Damage Control: Why the Backlash Against the Komen Foundation Succeeded Why the Backlash Against the Susan G. Komen Foundation Succeeded

Posted by Nona Willis Aronowitz

komen backlash

On Tuesday, the anti-breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen For The Cure announced it was pulling funds that it had previously provided Planned Parenthood for breast exams. And today, after a hailstorm of protest on Twitter, Facebook, and Susan G. Komen's message boards, the charity announced that it would be restoring Planned Parenthood's grants. 

Folks across the Internet are attributing this victory to, well, the Internet. Yay, social media! But it's worth asking why this particular attack on women's health prompted such a deafening outcry. After all, just one year ago the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood outright. Conservative legislators rail against the HPV vaccine, which also prevents women from getting life-threatening cancer. Neither case prompted a fraction of the ire. What exactly got us so riled up this time?

It's partly about the politics of breast cancer itself, or lack thereof. Breast cancer is one of the few nonpartisan women's health issues. For those of us irritated by Komen's pinkwashing or the foundation's petty lawsuits against smaller charities, this may have also been an opportunity to vent our disgust. Mainly, though, the difference lies in the money: We expect to have a say in where our donations go.

Technically, we should have the same passion about our tax dollars, but taxes are mandatory. We don't decide the amount we pay based how much we like the government. Donations and purchases are voluntary and deliberate, and we're confident that foundations and businesses are obligated to please their supporters. Even when individuals donate to campaigns, few actually believe that political leaders prioritize our interests. 

Besides, the politicians who attack Planned Parenthood are likely not the ones women's health advocates voted for. Even if they are, voters have to wait for the next election cycle to exact revenge. When politicians do something that tick us off, we have a hard time harnessing the kind of public protest we've seen this week. Usually, we don't even try. Politicians, in turn, have noticed. Whereas Komen's image is everything, politicians assume that, unless you're giving millions, they can get away with almost anything.

The Komen Foundation's reversal is an undeniable victory. It's also a lesson. We may not have a choice about paying our taxes, but we still have a right to hold our legislators accountable for where that money goes. If we make them look as bad as we just made the Susan G. Komen Foundation, perhaps they'll even listen to us.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user pfala.