Dr. Gayle Sulik, M.A., Ph.D, is a social science researcher and writer affiliated with the University at Albany (SUNY) Department of Women’s Studies. Her ground-breaking analysis of the culture and cult of breast cancer, richly described in her book Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, has stirred a grass roots feminist reawakening.
Sulik’s book is an essential read that provides a thorough grounding for thinking through the complexities and perversions of a pink ribbon system gone awry. Joining the ranks of feminist provocateurs who have observed how acceptable narratives neutralize and trivialize women’s suffering, she shows how the pink ribbon is itself wrapped in a system that uses advocacy, culture, mass media, and the medical industry for its own purposes, to create a festive culture of consumption that wrests in profitable complacency.
Gayle Sulik developed the Pink Ribbon Blues website and blog, engaging more than 470 thousand readers, and founded the Breast Cancer Consortium in 2012 — an international partnership committed to energizing the scientific and public discourse about breast cancer and promoting collaborative initiatives. She received the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship in 2008, was named as one of the top ten online influencers in the field of breast cancer from ShareCare in 2012, and is winner of the 2013 Sociologists for Women in Society Distinguished Feminist Lecturer award. One of the most sought-after experts in breast cancer and women’s health, Gayle Sulik has much to offer in showing others not only how to do the kind of important research she has done, but how to reach beyond the ivory tower to share it with those who will benefit most.
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today “Essential Reads,” November 14, 2013
Good Morning America’s Amy Robach announced that the on-air mammogram she had as part of the show’s breast cancer awareness promotion, ended up getting her a diagnosis. It remains to be seen whether the mammogram will make a life-saving difference, but the fanfare surrounding her diagnosis adds to the confusion about the potential benefits and harms of universal screening. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today “Essential Reads,” October 27, 2013
The month of October fills the marketplace with pink-ribboned products and breast-cancer-awareness-themed events and fundraisers. Many people ask, “Where does the money go?” No one seems to know. In the midst of it all, cause marketing is cast as everything from the saving grace, the necessarily evil, to the pinkwashing pilferer. There is probably some truth to each characterization. Like everything, there is a context. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, August 31, 2013
The pink ribbon functions as a logo for a “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose” the breast cancer brand. The brand capitalizes on emotional responses related to fear of the disease, hope for a cure, and the goodness of the cause. The logo alone doesn’t make the brand. Emotional attachment is required. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Oxford University Press Blog, October 10, 2013
The breast cancer brand has become so successful in forging emotional connections with potential consumers that the marketplace is filled with branded products, services, events, and advertisements that use the brand’s familiar associations (i.e. fear of the disease, hope for a cure, and the goodness of the cause) in the name of awareness and improving women’s lives. Those that incorporate the breast cancer brand into their business portfolios may, or may not, have actual ties to the breast cancer cause. Regardless, those who use the brand tend to make money, fortify public reputations and increase visibility and consumer loyalty. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, September 29, 2013
She is the protagonist of the epic breast cancer survivor story, the central figure of the breast cancer brand. The she-ro’s upbeat attitude, passion, and triumphant survival create a cancer-fighting aesthetic that encourages other plucky survivors and their supporters to support a multi-billion dollar pink ribbon industry as they live, laugh, love, and shop “for the cure.” Those who do not fit her mold have no place in pink ribbon culture. Read More
Sulik G. In Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. 2013; 15:697-703.
According to the National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Survivorship, a person is considered a cancer survivor at the time of cancer diagnosis and remains so for the remainder of his or her life. By this definition there were about 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States as of January 2012, a number projected to reach 18 million in the next decade. Sixty-four percent of the 2012 survivor population had survived 5 or more years; 40 percent had survived 10 or more years; and 15 percent had survived 20 or more years. But, contrary to the common definition of survival (i.e., to live), many cancer survivors do not actually survive cancer—according to an 18-year study by the American Association for Cancer Research, just over half of people labeled cancer “survivors” ultimately died of cancer. This contradiction creates confusion about the meaning of survivorship for patients, caregivers, and health practitioners. What’s more, it influences social support, policy guidelines, health care delivery and research, and survivors’ lives. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, July 31, 2013
A working group from the National Cancer Institute suggests eliminating the word “cancer” from some common diagnoses. If patients and physicians are less frightened by the “C” word, they may be less likely to seek treatments that may be unneeded and potentially harmful. The consensus comes after years of considerable discussion in the scientific and medical communities. Consistent with the data driven focus of evidence based medicine, it may indeed be the time for a change. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, June 27, 2013
New guidelines for chemoprevention are hailed as “historic” and a “game changer.” Certainly, the promise to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer by 40 to 50 percent sounds great, but if the actual (absolute) numbers are far less impressive – less than 2 percent— and these drugs promote blood clots, cancers, cataracts, and other harms, maybe it’s important to read the fine print and ask some tough questions before getting too excited. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, CNN, May 24, 2013 (updated May 28).
(CNN) — Angelina Jolie, when writing about her preventive double mastectomy, did not discuss how much her surgeries cost, but she did mention that many women would not be able to afford the $3,000 to $4,000 test that led her to make the decision. What she failed to say was why the test costs so much. The reason is this: In 1998 Myriad Genetics patented two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. With its exclusive rights, Myriad developed a test for mutations on those genes trademarked “BRACAnalysis.” Because it essentially owns the genes, Myriad is the only company that can conduct the test, so it sets the price. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Scientific American, May 20, 2013. (Picked up by Yahoo).
After learning that she had inherited a mutation on one of the so-called breast cancer genes, actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. She also plans to have her ovaries removed to reduce her risk of ovarian cancer. Jolie explained her medical decision in an op-ed in The New York Times, saying that she decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much [she] could. Since the Angelina Jolie story broke, there’s been a flurry of discussion. But we should remember an important caveat about Angelina Jolie’s situation. Namely, that it doesn’t apply to most women. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, April 23, 2013.
While it is possible—maybe even probable—that every person will one day be genomically sequenced, there are limitations to how useful the information will be, and for whom? The Supreme Court considers the legality of patenting two genes — the so-called “breast cancer genes.” What will patenting these genes mean for patients, doctors, and the future of scientific research? Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Ms. Magazine Blog, May 2o, 2013.
I met Barbara Brenner in a book. In a collection of scholarly essays, she wrote the final substantive chapter, about women creating a breast cancer movement. I had just begun my own investigation of breast cancer culture, industry and advocacy. I re-read Barbara’s words many times. Today, as I gaze beyond the post-it notes, tabs and highlights that cover the book, I see how insightful and prophetic her words were. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, ShareCare, May 20, 2013.
In a much-tweeted cover story for the New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein recently wrote that she once believed a mammogram saved her life. Sixteen years later, after dealing with breast cancer round two, she says she now wonders whether that first mammogram mattered at all. “Would the outcome have been the same,” she writes in Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer, “had I bumped into the cancer on my own years later? Researchers have asked this same question for many years now. Read More
TeraWarner.com, February 9, 2013
Joining us for our final online presentation of the WISH Summit, is Gayle Sulik, author of the book, Pink Ribbon Blues. Passion about untying the pink ribbons and having us rethink the pink washing movement, she presents this powerful article on breast cancer and the environment: “A report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Breast Cancer and the Environment: A Life Course Approach, examines the existing literature about breast cancer risk posed by various environmental factors, highlights actions that offer potential to reduce risk, and recommends key areas for future research. The report may have done more to mystify than to clarify.” Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, December 12, 2012
Called a “bold and fun” approach to awareness, a new genre of breast cancer campaigns uses the sexual objectification of women to get attention. It works. But at what cost? Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Psychology Today, November 21, 2012
Porn site donates a penny to charity for every 30 “boob-themed videos” watched. Las Vegas restaurant promises to “Save 2nd base” and provide an open bar to guests in pink bathing suits. Campaigns like “Save the Ta-tas” and “Feel Your Boobies” use slang and provocative imagery to raise funds and visibility. Is this breast cancer awareness? Or is it sexual objectification? Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 31, 2012
In its endless efforts to expand its consumer base, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has lost sight of the fact that the consumers are people – people so committed to the cause that they will turn away from its largest and wealthiest charity. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Girl w, Pen, September 27, 2012
“I too used to secretly look forward to October, when I would drape myself in pride with all manner of garish pink, survivor-emblemed merchandise and take my place in the Survivors circle whilst bopping out to ‘We Are Family,’” wrote Rachel Cheetham Moro of the blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles. With snark-filled accuracy, Rachel catalogued her awareness of the bullocks of breast cancer culture and how merchandisers blithely use the desire for cure(s) to lull well meaning supporters into a state of consumptive bliss. Shopping for a cure never felt so good. If only “cure” were part of the transaction. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Ms. Magazine Blog, August 9, 2012
In early 2012, the decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to cut ties with Planned Parenthood (and then the semi-reversal of that decision), sent the organization into a frenzied state of damage control. Attendance at Komen events declined, donations dropped and the organization immediately sought advice about how to manage its damaged reputation. Read More
by Gayle Sulik, Oxford University Press Blog, August 9, 2012. This essay was translated into Italian by Grazia De Michele. L’Amazzone Furiosa, August 13, 2012.
On Wednesday (Aug. 8, 2012) Komen President Liz Thompson announced her plans to leave Susan G. Komen for the Cure next month. Founder Nancy Brinker will also give up her role as Komen CEO and serve as chair of the board as soon as a replacement is found, and two board members are stepping down, Brenda Lauderback and Linda Law. The news comes exactly one week after Komen was criticized once again in a key public forum. Read More