer. The book answered many of my questions. The author is compassionate and has a strong argument about Pink Ribbon advertising and the cancer industry. I especially liked the chapter on medicine and learned a lot that I didn't know as a nurse.

The book was well written, and I look forward to future books from this author.
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