Part of why Komen is likely to fail at picking up the pieces is that the entire battle exposed some tensions in its base of support—tensions that had largely been minimized by the genuine desire of a broad coalition to fight breast cancer. Part of what made the organization such a behemoth is that Komen was able to put together the traditional supporters of women’s health care, who are pro-choice and have feminist leanings, with more conservative women who had previously been afraid of the immodest implications of talking openly about breast health. They did this by pointedly desexualizing the issue in a sea of pink ribbons and teddy bears, something the more feminist supporters could ignore because of the greater good. Prior to the Planned Parenthood debacle, Komen seemed largely apolitical—not outwardly judging those of us who want comprehensive health care that includes an adult understanding that people are going to have sex. By crossing that line, they forced their supporters into a sluts vs. church ladies battle. Now the feminist side perceives the organization as swarming with prigs whose support for your health stops as soon as they know you’ve touched a penis, and a handful of prominent resignations can’t really do much to change that.
Was it ethical for Komen to embrace right wing politics and cut off funding to one of the most prominent sources of women’s health care? Apparently a great number of Komen’s event participants and contributors believe the organization’s decision was at odds with their own moral beliefs. What is interesting here is how Komen so misunderstood its base. Isn’t that one of the fundamental rules of any business organization – that you should understand who your “customers” are. By any measure, Komen failed this rule and the organization may never recover.