Pepper-spraying Pinktober

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
October 07, 2013 /

Click here to view original /


What’s about 9cm long, garish pink, and – judging by the pictures on the packaging – guaranteed to make women of all ages and races deliriously happy?

The morning after the Navy Yard shooting, I walked into a North Carolina drugstore. In a spot on the counter once devoted to energy drinks was a display of bright pink personal pepper sprays.

Just in time, apparently, to protect us from homicidal maniacs. And to help remind us that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In case you’ve been walking around with a blindfold on.

I’m okay enough with the ribbons. With the Lance-Armstrong-esque bracelets. I was even willing – albeit reluctantly – to swallow the ever increasing number of toiletries being pinkened.

Sure, the cynic in me might have thought it was all a tad crass, but I also appreciate charities need more than backpackers dressed up in koala suits accosting pedestrians. I equally understand market “cut-through” and that pinkening female-targeted goods assuages luxury purchase guilt.

But pepper spray? Pepper spray was my breaking point. (Belatedly, apparently. Those enterprising folks at Smith and Wesson and Walther both launched guns to help, I gather, decimate cancer).

I’m certainly not the the first person to express concerns about the pink juggernaut.

The dipping of KFC buckets in pink apparently promoted somewhat of a “mixed message”. (To quote comedian Stephen Colbert, it’s “hypo-crispy”). The linking of booze to the charity caused a similar stir.

There are a number of reasons why the pepper spray particularly irks me. The first – like a raft of ribboned products – is that nowhere on the sex-toy-like packaging does it state just how much of my $10 will go to charity. Similarly, while there’s a handy diagram instructing me to spray the marauder “from ear to ear”, there’s nothing about just how my revolting new pepper spray will “Help Fight Breast Cancer”.

More so, is there not something particularly despicable about linking a product that implies that women need to arm themselves – because the world is horrible and filled with rapists and thieves – with the supposedly “feel good” breast cancer charity?

In money terms, sure, I guess $1 going to breast cancer research is better than none. But is there not such a thing as brand soiling? That attaching the pink ribbon to goods like dog clothes and cleaning products positions the whole thing as less about charity and more about merchandising?

If we go back to the origins of the ribbon campaign, it was about creating awareness. Hard to believe now, but once upon a time there was stigma surrounding the disease. The taboo however, has lifted, the words roll off the tongue effortlessly, which begs the question of what more can be achieved through shelves of memorabilia.

Anything breast cancer related is, of course, very difficult to criticise. Comedian Jennifer Saunders got slammed recently for daring to suggest that there is social cache attached to the diagnosis.

Fortunately, those difficult conversations are happening. Many commentators are bravely divulging their pink ribbon fatigue. Equally, the commercialization of breast cancer awareness has been widely criticised, as has its trivilisation and sexualisation.

Hopefully, just as the taboo about the disease has lifted, so too, will our fears of crassness and betrayal when we dare ask whether anybody is really being helped amidst all of this unavoidable “awareness”.

In other news. The energy drinks have been relocated. Jazzed up in their new pink packaging. Raspberry flavoured too. Thank God. Because my pink ribbon Kit Kat, tins of soup and golf clubs were feeling lonely.

© Lauren Rosewarne