Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pink: to reclaim or not to reclaim

There has been a bit of discussion, blogging, etc. recently around those issues I think of as BC politics (lower case 'p'). I'm thinking of the whole Pink (upper case 'p') debate, questions of language and terminology. One of these - on language - has come from my old school friend, the Feisty Blue Gecko and the other - on Pink - from a newly found friend, the Accidental Amazon.

It isn't unusual to find that someone with a strong opinion on one of these issues also has a strong opinion on the other. Surprise, surprise, I have strong opinions on both! Starting with Pink...

I have no problem with pink as a colour, but I do find its connotations of "sugar and spice" etc severely irritating. Pink as a colour can be strong and vibrant, but oh no, instead it is used to imply giggly, girly, trivial and often more than a little weak and feeble. These implications are totally inappropriate for those who have been/are being treated for and/or are living with breast cancer. These are strong determined women and men who have dealt with and are dealing with the difficulties of treatment and the implications of living with a life-threatening illness from which there is no magical "all clear".

Inappropriate as that may be, when taken into the sphere of campaigning and awareness raising this type of Pinkness can be positively dangerous. All too easily breast cancer can be trivialised into an entertaining, amusing and not really serious disease. It leads people to think that it is okay as cancers go; something easily "cured"and no longer life-threatening - which we all know is not the case. Yes, there have been great improvements in survival thanks to new more effective treatments, but far too many women and men still die of this disease. And for most of us, the treatment is hardly easy (let alone amusing) and learning to live with the uncertainty can be difficult.

There is a school of thought that says that all publicity is good publicity and that if Pinkness helps raise awareness in just a few women or can raise any money for cancer charities, it is a Good Thing. I am not at all convinced by this. My thinking is that all the Pink Trivia can detract from the serious business of investing in long-term research into prevention or ways of controlling the disease for a natural life span. For many women living with breast cancer the Pinkness is irritating at least and often trivialises their experiences.

Personally I am thoroughly uncomfortable with the image of people in pink wigs brandishing pink feather dusters and shrieking around. I'm really not convinced that their antics generate sufficiently significant funding for the image I find far more comforting and exciting - that of people in lab coats working away on the long term research I mentioned above - to make up for the lack of respect their attitude to the disease engenders.

I feel that I would like to reclaim the colour pink; emphasising the strong and vibrant. Rather in the way that some Black and Gay communities have reclaimed words with negative connotations. I'd love that to happen, but I fear that it will prove very difficult because the Pink Trivia is so firmly embedded in popular culture. Looking back at the 1980's Women's Movement I wonder, how on earth did we let this happen? Is it possible to reclaim pink, or is it forever blighted by sugar 'n' spice 'n' all things silly?

We don't have people wearing red wigs, waving red feather dusters and generally being silly in December, yet the events held are usually good fun while at the same time raising funds and awareness. So why can't breast cancer fund and awareness raising be as dignified as that for HIV/AIDS?


  1. This is a very timely post for me because I recently volunteered to review a book on breast cancer. It arrived today and the cover image is a photo of pink t-shirted women.

    I don't like the pink; I also know that men can get breast cancer. The pinkness of the Breast Cancer Care web site bothered me for the same reason.

    I don't know what reclaiming pink even means. What would reclaimed pink look like?

    I think that cute pinkness will continue to be associated with women for a long time. But come the revolution... :-)

  2. Hi, what are you reviewing?

    Reclaimed pink means the revolution has come!

    Seriously, the groups who have 'reclaimed' language have done so by using the words in a positive and challenging way. Reclaiming pink is not avoiding it as a colour but not over-using it or having it in places where you wouldn't any other colour. Particularly, it is about challenging the stereotypical view of cuteness.

    So, for example, reclaimed pink would be a group of women and men doing something strong and challenging to promote the issues around breast cancer that they find appropriate, but nevertheless wearing a pink ribbon.

    I'm sure the cute pinkness will continue for a long time; it is up to us to find the best ways of challenging it.

    E xx

  3. I'll be reviewing "Breast Cancer, the Essential Guide" by Katherine Locke.

    I signed up to Macmillan's Cancer Voices last week - you can volunteer for various types of things.

    It looks like a really good scheme as I've wanted to put something back into the system which helped me so much last year.

  4. I'll check it out.

    I signed up to Breast Cancer Care Voices last year and have been involved in some of their publications. I do have some concerns that they buy into the Pink Trivia rather more than I'm comfortable with.

  5. I think I get to keep the book once I'm finished with it. If so, let me know if you'd like it as I'd be happy to pass it on to you.

  6. Thanks. Yes, i think you do usually get to keep review copies - those I've had have always been in the field of medieval textiles!