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

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

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by Gayle A. Sulik
     
 

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Medical sociologist Gayle A. Sulik reveals the hidden costs of the pink ribbon as an industry, one in which breast cancer functions as a brand name with a pink ribbon logo. Based on historical and ethnographic research, analysis of awareness campaigns and advertisements, and hundreds of interviews, Pink Ribbon Blues shows that while millions walk, run, and

Overview

Medical sociologist Gayle A. Sulik reveals the hidden costs of the pink ribbon as an industry, one in which breast cancer functions as a brand name with a pink ribbon logo. Based on historical and ethnographic research, analysis of awareness campaigns and advertisements, and hundreds of interviews, Pink Ribbon Blues shows that while millions walk, run, and purchase products for a cure, cancer rates continue to rise, industry thrives, and breast cancer is stigmatized anew for those who reject the pink ribbon model. Even as Sulik points out the flaws of "pink ribbon culture," she outlines the positives and offers alternatives. The paperback includes a new Introduction investigating Susan G. Komen for the Cure and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
You may never think pink again about breast cancer after reading Sulik's sobering and lucid critique of what she calls "pink culture"--which has turned a "complex social and medical" issue into "a popular item for public consumption" and has actually "impeded progress in the war on breast cancer." Sulik, a medical sociologist, argues that the truth about breast cancer, so memorably voiced by its victims in the early 1990s, has now been "silenced in a cacophony of pink talk" about triumph and transcendence thanks to advertising, the media, and the medical establishment. And, Sulik says, pink products and symbols only reinforce traditional notions of femininity and sexuality. Equally troubling is the questionable impact of mammography, which, though urged upon women, has scarcely affected death rates--40,000 women (and 450 men) die of breast cancer each year. With breast cancer incidence rates rising, Sulik's call to "take a road less pink" demands to be heard. (Oct.)
Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Therese A Dolecek, PhD (University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health)
Description: This book examines the many aspects of breast cancer culture, historically through to the present day, from a sociological perspective. It is the product of an extensive qualitative evaluation based on a synthesis of ethnographic data collection over a decade. The author's contemporary label, "pink ribbon culture," represents the evolution of the breast cancer movement which has roots in the women's health movements of the 1970s and 1980s. The book details the evolutionary development of pink ribbon culture (synonymous with breast cancer awareness) and critiques the process in terms of favorable and unfavorable consequences on the overall cause and its goals.
Purpose: Breast cancer in the United States is an epidemic. The ultimate goal of the breast cancer movement is to prevent and eradicate the disease. More immediate aims focus on assuring optimal methods for early detection in the general population and best treatments and quality of life for those women diagnosed. Through a constructive and critical approach noting important strengths and shortcomings, the author describes how well these goals and objectives are being met through the breast cancer movement since it was launched in the early 1990s.
Audience: The book is likely to appeal to a wide range of readers with an interest in breast cancer, the movement, and associated issues. Lay audiences, health professionals and clinicians, social scientists, and policy specialists are among groups that would find the content and presentation valuable.
Features: It examines such relevant topics as: stigmas both historical and current associated with breast cancer; breast cancer cultural system language, norms, practices and beliefs; mass media importance and influences; roles of public agencies, private organizations, and corporations; meanings of survivorship; effects of medical consumerism and the creation of the breast cancer industry; and financial issues in a capitalistic American society. Excerpts of interviews with women diagnosed with breast cancer are especially moving and relevant to understanding the impact of the movement.
Assessment: What one would expect intuitively to be nothing but a positive for such an altruistic cause is put into perspective in the thoughtful and provocative discussions in this book. Some may suggest that the dark side of issues is overemphasized in an evaluation that aims to objectify the breast cancer movement. However, an emphasis on the unexpected adverse consequences of the movement may be needed to temper the currently sensationalized "pink ribbon culture."
From the Publisher
"Treads an interesting middle ground between the academic and the journalistic as she analyzes giant hunks of information and opinion, and also interviews patients to illustrate her points." —Abigail Zuger,M.D., New York Times

"In this provocative and eye-opening critique, medical sociologist Gayle Sulik, Ph.D., makes the case that breast cancer culture is increasingly frivolous and commercialized-with patients paying the price." —Catherine Guthrie, Better Homes and Gardens

"Given the pink ribbon's symbolic success, what's wrong with it? Sulik argues that pink ribbon culture focuses attention on the wrong things and does it in a way that is not really contributing to progress toward preventing and curing cancer. It buries medical controversies, ignores environmental causes of cancer and insurance problems, and does not increase access to treatment for underserved populations. Most of all, she is critical of the collusion of pink ribbon culture with what has become a multibillion-dollar cancer industry. I highly recommend Pink Ribbon Blues to anyone interested in medical issues, the social construction of patienthood, gender, and the body." —Judith Lorber, Gender & Society

"Gayle Sulik takes us behind the pink curtain to a peculiar culture where sentimentality takes the place of scientific evidence, personal transcendence fills in for political action, and lofty platitudes replace actionable goals. Pink Ribbon Blues is the Frommer's travel guide to the country of breast cancer." —Sandra Steingraber, author, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment

"Gayle Sulik has written an excellent book that sheds new light on the construction and implications of breast cancer culture in American society. Her extensive research and thought-provoking analysis challenge current beliefs of what breast cancer means for diagnosed women, survivors, and advocates. This book is a must-read for all players in the breast cancer culture and anyone interested in women's health."—Kathy Charmaz, Professor of Sociology, Sonoma State University

"In Pink Ribbon Blues, Gayle Sulik has brought sociological, feminist and media theory together for a deep and broad analysis of the consumer world of breast cancer. She has complimented all of that with a deeply humane and personal engagement with the women who are living with breast cancer in a world where the pink ribbon culture constantly needs disruption and questioning. BRAVO!!!!!"—Janet Gray, Director, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Vassar College; Board Member, Breast Cancer Fund

"In this thoughtful, eye-opening and searing examination of the pinking of breast cancer, Sulik shows how pink culture lurches from selflessness to selfishness, giving new meaning to the ferocity of survivors and she-roes."—Devra Davis, National Book Award Finalist, author of Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation and Your Health (2010), and The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2009), Founder, Environmental Health Trust, and Visiting Professor, Georgetown University

"It's about time! We've been needing this book - a smart, critical, thoughtful analysis of pink ribbon culture and the damage it is doing. Thank you Gayle Sulik!"—Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology at the City University of NY, most recent book, with Wendy Simonds, Laboring On

"Provocative..." —Library Journal

"Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a distracting sideshow, a situation that sociologist Gayle A. Sulik explores in compelling depth in her new book, Pink Ribbon Blues."
—Katherine Russell Rich, Slate

"You may never think pink again about breast cancer after reading Sulik's sobering and lucid critique of what she calls 'pink culture'... Sulik's call to 'take a road less pink' demands to be heard." —Publishers Weekly

"Many of [Sulik's] insights are striking and she pulls together a wealth of historical material and data... Recommended." —Choice

"This is the first book to provide a comprehensive ethnographic analysis of breast cancer culture in American society. It presents a thought-provoking and probing argument against the industry of awareness-raising and describes real ways to help breast cancer patients and their families. This book will be valuable for all those interested in breast cancer management and in women's health." — Anticancer Research

"For Sulik, it is clearly time to 'rethink pink.' Well-written and extremely well researched, Pink Ribbon Blues demonstrates how pink consumption has transformed breast cancer from a stigmatized disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship. Using a broad interdisciplinary approach and a range of examples, personal stories, and health statistics, Sulik traces the linkages between the disease and the 'pink culture' that has arisen around it. As well as being of interest to those with breast cancer this book would be useful for both academic and clinical audiences, in addition to serving as an excellent discussion text for courses in medical sociology and anthropology."
- Sukari Ivester, Sociology of Health and Illness

Library Journal
Sulik (sociology & women's studies, Texas Woman's Univ.) considers the pink ribbon more of a noose around women's necks than its ubiquitous identification with self-awareness and empowerment, with branding and merchandising usurping the need for greater recognition of the breast cancer experience. "Pink ribbon culture is geared more toward encouraging people to feel good about the cause than to acknowledge the often difficult and un-pretty realities of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment." Provocative, to say the least; for academic collections and sociology students.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199826575
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
10/28/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Gayle A. Sulik MA, PhD is research associate at the University at Albany (SUNY) and founder of the Consortium on Breast Cancer. She was a 2008 Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and is winner of the 2013 Sociologists for Women in Society Distinguished Lecturer Award for Pink Ribbon Blues.

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