Sink the Pink: How Susan G. Komen Rebranded Itself

Susan G. Komen Foundation. Sponsors “Race For the Cure.” Stamps eggs, orange juice and yogurt covers with pink ribbons. Above politics.

Such was the “branding” of one of the most important organizations founded on the promise of safeguarding women’s lives by fighting the early detection of breast cancer.

A public relations firm might charge, what?, $100-250,000 for a comprehensive marketing/public relations rebranding campaign. The effort would be enormous and probably take from 12-18 months. But the Susan G. Komen Foundation has rebranded itself within the past 72 hours for zero dollars but at an incalculable cost.

Since 1982, when her only sister died of breast cancer, Nancy G. Brinker has dedicated her philanthropic life to creating the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Since then, the Komen Foundation has raised and distributed $1.9 billion for breast cancer research, education and healthcare screening. For this unselfish work, Brinker has rightfully been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and was presented the Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

But earlier this week, did Brinker cave in to political pressures to defund Planned Parenthood, long the punching bag of right-wing ideologues? At first, Brinker claimed the Fund had come to its decision to do so because Planned Parenthood was “under investigation” and the Fund’s policy is not to fund such groups. But by whom was Planned Parenthood being investigated? Conservative Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, a fierce anti-abortion politician. (He sits, by the way, on the House committee of Energy and Commerce. What this has to do with women’s health care, is beyond me.)

Within the day, Brinker was changing and massaging the message, trying to explain that nothing had been unfunded, that Planned Parenthood was, indeed, going to be receiving the $77,000 it had been promised for 16 clinics. But going forward, Brinker explained, the relationship could not continue because in 2010 the Komen Board had demanded a new set of criteria be met in order for funds to be released to any healthcare organization. And Planned Parenthood did not meet those new matrices.

What followed that night was an extraordinary exchange with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC in which Mitchell could barely contain outrage at Komen’s handling of Planned Parenthood. Brinker’s attempts to back-pedal on her original statement as to why Komen had cut its ties with Planned Parenthood were, in turn, cut to shreds by Mitchell (proving, once again, what a seasoned journalist, set free from the artificial bind of “objectivity,” can get done.)

Most incredible was the passion with which women and men responded to what they saw as a betrayal of the support they had given to Komen. Long-time donors vowed never to give to or run in the Race again, followers on Facebook produced videos in which they cut pink ribbons in half, men on Twitter defended their women’s needs for Planned Parenthood’s services and even NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $250,000 in matching funds for the continued support of local clinics. Within one day, more than $2 million in donations were made to Planned Parenthood.

By this afternoon, Brinker appeared before the media to announce that the Komen Board would reverse its decision – but not on the basis of matrices and measures. Instead, Komen will make certain only groups that have been convicted of criminal, not political, charges are out of the funding process. Although this might appear Komen is whole-heartedly re-establishing its partnership with Planned Parenthood, Brinker is instead spinning this one; Brinker never says that at all.

Still, the damage has been done but not to Planned Parenthood. For decades, this organizations has provided education, health screening and low-cost medical treatments for poor and under-insured women. Young women are able to receive breast cancer screenings and gynecological exams at highly vulnerable times in their lives. And Planned Parenthood has continued to provide this help while enduring great political and societal abuse, but quietly, faithfully. Abortion services, a legal procedure in the United States of America, accounts for less than 3% of its funds.

The sadness is that both Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure are desperately needed. Neither group can afford to ignore the other, not without discounting those who need them the most.

Whether or not it meant to do so, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has rebranded itself within the past three days. It allowed itself to get caught in the unrelenting right-wing purification process in America in which Those Who Talk to God are dedicated to the proposition that what a woman does with her body is their business, that their political judgments can be inserted into even her most private of medical decisions and that their divine sense of morality can, must and will prevail.

All I know is that I wrote out two checks this morning. One went to my hometown church, the one from which my beloved mother was buried last spring. The other went to an organization I’ve supported in silence but overlooked for far too long.

21 thoughts on “Sink the Pink: How Susan G. Komen Rebranded Itself

  1. “…did Brinker cave in to political pressures to defund Planned Parenthood, long the punching bag of right-wing ideologues?”

    So, in reversing the decision, did Brinker cave in to political pressure to re-fund Planned Parenthood, long the darling of left-wing ideologues? Or is it not considered political pressure when it is wielded in the name of the righteous left? I say it is political pressure in both case and i am willing to call it fairly as such on both sides. Further, there is nothing wrong with political pressure. I also believe Brinker’s decision had everything to do with abortion, which I believe is legitimate criteria for a funding decision.

    My point? the sanctimonious attitude of the author when the other side exercises political pressure, and the hypocrisy of labeling it “political pressure” only when the side you disagree employs it.

    1. PM says:

      Well, I would argue that sanctimonious is what the Susan G. Komen Foundation (and all of the similar “ribbon” campaigns) is all about–I am better that you are, and you can tell because i have a pink/yellow/purple/rainbow/black ribbon on my car/yogurt/cereal/ipad/forehead.

      Otherwise, I agree that there is nothing wrong with political pressure, etc. I think it is great to see them (Komen) cave to the same political pressure that they sought to enjoy. Those who live by the sword and all of that…….

      1. john sherman says:

        Have you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided? She was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately got pulled into the world of pink teddy bears. The sub-title is “How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America,” and the book is a withering look at the pink ribbon etc. culture.

    2. Ellen Mrja says:

      Thanks for the comment, markmwhitemarkmwhite. I’m the author you see as sanctimonious. Are you by any chance someone who is part of the three-decade-long fascist attempt to establish a radical Christian fundamentalism in America? Because you sort of come off that way.

      You don’t know me so let me try to clarify. What I really am is somone who is so done with anyone else telling me what I can do with my body, who I can love, which God I’m supposed to worship, which version of truth I’m supposed to believe.

      Oh, and I guess I’m not one of those botoxed pink sort of ladies; I’m more one of those flaming red feminists who’s been quashed long enough. Watch out, Tighty Righties. The Bitch is back. And our men will stand with us and take this country back from the repressive regime the right is attempting to establish. It’s gonna’ be a bumpy ride.

      1. Ellen,
        I’m actually markmwhite (just once), my mistake. thanks for taking the time and effort to reply, seriously. i appreciate your self dislosure; i will reciprocate. i have donated to Komen, not much and not often. my wife has donated to Planned Parenthood. both organizations do some good and commendable work, neither are complete angels.

        i am actually irreligious, but i can imagine how you got a different impression. like many, i suppose, i consider myself moral (but not superior) but definitely not religious. in reverse order, my reply to your points in the 2nd paragraph of your reply are as follows:

        there is only one version of truth. it is not always obvious and it takes time, effort, and courage to see it. not surprisingly, the truth is seldom viewed in unanimity.

        i don’t worship a god and don’t really care who worships whom or what so long as my liberty is not infringed by others practicing their faith.

        i think we should all love whomever we want. life is too short, happiness (profound happiness, not just good times) is too fleeting, and love is too vital to tolerate artificial and irrational barriers to happiness and love.

        i believe in individual liberty and thus i wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what they can do to or with their body so long as no one else’s rights are infringed. i apply this rubric to abortion as follows:

        1) reproductive rights are simply stated as, procreation should neither be compelled nor prohibited. the choice to procreate or not should be voluntary in all cases. rape, by definition, is involuntary. indeed rape is a violation of reproductive rights and thus not a choice in any case and not a choice for purposes of further discussion below.
        2) the choice to terminate a pregnancy, to end a human life, is a secondary choice. the primary choice was to procreate in the first place. for clarity, sex can be either procreational or recreational depending upon which alignment with your partner you choose. if one engages in procreational sex, one is choosing to procreate. that is not a judgment so much as a biological reality.
        3) the act of procreational sex does not fall under the escapist rationale of “anyone else telling me what i can do with my body.” again by definition, procreational sex also involves at least one other human body. and when conception is achieved, it involves a third separate and distinct human body. simply a biological, not judgmental, observation. so killing a human life that one chose to create is a violation of that human’s rights. also an inescapable biological truth is that female mammals are biological hosts in the procreative process. while perhaps unfair to females, this biological truth does confer special rights over like and death.
        4) if you don’t want to procreate, choose recreational sex. abortion as retroactive birth control is despicable. that is both a judgment and an observation.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Yes, I recall the Costas intervew. It still send one continuous shiver. The sort of stuff that makes one want to turn back the clock a few decades and be a journalist–as a public service.

  2. All I know is that the Pink Ribbon campaign is absolutely not about breast cancer anymore (if it ever really was). It’s a brand. Plain and simple. It’s like dueling diseases, fighting for attention. It’s disgusting.

  3. Ellen says:

    It’s discouraging, isn’t it? Truth is every bit of help we can get in the areas of education, research and testing are crucial. I think the reaction against Komen was because people who gave to that Fund thought they were giving to a non-partisan entity.
    Another excellent observation from The Nation: this controversy also illustrates the difference between feminism (think pink) and feminist. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Yeah, I’m starting to regret that pink ribbon ankle tatoo I got a few years back. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

  4. Newt says:

    Komen is in the business of disease prevention. Planned Parenthood is about elective surgery.

    Komen better think twice before getting into bed with a partner that is not aligned with its mission.

      1. Newt says:

        1/3 of PP revenues are abortion-related.

        The cancer screenings you reference are mostly non-breast related.

        Komen is a breast cancer prevention foundation.

        The two missions are not well aligned, unless you believe pregnancy constitutes an illness like breast cancer.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        You really think Komen should be uninterested in partnering with an organization that every year delivers about 750,000 breast exams for women who often can’t access health care anywhere else?

    1. PM says:

      Komen is in the business of raising $$ and spending it on Komen executives salaries and perks:–20+% to fundraising and Administrative (salaries, etc.), and 40% to “education”–education includes all expenses relating to their cause marketing, including travel, conferences, etc. Only 13% goes to screening, and just over 5% to treatment. The final 20% goes to research.

  5. Ellen says:

    markmwhite: I’m glad you wrote again because I felt sort of bad about flaming out during my answer to your first observation. I should learn to control myself but at this stage of the game, it ain’t gonna happen.

    I understand and appreciate the points you made about truth, religion and happiness. I also understand and appreciate your point about individual liberty. But we veer from one another on your illustration.

    You say, for example, there are two kinds of sex – procreational and recreational. My first response, being a wisenheimer, is to say “I don’t have recreational sex. I’m married.”

    But in all seriousness, I don’t think you can go on to say that if you do not want to procreate, then don’t engage in procreational sex. It’s not that easy, surely. What if I’m engaging in what I think is recreational sex. And, boom! I come up pregnant. Do you simply respond with, “Well that’s what you get. It’s your problem now”?

    I kind of shuddered when you referred to “female mammals are biological hosts in the procreative process.” I just call myself a mother. Calling me a “biological host” removes me as the fundamental part of life; I’m not a biological host or any other Petrie dish-like contraption.

    In the category of too much information (you all might want to skip this part), I’ll disclose something else to you. I know it’s not scientifically possible but I swear to God I knew the very hour when my husband and I conceived our daughter (the most beautiful gift we’ve ever been given.) It sort of felt like an Alka-Selzer was fizzling away inside of my lower abdomen. I sounds insane. But it’s true.

    Furthermore, every step of the way, as our child grew into the size of a grain of rice, then a grape, and on, that baby was VERY REAL to me. Absolutely, unequivocally. We were so excited and ready and happy for the next 9 months to proceed.

    But what if I hadn’t been?

    Can you tell me I would have had no control over what was growing inside of my body? I know you might not like me using the word “my” here; men sometimes will counter that abortion is their business, too, because the baby is also theirs. But let’s be honest. If it’s growing inside of me, it’s mine.

    No body else has — or CAN have — the right to politicize it or speechify around it or make me carry anything – anymore than you would be able to force me to terminate because I might have been engaged in unlawful recreational sex. (Please, men. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. It will help you to see what I’m trying to express.)

    Finally, I agree that abortion as retroactive birth control is not the way to go. A civilized society would provide education and contraception to women who want to prevent unwanted pregnancies so that abortions can decrease year by year.

    Planned Parenthood, anyone?

    Mark, I’m so glad to have had a chance to talk with you. Thanks for writing back in. I meet the nicest people on this blog, including you. -Ellen

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      markmWhite and Ellen–Love the fire, passion and well-expressed conflicting viewpoints! The Crowd we’ve come to know and love.

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