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Breasts Yes, Vaginas No? How to Fight Back Against Komen "Race for the Cure" Foundation's Bizarre Capitulation to Right-Wingers

How the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation put their corporation-friendly image before women’s actual health concerns.

It’s probably the fastest-spreading story in Internet history about the relationship between two non-profits. Late Tuesday afternoon, Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure announced that Komen would be withdrawing grants given to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. Despite Komen’s lame attempts to claim otherwise, it was widely understood that this was about Komen aligning itself with the anti-choice movement, despite the anti-choice movement’s long history of opposing not just safe and legal abortion, but also access to contraception and even the prevention of cervical cancer through the use of the HPV vaccine. 

So what gives? Why would Komen, which purports to be a women’s health organization, choose to align itself with an anti-health, anti-science movement instead of with another prominent women’s health organization that actually helps prevent and detect cancer? What role does Komen’s hearty corporate fundraising efforts play in all of this? Is there anything that people who care about women’s health concerns can do?

In the past couple of decades, one of the biggest accomplishments in women’s healthcare advocacy is destigmatizing breast cancer, and Komen certainly played a major role in this. In the past, women didn’t talk much about breast cancer, because like all things related to women’s sexuality, breasts were considered naughty and unspeakable and therefore so was breast cancer. Through cutesy methods, such as draping everything imaginable in pink ribbons, advocates were able to get breast cancer out of the closet and into the public discourse. 

Unfortunately, in doing so, they weren’t quite able to lift the taboo on all of women’s healthcare. In place of the old taboo against all of women’s reproductive healthcare, there was now an above-the-belt/below-the-belt divide. When it comes to healthcare that allows women to keep their breasts, everyone from baseball players to every corporation looking to shore up its image was happy to talk about it. But anything below the belt, especially with regard to women managing their actual sex lives, remained taboo. STDs, pregnancy prevention, cervical cancer, abortion? All still considered dirty, and all still available for conservatives to demagogue about sin and sexuality. We are a country where everyone was clawing all over each other to talk about how important it is for women to get their boobs squeezed in a vise to look for cancer, but we’re also a country where a vaccine that’s been proven to prevent cancer below the belt is excoriated by prominent Republican politicians who want you to believe it gives “license” to female sexuality. 

Anti-choice activists have been trying to exploit this divide for years now, demanding that when it comes to women’s healthcare, our bodies should be divided against themselves. Boobies are apple pie and baseball, but vaginas are subversive pits of hell, and all funding aimed at their upkeep is suspect. While the anti-choice movement has been pressuring Congress to cut federal subsidies for below-the-belt care such as contraception and STD treatment, they’ve been also pressuring Komen to distance itself from Planned Parenthood. With this decision, Komen reinforces this illogical divide between above-the-belt and below-the-belt healthcare for women. 

In a sense, it shouldn’t be surprising. As illogical as it is to offer only piecemeal support for women’s healthcare, it also fits into a larger pattern of Komen putting its corporation-friendly image before women’s actual health concerns. For instance,  Komen allowed KFC to sell “pink ribbon” buckets of fried chicken, even though it was obvious that KFC was trying to distract from  scientific evidence showing that a diet high in saturated fat is linked to breast cancer.