Pinkwashing

Here’s something to infuriate you. And damn, we should all feel angry about this. I read this post this week. When I finished, I was literally shaking with anger. Jane and Acacia have already said everything I wanted to say about Pinkwashing, but I wanted to write my own post to help spread the word about this and hopefully get etsy to respond properly. So here is what happened.

Acacia received this email newsletter from etsy, where Nicole Smith, who is part of etsy’s marketing and merchandising team, compiled a round-up of pink-themed wares, supposedly to raise awareness about breast cancer. Only, that wasn’t really the tone of this email. Gathered are many wares and sellers that only seem to have one thing in common: they are pink. Acacia went through these one by one, and pointed out how few of them actually donated money to cancer institutions and research. Even more troubling is at the bottom of the email, Nicole Smith suggests you browse more pink-themed wares that have nothing to do with actually raising awareness or funds for cancer research.

So there you have it, we have a business like etsy using cancer as an opportunity for marketing, promotion and colour-theming decor. This is crass and disgusting and deeply insensitive. This is called Pinkwashing. It’s deplorable for any company to do it, but even more disappointing to see a website and business like etsy do it. Indie websites present themselves as alternatives to the mainstream – as businesses who are keen to offer a shift in the paradigm of how we buy and sell, offering a supposedly more ‘ethical’ approach. But just as I’m noticing that indie blogs and magazines just end up replicating and copying the mainstream magazines in the name of consumerism (with no paradigm shift), we are now witnessing indie businesses pulling the same unethical stunts that we gladly criticise in bigger businesses. You can’t have it both ways. If we’re going to criticise big businesses for doing this kind of stuff, we have a responsibility to highlight when indie businesses do it too.

As Jane pointed out, etsy’s response was marketing-speak. I hope to see a better and more sensitive response from them. And I hope to see them actually respond to Acacia’s previous requests that they stop doing this (she’s told me it’s not the first time she’s raised this issue of Pinkwashing with them). This is why I’m writing this post. I have been personally affected by cancer with someone I know, it’s a brutal disease. It is not an opportunity to sell pink shit and create a consumer industry that does very little to actually raise funds or awareness in the name of this disease.

I want to finish by copying and pasting a portion of my comment on Acacia’s original post, as well as providing a few books, articles and DVDs suggested to me to learn more about Pinkwashing:

1) This is blatant opportunistic and exploitative marketing on etsy’s part. Cancer is here used as a marketing ‘tool’ to sell ‘pink decor’ that has nothing to do with actually raising cancer awareness or contributing money to cancer institutions and research – it’s just an avenue to sell more stuff. I find it disgusting that etsy would use the issue of cancer awareness to try and push ‘pink-themed’ wares, as if a devastating disease is a design decor or a ‘style’. Have we lost all sense of empathy and sensitivity in this online haze of superficial ‘style inspiration’ and colour-theming? Some things should be sacred, and should not be allowed to be turned into yet another avenue to admire pretty things and sell more shit to people.

2) If a company or a business is going to promote anything in relation to cancer awareness, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to only showcase products and sellers who clearly donate to cancer institutions or research – and who state clearly how much will be donated and to where this money will specifically go. Otherwise, it’s exploitation of people’s suffering and a disease in the name of consumerism.

* DVD: Pink Ribbons, Inc.
* Article: ‘Cancer Butch’ by S. Lochlann Jain
* Book: Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich
* Article: ‘Welcome to cancerland: A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch’ by Barbara Ehrenreich

Thank you to Acacia, Sara, Rebekah and Helen for suggesting all of the above.