Queen's University — Since 1873
3rd February 2012

Rethink going pink

Queen’s professor Samantha King’s book, Pink Ribbons, Inc, is turned into a documentary film

Samantha King will take her Health 334 class to see  Pink Ribbons, Inc. She says they’ll benefit from the visual interpretation of her book which they’ve been reading.
Samantha King will take her Health 334 class to see Pink Ribbons, Inc. She says they’ll benefit from the visual interpretation of her book which they’ve been reading. (Justin Chin)

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A Queen’s professor’s work that challenged the culture of breast cancer fundraising is now the basis of a new documentary.

Cultural studies and health professor Samantha King published her 2006 book, Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy in 2006. The book is critical of pink campaigns that focus solely on finding a cure.

“Of course cures are important and it would be fabulous if we had that,” she said. “But all our energy goes into that end-of-the-illness experience, rather than thinking about what causes it in the first place and how we can prevent it.”

King and her Health 334 class will visit the Screening Room next week to see Pink Ribbons, Inc., director Léa Pool’s film that’s based on the professor’s book.

King is particularly suspicious of corporations, like Avon cosmetics, that are involved in breast cancer fundraisers, since these companies sell products that are potentially harmful to women. King said most cosmetics contain parabens, chemicals claimed to be carcinogenic.

“[It’s] particularly problematic when its corporations who are selling products through pink ribbon marketing who are also producing products that are potentially toxic,” King said.

In a 2006 Maclean’s article King called pink ribbon campaigns a “tyranny of happiness” with their emphasis on a hope for a cure, which can be alienating for women who don’t see their disease in such a positive light.

“What I found in my research is that there are lots of women who don’t experience breast cancer that way, for whom it’s a devastating, painful disease from which many of them ultimately die,” she said. “There’s no room for anger or for pain, in the culture that has grown up around the disease.”

King said she has received emails, letters and phone calls from women with breast cancer who are grateful for the attention given to those women who aren’t cheerful campaign participants. “They feel like they can’t speak up because they have to be grateful for the support and the attention that the disease is getting,” King said.

King said the film follows a group of women with stage-four cancer in Austin, Tex. The group, dubbed the IV League, discusses the alienating effect of pink ribbon campaigns. Despite the negative feelings that can come from breast cancer initiatives, King said the movement still has a purpose.

“There is certainly still value in people coming together collectively to raise money,” she said. “The film doesn’t make the argument that people shouldn’t do that. The message is more think before you pink.”

King was a consultant on the new film, contributing suggestions for interview subjects and events to cover. She is also interviewed in the film.

“The film is about encouraging people to ask questions and have new conversations about this culture and to question whether just giving money is the most effective way to respond to a disease,” she said.

“I hope what people get out of the film is a recognition that the current approach is not working.”

Pink Ribbons, Inc. has a premier screening tonight at the Screening Room at 7 p.m. Samantha King will give a talk on the film on Tuesday Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Screening Room.

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