Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Women Warriors

We were two drab birds in a sea of pink feathers. It was "Race for the Cure" day, and hundreds of women had convened, along with the occasional spouse or offspring, in the city park on a bright September morning to run, raise awareness, and raise funds toward "the cure" for breast cancer.

Many of the women--and men--had race numbers pinned to their shirtfronts. Most also had pink placards pinned to the backs: "I run in celebration of... Aunt Sibyl." "I run in memory of...my Mom." Some had multiple names on their backs, or stitched on their pink baseball caps, or painted with glitter-glue on their running shoes. It was clear that each person there had some history of suffering or loss, some painful connection that they were determined to honour, to remember, or perhaps even transform with the beating of their hearts and the pounding of their feet. The joyful silliness of their various decorations was an understandable attempt to inject some levity into a serious remembrance.

We were there because my partner, The Piper, had taken this on as an annual volunteer gig. She was in her usual tartan gear, pleated wool in dark greens and blues, befitting the job. No-one would have expected otherwise. I, myself, had dressed to go off to church afterward, and I'd chosen a blouse and pants of earthy brown. As we walked into the pink-balloon-bedecked park full of colour-coordinated racing and walking teams, I hesitated. I felt like a wild moorhen who had blundered into a flock of migrating flamingos.

The park periphery was lined with booths from event sponsors. The Dunkin Donuts booth was mobbed, race-goers squealing with delight at the thought of unlimited free donuts and coffee. Across the way, the Hannaford supermarket booth workers were handing out healthier fare: apples, granola bars, and bananas. They had far fewer takers. (I admit I helped myself equally: one donut, one banana. They both looked perfect but tasted, well, somewhat less than that.) I looked around at the piles of "bling" arrayed in each booth: magenta shoelaces, pink ribbon temporary tattoos, treats and whigmaleeries of every description, all of them dyed or emblazoned or bedecked in some variant of rose, fuchia, blush, raspberry, carmine, cherry blossom...

The brightest display was at a booth near the stage. A banner above the booth declared "FORD CARES." Three pert young blonde women stood in the booth, each sporting a bright batik scarf tied in a uniquely fashionable style. Two men flanked the booth, handing out bling-bags to everyone who walked past. I ventured up, curious. One of the men flashed a smile and handed me a bag. I opened it to find the same scarf, with a "made in China" sticker and two brochures for Ford's charity line of Breast Cancer Awareness clothing: "Warriors in Pink." Above an array of abstract "tribal" symbols like spirals, wings, chevrons, hearts and birds, the brochure declared, "EVERY WARRIOR NEEDS AN OUTFIT."


I looked around again at the hundreds of pink-bling-bedecked women around me. I thought about Rachel Carson, who wrote "Silent Spring" and died of breast cancer herself. Breast cancer is an environmental disease. It is caused by a complex array of factors, many of which are linked to the pervasive, endocrine-disrupting toxicity of the chemicals we eat, wear, drink and breathe in our mass-manufactured society. Those chemicals could be in the free pink plastic water bottles and the free temporary tattoos. They could be in the colored paper and the glitter paint. They could be in the very dyes and fixatives and wrinkle-preventers of those free "Warriors in Pink" scarves. The garment workers in China--probably women--who make those scarves could be exposed to much higher levels of those toxins than we are, we privileged North American recipients of this well-designed, well-marketed corporate charity bling.

The opening ceremonies began and The Piper went up onto the stage. I watched her stand, compose herself, and strike in the pipes. A murmur went through the crowd and people turned to look at the tall, tartan-draped figure playing tunes from another century. The harmonic drones of this ancient instrument took me back to my own "tribal" roots, and I thought about the women warriors of the Celts and the Picts. They earned the respect of their enemies not for their outfits, but for the lack thereof. They were known for charging into battle with very little on indeed, a demonstration of pure intention, confidence, and bravery that came from years of careful discipline. There is some evidence that ancient schools existed to train warrior women in the Celtic/British/Pictish lands. They began their training as girls and grew into powerful women and formidable adversaries.

The fight for cancer is unaffected by outfits. Every warrior does NOT need one. We contribute to the fight against cancer when we refuse to use the host of unnecessary chemicals around us. We build our defences by deflecting the pointed arrows of corporate target marketing. We fight cancer by refusing to pour poison in our yards and in our homes. We fight cancer by refusing to apply chemicals to our hair, our nails, and our faces. We fight cancer by educating ourselves and each other about environmental toxins. We fight cancer by speaking up and speaking out, demanding more regulations to protect our bodies, our air, our soil, our water, our land. We fight cancer by declaring that our poorer sisters and brothers in industrial waste zones deserve the same standards of environmental safety that we do.

We may yet be warriors. Let the beauty of the earth be our ritual decoration. Let our own empowered active lives be our tribute to the fallen. Let our bodies and spirits reflect the purity and healing we seek. And when a restored and healthy planet answers our efforts with showered blush-tinted blossoms, THEN we shall bedeck ourselves in pink.