It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, and that means you best be prepared to see every store shelf – physical and virtual – awash in pink. And while the good people that choose to pick up pink products are likely doing it for the right reasons, that doesn’t mean the sellers are. A woman with breast cancer has accused Etsy of “pinkwashing,” or riding the wave of popularized pink products to make a dime during the month of October.
Etsy created a shopping guide, titled “Tickled Pink,” full of — you guessed it — a plethora of pink and ribboned items. Like this strappy bra, this faux deer head, and this bouquet. But, as it turns out, purchasing many of these items won’t contribute a dime toward breast cancer charities. More misleading yet, a variety of the products bearing the pink ribbon emblem featured in the guide also don’t contribute toward donations.
It’s difficult to criticize what is essentially a good thing. (The viral drive to try and end a horrible disease — what’s to hate?). But it’s become far too easy for anyone to slap a pink coat of paint or a ribbon sticker on something, go easy on the details, and let the world assume the money spent on said item is going to help breast cancer survivors or research or what-have-you.
The Internet only makes this easier. There’s no face-to-face interaction, and you can wrap anything up in promotional language and make it sound effective and true. Take, for example, Pornhub’s Save the Boobies! campaign: The site says that during breast cancer awareness month, “[We] will donate one cent for every 30 videos viewed from our big-tit and small-tit categories. The more videos viewed, the bigger our donation will be to a breast cancer research charity.” Initially, that charity was Susan G. Komen – but the foundation said it would not take the money. A new organization for the fundraising has yet to be announced, although the campaign is ongoing; the number ticker on the site continues to go up, even though Pornhub hasn’t specified where it will be making its donation. This isn’t exactly advised giving.
It’s not only the seedier side of stumping for breast cancer fundraising online that we have to worry about — there are all sorts of ethical questions to be asked about marketing a disease in general. Check out any online marketplace — as well as mobile app stores — and you’ll find a veritable cornucopia of pink “breast cancer” products… many of which offer no details about how much money (if any) they are donating and to where. This sort of product stamping is all part of the commodification of activism, which the Internet has become a home for. We all want to look like we care, and sharing your recent Amazon purchase of this “Breast Cancer Pashmina” (really? You’re just going to straight up call it a “Breast Cancer Pashmina”?) on Facebook certainly makes us look like we’re interested in the cause.
Who’s to say if you are or not – but this is just lazy, and online vendors are taking advantage of the over-marketing and commercialization of breast cancer as well as our own indolence to make a buck. “If something seems too easy, it usually is,” says Breast Cancer Action founder and activist Barbara Brenner. “There is no regulation of the use of the pink ribbon on products, and they are often exploited just the way the Etsy Shopping Guide exploits them. These products produce one thing and one thing only: Profits for the sellers.”
Brenner says the best way to avoid these scams? “Give directly to a breast cancer organization you know and trust.”