Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface

Recently I got all blog-huffy about Pinktober. All of us are a bit tired of the Awareness, and it’s only October 4th. And I’ll admit to a recent gag reflex seeing a gigantic, fluffy pink mustache adorning the grill of a Range Rover. What the fuck is that? Seriously. What the fuck.

But after I wrote that essay, the one about horrible campaigns to raise money for dubious causes (e.g., anything that doesn’t support research for metastatic disease), Bernie cautioned me that I might be an asshole. “People don’t want to get flack for donating money. They’re donating money.” And because I really do love people and think most of us are do-gooders deep down, I haven’t stopped thinking about this since. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the bald caps and think they’re an ugly, ugly vehicle for support and wretched awareness… but if the people donning them really believe they’re curing cancer and supporting their friends to boot, well… maybe there’s a way to voice that without being such a jerk about it.

From the perspective of a breast cancer veteran, I can tell you that the people who get this—those who are mindfully considering the pink-washing of cancer—are the ones I feel supported by the most. They are the same people who remind me that I am well now, that they love me, and that they’re sorry this shitty thing happened to me, to anyone. That’s the best sort of awareness.

Unfortunately, when a giant pink bra is erected on the Miracle Mile, and those of us who cannot tune out the echoes of cancer for the other 11 months spew vitriol all over our social media outlets, we might sound a bit churlish, irritable, and ungrateful… no matter how inane a giant pink bra might be. And this essay is about Not Being An Asshole. But instead of perseverating about how I frequently slip under this rubric, let’s put the spotlight on someone else who might need a tutorial.

Recently, Megan Johnson mounted her high steed of indignation and threw rotten tomatoes at Boston’s society ladies. In her inflammatory, name-dropping article, Ms. Johnson stitched together snippets of gossip from a collection of anonymous Storybook Ball “attendees” and fashioned the image of a New Money Social Climbing Shrew. She kindly repeats that these gorgeous Ball events do, in fact, raise millions of dollars donated to a hospital for children. Millions. Yes, fucking millions. For children. But, whatever. Let’s kvetch about how rich and awful these women really are.

Ms. Johnson crafts a divinely delicious dish of insider dirt. And who doesn’t love to hear that the fantastically wealthy might fall prey to vanity or insecurity or ambition or tipsiness? But although Ms. Johnson is keenly interested in how these social mavens land their coveted spots on the Storybook Ball Committee, she has no idea what this entails for the women who donate their time and energy and bank accounts to the “honor” of it all. Nor does she ask any of them. Because that’s boring. And whatever, dude, these rich fuckers only care about their expertly attached eyelashes and one-of-a-kind dresses. And though it’s more fun to think of these ladies cat fighting and back stabbing in couture, the reality is that for many, many months, they’re in boring meetings wearing yoga pants, asking their friends to donate thousands of dollars over and over and over again, and writing rather large checks, themselves. They land on this committee because they have the financial means to support it, and also carry within them the servant souls of people who enjoy giving their money away to good causes. Should we repay them for their generosity with mean-spirited, envy-fueled, I-heard-it-from-the-wait-staff blather?

Apparently so.

I’d love to know how Ms. Johnson would prefer these ladies convince our benevolent, wealthy townsfolk to part with their cash. Are Balls inherently bad? Is it terribly wrong to want to be a part of something glittery and exciting and fun?

Are there “wrong” ways to donate money?

I hope other readers have a similarly difficult time finding a crucial fault with volunteering women who raise millions of dollars to promote the health of children. The biggest sin here is name-calling ladies who might, just possibly, be organizing and planning and, goddamn it, having a bit of fun while doing something others cannot: raise millions of dollars. Instead of criticizing them, we should be hiring them as consultants for our scout cookie sales or Church Stewardship initiatives. Thank you, wealthy women of the world. I think you’re dreamy.

At the school my boys attend, the varsity soccer team will be wearing pink jerseys and socks this month. No matter where you stand on Pink issues, wouldn’t you be a bit of nitpicky jerkface to criticize them for this bit of awareness? It would be remarkably unkind to sideline their willingness to be a part of a National Kindness… which is the intent most people bring to the promotion of Pink. Though I am conflicted about some of these bubble gum gimmicks, regarding Kindness I am keenly attuned. Also, I cannot know the effect on my two small boys seeing their cooler, older classmates swathed in the color associated with mom being bald and tired. In some small way, maybe it seems like these older, cooler boys care about their Mom, and think Cancer sucks, too.

So as the calendar pages turn during this month of Pepto-hued awareness and a local buzz begins about The Storybook Ball, I’m focusing on the impetus sending good citizens diving into handbags for checkbooks. Whether that bag is Chanel or some pink abomination hardly matters… but intent makes all of the difference. And if I fail to thank people for their generosity and support because it arrives in a Too Fancy or Too Pink a package… well then, maybe I need a refresher course in Kindness.

And those pink mustaches? Those are just identifying cars of good citizens providing cheap rides for their neighbors.

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all... yay!

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all… yay!

26 responses

  1. Sort of like buying “crocs” two years after everyone else stopped buying them…and still thinking your cool…and god forbid, on trend. But, hey, the not so adroit or appropriately connected can be compassionate and helpful too. God bless ’em all pinky.

  2. Having been in a position to observe the rich doing fundraising closeup, I can agree with the thought of leaving them alone to do what they do best. That being, using their money to keep them busy. The fact that kids benefit is reason enough for the naysayers to either put up the money themselves or …well you know. Very good post.

  3. I know your kind of irritation. My mom died of cancer and I immediately go to that eye-rolling place when I see gimmicky awareness campaigns. I have a hard time even allowing the Cure Cancer people wrap my Christmas gifts in the mall because I feel like my measly five dollar donation is only going to pay for more crap to land in someone’s mail box. Perhaps I should have a more sincere outlook but it is difficult. Monetary donations are a good thing, I know that. I just wish the awareness brought more attention to simpler, kinder ways to make a real difference for people like me, who don’t have deep pockets. Great write Britt. Will be sharing.

    • Oh, Dawn… thank you so much. I think you’re quite like Carol who wrote a lovely piece about why she WON’T wear pink. That eye-rolling place can result in some great writing.

  4. For breast cancer it’s pink. Football jerseys and shoes. T-shirts and bras. It all kind of becomes background noise. And then I meet someone like you, a great new friend, and survivor. And then on Wednesday my 51-year-old good friend dies of ovarian cancer. For ovarian cancer it’s teal. Bow ties and boas. It’s all just a little more real today. Like you, I tire of the bombardment. You have far better reasons than I. But I hope the rich ladies keep sipping wine and raising lots of money, because my friend Genarose loved getting dressed up and putting on her high heels – but she wasn’t rich, at least not the money kind. She had lots of friend who loved her and will miss her terribly. And I am so very glad you are well now, Britt. Keep writing and making people think.

  5. Hi Britt, thanks for reading my story. I actually interviewed over 40 people, including several current committee members, so I know exactly what goes into being on the committee. If you have further concerns, feel free to email me. best, megan

    • My further concern is that do-gooding citizens don’t get skewered in magazines based on anonymous sources. Just as I think it would be rude for me to find fault with All Things Pink, it seemed similarly unkind to gossip rather publicly about women who do so much good. Did it feel unkind? Perhaps not.

  6. I’m a bit confused by this article. First you start out complaining about the Pink campaign then you run full force into bashing an article about society women. I guess what I mean is I don’t quite follow your point. I also think yes, donating money is great and all, but I want to see more people out there in the trenches. People that are in the hospital donating their time to making someone feel better. Or maybe the people that are out there working with citizens in the community and actually showing them that they care. Money only goes so far. Real human connection, time, heart, blood, sweat and tears goes so much further.

    • Absolutely! And you’re totally right. Maybe this connection was a bit forced. But my knee jerk reaction against Things That Are Pink and Ms. Johnson’s unkind assessment of the Storybook Ball ladies both seemed like unnecessary Backlash.

      It would be ridiculous and mean to discount the efforts of the nice kids on the pink-socked soccer team just because that sort of awareness is “easy.” It also seemed ridiculous and mean to poke fun of the Ball ladies. What does this accomplish? We all donate according to our time, talents, and treasure. Some of us have a bit more of one than the other. All donations are good… or ARE they? You would seem to argue a cash donation is lesser. I’m interested in the question: Are there “wrong” ways to donate? I’m also very interested in all of us saying thank you to those of us who give in any form.

      I agree with you that the human connection is important, vital, what’s it’s all about. Honestly, that’s what blows my hair back. But let’s not take away from these ladies something MOST of us cannot do: raise millions of dollars. Millions! And though the time, heart, blood, sweat, and tears are what makes us human… money, particularly millions, is what buys hospital equipment and funds research and makes the practice of medicine at their hospital better. That these women also might want to look pretty at the party hardly seems worthy of so many paragraphs.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion… and calling me out on my potentially flawed connection. The point was kindness. From her comments here, it appears that Ms. Johnson does not believe the Ball ladies are worthy of it.

      • Also, how much of that money actually goes to those who need it? There are some “money-making” non-profits that barely give half the donations they raise to those in need (not talking specifically about MGH). I also don’t think Ms. Johnson wrote her article in vain. She was exposing the dark side of philanthropy. There is nothing wrong with the behind the scenes truth. We have the right to the truth especially in a world filled with biased news and points of view.

        And wouldn’t it make more sense to donate all the money used to hold the ball to the organization in need? Scratch the lavishness. Give up that $50 spent on gold embossed envelopes! If these women can afford to raise millions, they should do so quietly and humbly. Actually, I’d be curious to see how much they’d raise sans the extravagant party? Maybe their true philanthropic nature would be exposed.

        • I must say that my judgemental side thinks exactly the same thing anonymous. The ladies likely wear dresses and jewelry worth more than they raise for cancer. I’m sure that there are some very kind and giving ladies but let’s be honest – the majority of giving is done for the right to take credit for it and to be seen at the right, politically correct events.

          But, that being said – it sucks as an attitude for me and you. I am being judgemental and am missing the point – any dollar that goes to cancer research, as long as it is raised legally, should produce thankfullness not judgement. We cannot stand in judgement of those who contribute, regardless of why or how they contribute – be it for the right to wear a pink shirt, to be seen at an event, or have a pink mustache on their car.

          Britt was judgemental of those who sport cancer clothing – the ones who cannot afford any more than a T-shirt but still want to give -and I am judgemental of the hipocrisy of the rich who give to be seen as good guys. Anonymous donations would be nice, but we all know that the best way to get people to give is to stroke their desire for public recognition – be it a ribbon on an antenna or a seat at a dinner. Depending on people to give anonymously would lessen contributions considerably. Regardless of the overhead, we should be thankful of every dollar that gets through to research and programs – no matter how it is raised. It is a mistake to say that only money raised from anonymous donors should be accepted – and it would be judgemental, a sin if you happened to be a believer.

    • Yup, now I have! But when I first saw that pink mustache, I was angrily certain it was just another Pink promotion. Was thrilled to learn it has nothing, NOTHING, to go with Pinktober. Yay, Lyft!!!

  7. Hi! I wanted to tell you that I thought your post was interesting. I too get annoyed when I see the pink for breast cancer things, and other “gimmicks” aimed at raising money for charity. I think the flaw in the logic here is that there is a value in critical thought of all kinds. I’m probably saying this because I spent my education studying critical theory and my career in the trenches of the domestic violence movement but I think critique and differing opinions make the world a more full, rich place. Being critical may be “rude” but there are a lot of very valid critiques of Pink October (especially the NFL’s involvement) out there on the internet. Sure, I wouldn’t get so upset about it that I refuse to have my child wear a pink jersey but I think fostering discussion about the efficacy and repercussions of movements are important and far from rude. Many people agree with your annoyance on that point.

    I would also submit to you, that just like there is a place for critique of Pink, there is also room for critique of Balls. I’ve worked in non-profit settings for years and it’s a shock to the system to go to over the top fancy balls, especially coming off of a 12 hour day providing legal services to, for example, a 16 year old abused pregnant teen with no parents who has dropped out of high school and is bordering on homeless. I can tell you, there are forms of support that we need that we aren’t getting from big money donation. Overall, financial donations don’t go that far to endearing you to the people you try to serve. I’ve had more than one youth tell me how much they hate feeling “pimped out” to share their sad story for wealthy people. Face to face time, connection and kinship is really what is needed to make an impactful change. If you’re interested in more on this topic I would suggest Father Greg Boyle’s book Tattoo’s on the Heart. It’s an amazing read.

    • This is exactly what I was going for here: discussion! Some Pink bothers me; some doesn’t. I’m trying not to be a jerk face about the bothersome stuff. (But those damn bald caps still really annoy me.)

      The are many ways to donate! It’s becoming obvious to me that some people disapprove of the Big Check Writers… whereas I think they provide necessary funds we’d be quite lost without. I suppose it’s fine to “critique” them. But I still wonder why one would.

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