Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nancy Goodman Brinker: Not the Feminist of the Day

Nancy Goodman Brinker
Founder of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Race for the Cure, US Ambassador to Hungary
"You can either respond with anger and destruction, and get nothing done except destroy yourself and those around you. Or you can take the energy and channel it into something productive. I believe that we can make a difference."

Nancy Goodman Brinker is credited with two main accomplishes. I'll deal with her work as the Ambassador to Hungary first, from an on-line biography:
In 2001, Brinker accepted President George W. Bush's nomination of Ambassador to Hungary, and her achievements there are equally impressive. She helped to preserve tax benefits and lower tariffs on U.S. companies doing business in Hungary. Brinker negotiated the hosting and training of the Free Iraqi Forces, an expatriate group who later joined coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, making Hungary the first European country to contribute to regime change in Iraq. Her groundbreaking efforts to advance the cause of women's health in Hungary included a symposium and ceremonial walk across the country's oldest bridge (lit pink for the occasion) to raise breast cancer awareness.
Wow she organised a ceremonial walk, that certainly gets her enough feminist points to make up for all the ones she loses for helping the invasion of Iraq. Plus wherever you stand on so-called free-trade, ensuring special treatment for American products is not a feminist act.

Then there's the breast cancer work, just because it involves women - doesn't make it feminist. When you want to analyse something from a feminist point of view, but you're too lazy to do it yourself right now, there are a couple of really reliable women who will have done it before you, and better than you ever could. In this case I will quote Barbara Ehrenreich, who has had breast cancer:
In fact, aside from the dilute sisterhood of the cyber (and actual) support groups, there is nothing very feminist - in an ideological or activist sense - about the mainstream of breat-cancer culture today. [....]

Like everyone else in the breast-cancer world, the feminist want a cure, but they even more ardently want to know the cause or causes of the disease without which we will never having any means of prevention. [....]

But today theirs are discordant voices in a general chorus of sentimentality and good cheer; after all, breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate America if its complexion changed from pink to green. It is the very blandness of breast cancer, at least in mainstream perceptions, that makes it an attractive coporate charity and a way for companies to brand themselves friends of the middle-aged female market. With breast cancer, "there was no concern you might actually turn off your audience because of the life style or sexual connotations that AIDS has." Amy Langer, director of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organisations told the New York Times in 1996.
Go read the whole thing - it's well worth it.

Barbara Ehrenreich even has a response for that godawful quote:
No, this is not my sisterhood. For me at least, breast cancer will never be a source of identity or pride. As my dying correspondent Gerri wrote: "IT IS NOT OK!" What it is, along with cancer generally or any slow and payful way of dying, is an abomination, and to the extent that it's man-made, also a crime. This is the one great truth that I bring out of the breast-cancer expereinece, which did not, I can now report, make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual - only more deeply angry. What sustained me through the 'treatments' is a purifying rage, a resolve, framed in the sleepless nights of chemotherapy, to see the last polluter, along with, say the last smug health-insurance operative, stranged with the last pink ribbon.

Conclusion: No, Nancy Goodman Brinker is no sister. Which is good, because feminists we get angry - because we're paying attention.

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