Komen Foundation, I Never Really Liked You

Now I know why. My instincts were right all along. This week, we saw Komen's true colors and they are not girlish pink. I never warmed to this foundation with its pink fun runs and endless merchandise spouting pink ribbons. Didn't know why. My sister-in-law and many dear friends have undergone treatment for breast cancer. They are survivors. How come I couldn't support the Susan B. Komen Foundation?
Last week, I participated in writing and reading endless emails and Face Book comments about Komen defunding its grant to Planned Parenthood. My State Representative Carol Alvarado emailed me, and I assume hundreds of other constituents, a copy of her letter to Nancy Brinker, expressing outrage and sadness. Another email from a friend included a copy of the letter sent to Nancy Brinker by Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism .
Suddenly, I began to understand why I didn't ever warm to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. Their political agenda was suddenly transparent and the more I read and heard, the more I realized that they've always had a political agenda diametrically opposed to all I believe in. And it isn't the same one as Planned Parenthood's.
In the last five days, two things became clear. We know a lot more about the Susan B. Komen Foundation and its founder Nancy Brinker. And we know just how powerful social media can be as a change-maker.
Was it just last Wednesday when I clicked on a YouTube clip to hear Nancy Brinker's firm, humorless speech defending Komen's actions? Truth be told, I thought the icy sister of Susan B. Komen was pretty scary looking as she told us the foundation was not budging from its decision to unfund a commitment to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening. Brinker was fierce looking and almost resembled Michelle Bachmann in that presidential candidate's most fiery moments. Do powerful Republican women have 'a look'?
A day later, more emails flooded my screen. Brinker's foundation rescinded its decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood. For this year. The foundation has not yet made its known its intentions for next year and the years after that.
Nancy Brinker and her Board of Directors saw the writing on the wall, or on the web. They saw the millions of dollars in donations pouring into Planned Parenthood, including a substantial donation by New York's Mayor Bloomberg. They heard from women who said they would no longer financially support Komen or wear pink. Ever again.
The Komen Foundation got a really big message. There are huge numbers of women and men in this country who don't follow the hard-line take-no-prisoners opponents of women's health care. There are millions of Americans who believe, not only that breast cancer must be cured, but that Planned Parenthood does a fine job of offering women basic health care. I think that Komen was caught totally off guard. Just had no idea how many folks disagreed with their decision or their political agenda.
Good. Komen got the messages. But the flurry this week is just the tip of an iceberg. We supporters of Planned Parenthood also got a message. Komen's political agenda is becoming transparent and it's not pretty. For details of that agenda, read 'Behind the Pink Curtain.'
We know there is a well orchestrated move to crush Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion folk, but the overarching issue is this:
Right now, women are under premeditated assault in this country. Planned Parenthood is under attack because it is a vital link in freeing women to make choices about their lives. Breast cancer is also primarily a woman's issue.
So, it is not a stretch to think that a 'divide and conquer' movement is in play. Let women fight and scramble over breast cancer and health care while others (who are the 'others'?) take advantage of the split to further disempower women.
Take a moment and remember the 1970s. The women's movement brought tremendous gains for each of us. Think about the days when women couldn't get credit cards in their own name, couldn't buy their own home, were unusual if they became a doctor or a lawyer, and always received much lower pay for the same job. Remember? Right.
But there are those who don't particularly like our gains and working to take reproductive choice away from women will severely undercut our recent advances. That's what this is really about. And Komen was caught using a woman's issue while aligning with the enemy. No wonder there was outrage and sudden flashes of enlightenment in those emails.

To understand what Komen owes to women's recent history, read Linda Hirshman's 'What Breast Cancer Advocates Owe to the Women's Movement'. Hirshman gives us instant insight on Atlantic on-line on the reasons why social media went on overload this week over breast cancer screenings and I quote:

"Looks like the pink ribbon ladies at the Susan G. Komen cancer foundation learned the lesson about politics being a body contact sport. Pulling their cancer screening program from the beleaguered Planned Parenthood under a transparently concocted rule they applied to no one else, the beribboned sisters were flayed to ribbons by a coalition from feminists online to the billionaire Mayor of New York City. How could Komen imperil women's health in a sacrifice to the war on choice? Yesterday they gave as close as it comes in the spin world to an apology, denying any wrongdoing and telling their critics to pipe down. No politics in their decision making, nosirree.

"Let's cut through the pink ribbonry. This presentation of the issue completely obscures the real issue: the war on choice itself. Organizations like Americans United for Life, which is heavily involved in the Komen flap, have been waging the war for years without setting off an internet firestorm. What made Komen's move different is that it's supposed to be an organization for women's lives. And like it or not, preserving women's lives is not a stand-alone enterprise entirely divorced from the value of the lives you save. Valuing lives is the business of politics. Valuing women's lives used to be known as feminism. If feminism had not revived the claim that women's lives have value, there would be no breast cancer movement. Why should there be?

"Attention to breast cancer, like the availability of abortion to women with unwanted pregnancies, did not come from some Texas Republican whose sister, Susan G. Komen, sadly, died. Before political feminism, breast cancer, like everything having to do with women's reproductive and sexual lives, was hidden, treated as slightly dirty, and not worthy of huge amounts of medical resources. Most people date the change to the 1974 announcement by then- first lady Betty Ford that she had the disease. After Betty, Vice President Rockefeller's wife Happy and the television star Betty Rollin also went public.

"Years later, when Betty Ford died, Komen Foundation president Nancy Brinker said that "Betty was very important in my life, to the life of Komen for the Cure and to the world."

"Betty Ford supported not only breast cancer awareness but the Equal Rights Amendment, and, throughout her tenure in the White House, abortion rights, a.k.a. the feminism that dares not speak its name. This is not an accident. Abortion, or the ability to control reproduction, including, of course, all methods of birth control, is central to women achieving not mere survival, but flourishing lives. After 40 years of legal abortion, perhaps the Komen flap will enable women and their sympathetic male supporters to remember that it was feminism and the feminist fight to make abortion legal that freed them from the wheel of uncontrolled reproduction, with its attendant impoverishment and, well, abortion, of their hopes and dreams for education and better jobs -- the ordinary markers of a flourishing life.

"Others, notably Peggy Orenstein and Barbara Ehrenreich, have brilliantly documented the decline of the breast cancer movement into a parody of conventional femininity, with its pink teddy bears turning women into children and its boobies bracelets turning the site of a life-threatening disease into a sexual turn-on. Why would those bear- hugging boobie-bearers want to do something as aggressive and self-actualizing as, say, get an abortion when they are too young and poor to start a family, or when their family is as big as they can afford?

"Social movements come and go. I am hardly the first person to notice that the feminist movement, including a seemingly toothless Planned Parenthood, has gone a long way (baby) from the era of courageous women like Betty Ford. Meanwhile, other movements, like the gay revolution, have shown new pathways to activism that might inspire a revived feminism, should anyone be willing to pay attention. Maybe the Komen flap, by highlighting the incoherence behind caring for women and trying to strip them of control over their reproduction, is just the opening a revived feminist movement has been waiting for."

Linda Hirshman, you put the pieces of this puzzle together so well. How could we not have seen the interconnectedness of breast cancer, reproductive freedom, women's health, education and job opportunities? They are all fingers on the same hand. Our hand. May each of us enter the fray and see clearly.

And to Komen, now I understand why I never really liked you. Most of the time, you were wearing a pink mask to hide your true agenda. It's not fair to hide behind women who are stricken with breast cancer. A lot of women believed you were on their side, that you were an advocate for women's health care. What more can I say here?

One last thing. Click on this link to read precisely what is happening to women's health care in Texas. And most of our legislators are delighted about their slash and burn efforts. They are not the legislators that I vote for.

(Note: In 2007, I was keynote speaker at a Komen fundraising luncheon in Temple, TX. I met many wonderful women in Temple and my diatribe in this post is focused on the political agenda of Komen's founder and Board of Directors. My talk in Temple centered on PurseStories, a variation of a speech I'd presented before another group a year earlier.)