October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The school where I work designated Monday, October 25th as Wear Pink day. Signs went up everywhere to wear pink on Monday; pink tshirts with the school's name and the slogan "Real [Warriors*] Wear Pink" were sold as a fundraiser.
I consider breast cancer awareness and research to be 100% worthy causes, and have participated in these days several times in the past. This year, however, I didn't. I didn't plan to avoid it - I just didn't think about it when I left the house. I don't own any pink clothes, and nobody in the building had pink ribbons this year. I didn't have enough cash on me for a t-shirt. I also didn't think this was in any way a failure on my part - I donate in a number of ways to a number of different causes that are important to me, breast cancer and the American Cancer Society among them.
However. In the last 24 hours, no less than 5 women have confronted me about my lack of pink yesterday. The first was in the bathroom yesterday morning. A woman I've never talked to before looked at me in the mirror and said, "What a day for your hair not to be pink." (For anyone unfamiliar with my hair, it's currently several shades of purple in various stages of fade.) And then she walked out. By the time I got the fifth comment today - "You disappoint me! We got to get you pink!" - I was already writing this post in my head.
This is bullying, plain and simple. Mean Girl mentality is insidious and it's certainly everywhere in a high school, but it breaks my heart to see grown women embracing it in the name of charity. It's just a pink shirt; it doesn't mean I don't respect the battle or the loss or the risk it represents. The goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to raise consciousness, raise money, encourage women to get regular mammograms and practice prevention measures, and dare I say it, honor our individual loved ones. It's not just to paint the town pink. Everybody remembers, celebrates, grieves and takes action in their own way - that's how activism takes on meaning and effects change. It disturbs me that an effort intended to unite people in the saving of lives has taken on a facile mob-marketing mentality (see the Facebook "I Like It..." fiasco, for example). When I started thinking about this, I began considering the overall approach of the Wear Pink day this year. Posters went up about a week ago with the date and the message to wear pink!; the photograph on the poster was a group of 5 teenage girls, 4 of them wearing coordinating pink clothing. Look closer, and what is this picture actually from? It's Mean Girls. The 5th girl is Lindsay Lohan, off to the side by herself. No pink. Then take the fundraising t-shirts: "Real [Warriors] Wear Pink." Again, instead of taking the opportunity to deliver a concrete message for action, it's a subtly aggressive message of team loyalty.
By all means, we should wear pink if we want to and donate what we can and participate in runs to honor and celebrate our loved ones. And everyone should please, please get a mammogram. Effective activism, like beautiful women, comes in all shapes and sizes and colors. Be respectful, and don't judge a person's involvement based on what color they're wearing.
*Not our actual team name, but you get the idea.