The Misogynistic Companies Jumping On The Breast Cancer Bandwagon

Hooters is the latest company to declare a burning interest in the battle against breast cancer, who else is joining the ‘pinkwashing’ epidemic?

10.16.14 9:42 AM ET

Hooters is cleverly asking me to “Give a Hoot” about breast cancer. 

A media kit from the fast-food chain—best known for its waitress’s impressive bosoms and its subpar wings—arrived in my mailbox this week. In the press release, Miss Hooters 2014, Janet Layug, implores me to spread the word about their $3 minimum breast cancer donation bracelets because “no other dining destination is as uniquely qualified to raise funds and awareness about breast cancer research.” 

Forgive me for being highly dubious of this claim.

The barrage of breast cancer donation promotions is unavoidable in October—and if you have a minimal amount of media literacy, you’re already cynical about them. Pink Ribbons, Inc. and an array of articles have raised serious questions about how much breast cancer sponsors actually donate to research or treatment and how much of the campaign is a marketing ploy to trick us into spending more right before the Christmas rush.

But there is actually something more irksome than exploiting cancer for profits. A number of companies “pinkwash”: they raise money for breast cancer charities yet derive their revenue from products and services that harm the health or status of women. Below are some of the worst offenders I've seen this year.

1. Hooters

As the Hooters press kit shows, an appreciation for breasts does not automatically translate to an appreciation of women. Sure, Hooters may have a vested financial interests in breasts—or rather, a very specific type of breast. But even as the restaurant chain touts its support of breast-cancer research, its lack of female-friendly policies leaves much to be desired. Of course, there is the past sexual harassment lawsuit and the general atmosphere of sexual objectification. There is also the 2011 lawsuit filed by two Michigan Hooters employees who claimed their  boss told them to lose weight or lose their jobs (it settled out of court). But that's not even getting into the alleged violations of wage-and-hour statutes, which affect the very livelihoods of the restaurant's almost entirely female servers.  By the way, Hooters hasn't been perfect to men, either. The chain has faced multiple class-action employment discrimination lawsuits from men, alleging that Hooters denies them job opportunities for which they are fully qualified by barring them from server positions.

2. Baker Hughes

Hooters didn’t even set off the alarm bells in this year’s round of pinkwashing. The most egregious Breast Cancer-awareness tchotkes came from Susan G. Komen’s partnership with fracking corporation Baker Hughes, which will be using giant pink drill bits to extract oil. Right off the bat, the “Doing Our Bit for the Cure” campaign seemed peculiar. And as it turns out, those adorable pink drill bits are potentially facilitating the addition of carcinogens into the environment. A 2013 study showed that water collected at sites where fracking occurs contains chemicals linked to cancer, as well as birth defects and infertility. 

3. Sally Beauty

Sally Beauty has also partnered with Susan G. Komen to sell special pink cosmetic products. It also sells a number of products that contain chemicals that have been linked to breast cancer. It carries a conditioner that contains triclosan, which has been linked to promoting the growth of breast cancer cells. The company also carries a nail topcoat that contains phthalate, another chemical that disrupts the body’s hormone system and increases the risk of breast cancer. Sally Beauty did not respond for comment by the time this article was published.

4. Alhambra

Alhambra boasts that sales of its Athena water bottles have raised over $2 million “to fight breast cancer” and to aid in “awareness, care, education and research" about the disease. Yet none of Alhambra's bottles or home or office water containers are free of bisphenol-A (BPA)-free (a call to the company confirmed this). While the FDA currently deems it safe for food containers, BPA has been linked to a number of health issues, including the growth of cancerous cells, asthma, and miscarriages.

5. The NFL

 The NFL certainly doesn’t see any problem with continuing its annual breast cancer awareness campaign, which was questioned for its efficacy and financial legitimacy even before Ray Rice completely shamed the league’s treatment of women. Business Insider calculated that only about eight percent of the money spent on pink merchandise went to breast cancer charities. Proctor & Gamble refused to donate pink mouthguards to the NFL’s attempt to prove they care about women because of their color schemes. However, the NFL is still continuing its “A Crucial Catch” campaign against breast cancer, perhaps hoping that everyone will focus on all the pretty pink merchandise and forget about the domestic abuse scandals that have rocked the league this year.

6. The Porn Industry

Here's one that reveals the potential hypocrisy of breast cancer fundraising. We can go back and forth over whether or not porn is degrading to women, but I'll argue that certain porn stars are far more respectful of women than the adult film industry as a whole. And one of those stars is James Deen. Turns out, Deen decided to donate 50 percent of his website’s profits in October to three breast cancer charities—but the first non-profits he reached out to rejected him. “Back in August and September, James was looking to partner with a single charity for Breast Cancer Awareness, but none of them were interested in aligning with a porn star,” said his press agent Christopher Ruth. He would not disclose which charities turned down Deen’s offer. So breast cancer researchers will partner with companies that add potential carcinogens to the environment, or companies that tacitly condone the abuse of women, but they draw the line at on-camera sex?