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Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0199740451
ISBN-10: 0199740453
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this eye-opening story about the ubiquitous pink ribbon, medical sociologist Sulik reveals the dark side of the “breast cancer awareness” movement. She argues that breast cancer has become a “brand,” complete with its own logo and self-serving corporations. Zeneca, which makes the treatment drug tamoxifen, has, for instance, always put money into the 25-year-old National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sulik—no fan of the October celebration—calls it “the official platform for pink ribbon culture to advertise treatment, promote early detection, encourage fundraising, and promise eventual eradication.” Despite the sea of pink, no cure is in sight and treatment and detection efforts remain flawed. The Institute of Medicine reported that 75 percent of positive mammograms are, upon biopsy, false positives, and that mammograms miss 25 to 40 percent of tumors that actually are cancerous. Americans don’t even know how much of the money they spend on pink products goes toward legitimate breast cancer research. In the end, this well-reported book (Sulik interviewed hundreds of sources) will make readers think twice before they shell out extra bucks for a pink mixer. --Karen Springen


"Treads an interesting middle ground between the academic and the journalistic as she analyzes giant hunks of information and opinion, and also interviews patients to illustrate her points." --Abigail Zuger,M.D., New York Times

"In this provocative and eye-opening critique, medical sociologist Gayle Sulik, Ph.D., makes the case that breast cancer culture is increasingly frivolous and commercialized-with patients paying the price." --Catherine Guthrie, Better Homes and Gardens

"Given the pink ribbon's symbolic success, what's wrong with it? Sulik argues that pink ribbon culture focuses attention on the wrong things and does it in a way that is not really contributing to progress toward preventing and curing cancer. It buries medical controversies, ignores environmental causes of cancer and insurance problems, and does not increase access to treatment for underserved populations. Most of all, she is critical of the collusion of pink ribbon culture with what has become a multibillion-dollar cancer industry. I highly recommend Pink Ribbon Blues to anyone interested in medical issues, the social construction of patienthood, gender, and the body." --Judith Lorber, Gender & Society

"Gayle Sulik takes us behind the pink curtain to a peculiar culture where sentimentality takes the place of scientific evidence, personal transcendence fills in for political action, and lofty platitudes replace actionable goals. Pink Ribbon Blues is the Frommer's travel guide to the country of breast cancer." --Sandra Steingraber, author, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment

"Gayle Sulik has written an excellent book that sheds new light on the construction and implications of breast cancer culture in American society. Her extensive research and thought-provoking analysis challenge current beliefs of what breast cancer means for diagnosed women, survivors, and advocates. This book is a must-read for all players in the breast cancer culture and anyone interested in women's health."--Kathy Charmaz, Professor of Sociology, Sonoma State University

"In Pink Ribbon Blues, Gayle Sulik has brought sociological, feminist and media theory together for a deep and broad analysis of the consumer world of breast cancer. She has complimented all of that with a deeply humane and personal engagement with the women who are living with breast cancer in a world where the pink ribbon culture constantly needs disruption and questioning. BRAVO!!!!!"--Janet Gray, Director, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Vassar College; Board Member, Breast Cancer Fund

"In this thoughtful, eye-opening and searing examination of the pinking of breast cancer, Sulik shows how pink culture lurches from selflessness to selfishness, giving new meaning to the ferocity of survivors and she-roes."--Devra Davis, National Book Award Finalist, author of Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation and Your Health (2010), and The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2009), Founder, Environmental Health Trust, and Visiting Professor, Georgetown University

"It's about time! We've been needing this book - a smart, critical, thoughtful analysis of pink ribbon culture and the damage it is doing. Thank you Gayle Sulik!"--Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology at the City University of NY, most recent book, with Wendy Simonds, Laboring On

"Provocative..." --Library Journal

"Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a distracting sideshow, a situation that sociologist Gayle A. Sulik explores in compelling depth in her new book, Pink Ribbon Blues."
--Katherine Russell Rich, Slate

"You may never think pink again about breast cancer after reading Sulik's sobering and lucid critique of what she calls 'pink culture'... Sulik's call to 'take a road less pink' demands to be heard." --Publishers Weekly

"Many of [Sulik's] insights are striking and she pulls together a wealth of historical material and data... Recommended." --Choice

"This is the first book to provide a comprehensive ethnographic analysis of breast cancer culture in American society. It presents a thought-provoking and probing argument against the industry of awareness-raising and describes real ways to help breast cancer patients and their families. This book will be valuable for all those interested in breast cancer management and in women's health." -- Anticancer Research

"For Sulik, it is clearly time to 'rethink pink.' Well-written and extremely well researched, Pink Ribbon Blues demonstrates how pink consumption has transformed breast cancer from a stigmatized disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship. Using a broad interdisciplinary approach and a range of examples, personal stories, and health statistics, Sulik traces the linkages between the disease and the 'pink culture' that has arisen around it. As well as being of interest to those with breast cancer this book would be useful for both academic and clinical audiences, in addition to serving as an excellent discussion text for courses in medical sociology and anthropology."
- Sukari Ivester, Sociology of Health and Illness


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199740453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199740451
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.1 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gayle Sulik Ph.D. is an author, medical sociologist, and health advocate whose research focuses on medical consumerism, cancer survivorship, health policy, and culture. Dr. Sulik received the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship in 2008 and is the 2013 Distinguished Feminist Lecturer for Sociologists for Women in Society. Her ground-breaking analysis of the culture and cult of breast cancer has stirred a grass roots reawakening. Visit Gayle Sulik's website at and read her blog at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. Wagner on October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
We are indeed surrounded by the pink do-gooders. I even saw a pink backhoe on display.
Now, our brave author seeks to separate well-grounded hope from misleading hope. And, says Sulik, "The goal to eradicate breast cancer is not being realized." (p. 9.) Further, the advantages to screening have been exaggerated. (p. 20.)
My somewhat paranoid furniture stripper said that no one really wants to cure cancer because then the money would be gone. He is correct about the money being gone. Imagine, if a vaccine were created to prevent cancer or an inexpensive injection to cure cancer were developed, how many folks would be off their feed. There would no longer be a need for expensive research, oncologists, medications, treatments or miscellaneous paraphernalia. "The industry that benefits from increased use of mammography and pharmaceuticals is at the core of what has become pink ribbon culture." (p. 210.)
The author contends that exposure to common chemicals in the environment may contribute to high incidence of breast cancer (p. 60.) while the pink ribbon culture emphasizes the courageous survivor.
Again, many of the largest corporate donors to the pink culture derive huge profits from the treatment end of the business. This includes hardware and pharmaceuticals, and so forth...
Yet, breast cancer rates have risen (dramatically in my opinion) since 1940 (p. 159.) And, there is still no sure cure or prevention method.
Proper treatment and "cure" of the disease are essential.
However, to get back to my outspoken furniture stripper, this is not my priority. I have a wife and two daughters. I do not want them to be survivors. I want them to never contract the disease. I want to know what causes breast cancer. How can it be prevented?
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Meredith on November 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I absolutely loved this book. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I didn't have the vocabulary to explain what I found so disturbing about the pink ribbon culture into which I was suddenly immersed. Gayle Sulik does a fantastic job of systematically laying out the flaws that plague the current pink-think, and I've come away from reading her book with a reading list from the books and articles she cites.

I've read critiques of many of the issues she lists, but never in such a comprehensive and well-researched unit. I started reading the book still bothered by my lack of verbal ammunition to articulate my gut dislike of the industry of breast cancer awareness, but I've come away with an arsenal. I especially liked a section of the last chapter, "Rethinking Pink Ribbon Culture," that deals with the question of whether the ends justify the means regarding the problematic (to put it mildly) nature of some breast cancer awareness campaigns.

I'd highly recommend this book to anybody who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, or knows anyone who has.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By the time my father died of complications from surgery (not cancer related), he had endured 30 days of hell. At his memorial service, the minister earnestly said, "He suffered." Those words were a comfort to me. In not minimizing his suffering, his life was more fully honored.

After reading "Pink Ribbon Blues," I think that breast cancer patients must feel exactly the opposite. If pink buckets of fried chicken and pink Barbie dolls are emblematic of your disease, how bad can it be, really? We are not recognizing their suffering if we think we can merely "shop for a cure", treating ourselves to a new pair of shoes in the name of support. I'll take that new pink designer tshirt, but I don't want to see anyone's mastectomy scar.

Sulik's book presents many aspects of the pink ribbon culture including the profits of the drug companies, the sexualiation of breast cancer, and the real statistics on cure rates. I was interested to read the details of DCIS and how it is classified and treated as cancer, which pollutes the stats of more serious forms of breast cancer, making the cure rate appear higher.

I encourage others to read this book, not only for the well-reasoned arguments and comprehensive research presented, but also because it forces us to face the truth of what breast cancer patients endure. And it's definitely not pink.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Martin Hughes on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I had great expectations of this book. With its provocative subtitle and the blurb stating that it was based on ten years of research, I thought it was really going to blow the lid off 'pink ribbon culture,' exposing all the things that were wrong with the 'cancer industry' and how it has 'pinkwashed' Americans -- especially American women -- into supporting breast cancer research through the use of pink ribbons. What I found instead was a book that was reasonably informative and interesting, but with a confusing array of concepts that never really coalesced into a coherent framework of analysis.

This book is long on description. I learned quite a bit about the various types of breast cancers and their relative rates of incidence. I also learned about the history of the various treatments developed over the past 30-40 years, and how those treatments have or haven't improved -- the results are mixed and subject to interpretation -- survival chances for women. Finally, I learned about the history of the breast cancer awareness movement and its troubled relationships with corporate funders and manufacturers (i.e., Big Pharma). All of this was presented in roughly the first half of the book.

Meanwhile, I was frustrated by the attempts of the author to analyze 'pink ribbon culture.' I do get that there's something unique about breast cancer that warrants a gender lens, but rather than situating pink ribbon culture into a feminist critique of culture more generally, the author tries to make a case that there's something uniquely insidious about a breast cancer culture that silences women's voices and limits their options.
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