Advice for Komen: Try Pink and Purple Ribbons

The 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.

Read More:


Ben is a spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism ( and is a public speaker on issues of violence prevention. He has given performances and presentations in 44 states, Canada, England, Turkey, China, South Africa and the Czech Republic. Ben has spoken and performed at colleges, high schools, public theatres, conferences, houses of worship and juvenile detention facilities. For the past twenty years, Ben has worked as a prevention educator for rape crisis centers, domestic violence programs, and state coalitions. He is an advisory board member for the White Ribbon Campaign in the United Kingdom.