Seven Lessons Learned from Susan G. Komen-Gate
1 year ago
What the Komen Foundation controversy can teach us about race, class and cancer
All of us have survived the awkwardness of a friend’s breakup or divorce and having to endure the inevitable social pressure to choose sides. Perhaps the only thing more awkward than telling one friend that you won’t be attending the wedding of he and his fiancée—the one he left your other friend for—is choosing sides only to find out that against all odds, your friends are actually reconciling, and every horrible thing you said to one about the other like, “I always thought you were too good for him anyway,” the formerly soon-to-be-ex now knows.
Welcome to the world of those of us who care about women’s health.
It’s been a whirlwind week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Planned Parenthood and any woman, or man, who cares about both organizations. The Komen Foundation’s initial withdrawal of funding from Planned Parenthood, the ensuing backlash and subsequent reversal and reconciliation has left many reeling. For some, the end result means the matter is resolved and it is simply time to move on. Others feel as though healing is not that easy, and they’ve been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, philanthropic edition. Regardless of where you stand on the issue—and which member of the couple you took sides with during this trial separation—there are lessons all of us who care about women’s health and social change can glean from this saga. A few of them are below. Feel free to weigh in with your own in the comments below.
7. Despite a complicated history, wealthy white women and poor minority women know that we are all in this together.
Wealthy white women and poor women of color have a complex history. Since our nation’s inception white women of means have relied on poor women of color to help them keep their homes and care for their families. (Some of my own family members did just that.) As stories like “The Help” have reminded us, such relationships have bred empathy and unbreakable bonds across barriers of race and class among some, while fueling resentment among others. These resentments burst into the open during the feminist movement when many women of color, who had struggled to find a place within the civil rights movement where they encountered sexism, felt equally excluded from the mainstream feminist movement because of their race, and class. Komen-gate briefly reopened old wounds. Watching Komen founder Nancy Brinker, a former Ambassador with the Bush administration, in her crisp suits, perfectly coifed hair and sensible jewelry, trying desperately to undo one of the worst philanthropic PR implosions in recent memory, it was hard not see a woman who has probably never thought about how her maid pays for her breast exams. Luckily, there were plenty of other powerful, educated women who do, and who recognized that when it comes to women’s health we’re all in this together. Those women made their voices heard, online, and with their wallets, and because of them more low-income women—many of them of color—will continue to receive the lifesaving healthcare that they need.
6. Women’s Health is Not a Women’s Issue.