Advice for Komen: Try Pink and Purple Ribbons

4083961875_5bc4c1e952The Susan G. Komen Foundation lost support from donors last week after the organization announced that it would cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Its apology on Friday was lauded by some, but viewed with skepticism by many others, who pointed out that Komen hadn’t actually promised to refund Planned Parenthood. The damage has been done to Komen’s image, especially within the women’s rights community.

To restore its credibility, Komen needs to build more bridges with the feminist movement. An easy place to start? Ribbons.

Each October, we see a parade of ribbons–the pink ribbons of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the purple ribbons of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

I’ve worked in many domestic violence shelters and prevention programs. Every September, in preparation for the month ahead, staff and volunteers brought out our glue guns and pins, spending hours creating and folding purple ribbons to raise community awareness. This is done between answering the hotline, facilitating support groups and finding other ways to assist the women, children and men who came to us for help.

Yet come October, our communities are awash in a sea of pink, with the occasional splash of purple. Staff and volunteers distribute our purple ribbons as best we could, but our efforts always pale in comparison. Breast cancer awareness groups seemed to have more staff, more volunteers, more funding, more organization–and more societal acceptance of breast cancer as a priority.

All of us supported breast cancer awareness and research. Most of us knew someone with breast cancer–some colleagues of mine were breast cancer survivors themselves. But it was frustrating to see the disparity between the issues; I began jokingly to call Komen the “Pink Juggernaut.”

But I realize now that our two groups have quite a bit in common, besides sharing a month. Both domestic violence and breast cancer predominantly affect women. Both have been historically underfunded. Both suffer from common myths and misconceptions. Most of all, both have a major detrimental effect on women’s health.

Instead of competing every October, why not work together? Instead of choosing either pink or purple ribbons, why not distribute ribbons that are half pink and half purple?

Across the country, cash-strapped shelters are closing their doors and laying off staff. Komen could offer grant money for shelters who use the pink/purple ribbons and for breast cancer awareness groups that do the same.

Komen’s leaders have an opportunity this month to launch the pink-and-purple ribbon: the World Conference for Women’s Shelters in Washington, DC. They can follow up at the International Conference on Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Stalking this April in San Diego, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Conference this July in Denver, bringing ribbons and support to each.

As Katha Pollitt wrote in The Nation:

Komen miscalculated by thinking its base cares only about breast cancer: In fact, those women in pink t-shirts and sneakers, raising their thousands upon thousands of dollars a year for breast cancer research, understand quite well that women’s health means more than tumor-free breasts. If Komen understood that but thought–and maybe still thinks–it can deceive those activists … it will dwindle and die.

If Komen wants to prove its commitment to women’s health, the pink-and-purple ribbon could go a long way.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ianmunroe via Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. They need more than a new initiative or a new ribbon!
    They need a completely new board of directors. The current board was supportive of, and complicit in the scheme to de-fund planned parenthood.

  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I have been saying this for YEARS. And it has gone unchanged for YEARS. There are other women’s health issues besides breast cancer and they need some airtime too; particularly violence against women, and particularly when the CDC has just come out with this most recent study showing such a sharp increase in intimate partner violence. (Which I don’t believe to be an actual increase, just a reflection of better data collection and reporting.) I really hope Komen takes you up on this suggestion!!

  3. Interesting idea, Ben. Sharing some of its funds from the walk with domestic violence shelters would be one of the best public relations move that the Komen people could do at this low point in their public image. So I hope you will be successful.

    When I first saw the pink and purple ribbon, though, I thought you were going to refer to the fact that the early women’s movement chose the color purple, and I have always thought of it in that context.

    It strikes me that women are often called either victims or survivors of both breast cancer and domestic violence. Both of these causes are laudable without a doubt. But I think this is more of a moment to propel women to being actors rather than acted upon, perceived as morally autonomous and worthy, legally protected in their personhood, and willing to embrace their own power.

    So good luck with your idea, but at the same time, let’s think bigger and more power-full-y about the women’s movement’s next steps.

  4. Excellent article, Ben! Love the idea of pink & purple ribbons, so we don’t get overlooked in October. Hope to see more posts from you here!

  5. While I thank you for your persistence in raising awareness for domestic violence, I have to say I don’t love this letter.

    What Komen did was horrendous because of the impact it had on women’s access to health care (especially women living in poverty), the implications on women’s freedom of reproductive choice and because they lied about their motivations and have yet to acknowledge or apologize for mixing politics and health (which everyone says we shouldn’t mix, but that is like saying there is a separation of church and state). It was horrendous because institutional and economic power was used to try to limit and control PPH and women across the country. This was politically and religiously motivated oppression.

    I believe that what you are saying in your letter is that one thing Komen could do to repair some of the harm is to look at funding other women’s issues as well, especially domestic violence, to prove their commitment to women’s health is broadly based. This is a great thought in general, but I am let down that the focus was on ribbons. Personally, I’m just about done with ribbons. No one has ever asked me what my ribbon was for, no matter how dutifully I wore it. And if they did I can only imagine my response would be “it’s domestic violence awareness month” and that might be the end of the conversation. I am uneasy with the implication that advocates across the country should figure out how to glue gun up some dual colored ribbons (though they are crafty as hell so would probably figure it out) to beg for some change from the save-the-boobies campaigns.

    Funding is important and we need more, without a doubt. Framing it the way you have backs domestic violence into a corner I don’t want to see it in though. What we need to work towards is moving domestic violence away from being a women’s issue; it is a community issue, a families’ issue, a friend’s issue, a men’s issue, a human issue. As a woman, my breasts are about the only thing this culture celebrates and wants to protect; I don’t want to hang my anti-oppression work on that hook and I feel it diminishes this movements work. And I’m still pissed at Komen for politicizing women’s bodies and a pink and purple ribbon isn’t going to calm me down.

    I know your intentions were good and I do appreciate your work, but this issue is about much more than funding and awareness.

  6. I’m sorry, but what about those of us who think it was Komen’s prerogative to cut planned parenthood funding and agreed with that decision and is upset they backed down but yet still support victims of domestic violence and don the purple ribbon? I don’t like the idea… I would not wear the purple/pink ribbon 🙁

  7. I’m with Bethany. No.

  8. NO ONE can use this ribbon as Care For a Cure’s pink and purple ribbon has been trademerked with the USPT Gov agency, unless they contact us, ans reieve permission through our lawyers to use it. We have been using a pink and purple ribbon to raise awarness for breast Cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Ben Aterton you need to do research before you guide people in the wrong direction…COURT.

    • the image has been changed on the post

      • Thank you. Now it needs to be removed from googles pink and purple ribbon site…they mention they got it from you. I believe you will take care of this.

        • We have no idea what the google pink and purple ribbon site is or what they did or didn’t get from us. So sorry, we can’t help you on that. We did not “give” them anything, though people can easily take images off the Internet. We initially got the image from Creative Commons, though I see it’s now been pulled off of that. We only use images with permission or which are licensed from Creative Commons or Wikimedia Commons.

  9. Thank you for trying. This ribbon has got nothing but rave reviews, esc
    pecially since one month follows the other…which I bet people who wouldn’t wear it!!!!!! Thousands of others are not only wearing it but its on autos as well. we all are living longer and Alzheimer’s effects everyone in one way or another. The ordeal with breast cancer we saw it coming years ago and having a surveyor and friends die from it and Alzheimer’s in my family I decided to join then….not with a glue gun. Hope that no one has to experience what my family has gone through that’s why we are so protective of our trademarks. These are two of many serious diseases that need funds for research and ultimately a cure.

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