Nicole Hurt, “Komen Goes Feminist: Breast Cancer Activism, Advertising Design, and Third-Wave Feminism”

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This is an academic paper written in 2008 by a U. of Georgia student which critiques the 2007 “Punch It” Komen Foundation campaign:


The shirt says:”When we get our hands on breast cancer, we’re going to punch it, strangle it, kick it, spit on it, choke it and pummel it until it’s good and dead. Not just horror movie dead but really, truly dead. And then we’re going to tie a pink ribbon on it.”

In her essay Nicole Hurt writes:

We might dismiss the image as oppressive at first sight because of what it appears to be asking us to do to the female body. However, I hope to get beyond this initial knee-jerk reaction to fully assess what is going on with the image. In this analysis, I try to give equal weight to both the design and the words in the message. As such, I claim that the design actually supports third-wave feminist themes even when the words in the image are trying to do otherwise. In this section, then, I explain my analysis of Komen’s”Punch It.”First, I discuss how the design of the image is illustrative of the third-wave feminist characteristic of individualism. Second, I discuss how   the image represents the”girl power”theme that seems popular in third-wave texts. And, finally, I explain how the image upholds the third-wave embrace of both bodies and consumption as political tools. After I explain the image, I discuss the political implications of my analysis.

A Komen spokesperson acknowledged to the NYT that “Punch It” was part of an effort to “serv[e] younger audiences and more ethnically diverse audiences,” as was this:


I came across the essay when I was trying to figure out a polite and diplomatic way to respond to what seems like the 2 millionth time people I like and care about (friends, colleagues, relatives, students and former students) have asked me to provide financial support for their breast cancer walk. I post the link not because I necessarily endorse the conclusions Hurt reaches but simply because I think it is an interesting read.

Links that are far more critical of the Komen Foundation can be found here. I blogged the “Punch It” shirt previously here; the point of that post was to send you here to have you read paragraphs like this:

… Komen, it can’t have escaped your eagle eye, is the author of those asinine, pink-visored”Race For The Cures,”as well as that most pernicious arm of the megatheocorporatocracy responsible for turning breast cancer : which used to be a vile disease that kills people but is now a sweet little personal struggle that gives middle aged white women the golden opportunity to grow : into branded”awareness.”Breast Cancer Awareness the Brand, with its army of unpaid pink volunterrorists, sells, with unprecedented success, everything from cars to football to potato chips. All, remarkably, without making the slightest dent in breast cancer deaths.

Thus it is through the narrowed eye of resigned cynicism that I view this pornalicious poster: the chest-o-centric pose, the decapitation, the mood lighting, and of course, the snuff film script. Komen stops at nothing, for hundreds of corporations rely on pinkribbonnity to wholesomize their tarnished public images every October during Breast Cancer Shill Month. …

Meanwhile, over at the Komen Foundation website you can buy a pink feather boa for $10, and 25% of the purchase price “will benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure ® in the fight against breast cure.” But what does that mean? Komen gets $2.50 if I buy a boa but what exactly does Komen do with the money? All I learned from the most recent Komen Annual Report is that it spent the following on “Program Services” in 2008:

Research $98,548,000
Education $134,195,000
Screening $37,804,000
Treatment $22,024,000
Total Program Services $292,571,000

Based on expenditures the Komen’s biggest priority is “education” and I wonder if that includes advertising campaigns like “Punch It.”

In the past I’ve donated to Breast Cancer Action, which asserts:

“BCA is targeting Eli Lilly with this year’s Think Before You Pink campaign. Eli Lilly is now the sole manufacturer of rBGH : the artificial growth hormone given to dairy cows that increases people’s risk of cancer. Eli Lilly also manufactures breast cancer treatment medications and a pill that”reduces the risk”of breast cancer. It’s a perfect profit circle. Eli Lilly is milking cancer. Tell them to stop making rBGH.

Go here to learn about Breast Cancer Action’s efforts to “liberate” breast cancer genes.

–Ann Bartow

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