Matrilineage – a study in contrast

Definition of MATRILINEAGE: lineage based on or tracing descent through the maternal line (Merriam Webster

Case #1 — Nov 1, 2012 

My family and I were on a Delta flight Thursday morning and I picked up their freebie Sky Magazine. They hadn’t purged the October edition yet, so it was rather pink.  I was so taken aback by this article, that I ripped it out.  Sorry for the condition.

Apart from the nonsensical Venn Diagram, I was struck by Leonard Lauder’s telling of story of the pink ribbon.  Lauder, whose parents started Estee Lauder, speaks of his deceased wife Evelyn’s legacy.  

It was a simple idea with a significant purpose cocreated by Evelyn and Alexandra Penney from SELFmagazine.  They wanted to bring people everywhere together and and help save lives. It was a lifesaving message and they stuck with it. Evelyn would be proud that today our Estee Lauder Companies’ brands have distributed more than 115 million pink ribbons worldwide and helped countless women and men.   

Sounds lovely, right?  Even matrilineal.  So what’s my problem?

It’s not true.  Someone very important has been written out of this story.  From BCC:

Charlotte Haley had several family members who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she believed the National Cancer Institute had an obligation to focus more of its budget on cancer prevention. To bring attention to this Haley made peach ribbons, thousands of them, by hand in her dining room along with cards that said, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Haley started contacting public women to spread the message and giving out the ribbons and the cards in her community.

Haley’s message was starting to spread at about the same time Evelyn Lauder (who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989) joined forces with Alexandra Penney to collaborate on Self magazine’s second annual breast cancer awareness month issue. Lauder had been the guest editor of the first issue and was keen to expand upon its success. Penney and Lauder decided that the best way to do this was to create a ribbon that would be distributed at Lauder’s cosmetics counters around the country. As the plans for the special issue were getting underway Penney learned of Charlotte Haley’s peach ribbon.

According to Penney, Self magazine contacted Haley for permission to use her peach ribbon, telling her they wanted nothing in return, only to give the ribbon national attention. To their surprise, Charlotte Haley wanted nothing to do with them. Haley was an activist working on the ground to raise awareness about breast cancer and federal funding. She had no interest in commercializing the ribbon or the disease. Self magazine, on the other hand, was a commercial enterprise. Haley’s refusal may have prophetic. The magazine was committed to moving forward with its plans. It just needed another color.  


So, you see, Evelyn and Alexandra didn’t co-create the pink ribbon the way Athena sprang, fully formed, from the head of Zeus.  This is what we call a creation myth.

Case #2: Nov. 5, 2011

At the end of the final campaign rally of President Obama’s career, he retells the story of one of the  inspirational symbols of his campaign, “Fired Up.”  It would be similarly easy to have attributed it to a spontaneous forehead-springing, but he gives all the credit to a 60 year old woman in Greenwood, South Carolina, Edith Childs.  As he tells the story, it was a miserable morning early in his campaign when no one came to his meetings.  She walked into this Greenwood meeting, and I’ll let the President take it from here.

For the next few minutes she just keeps on saying FIRED UP and everybody says FIRED UP and she says READY TO GO and everybody says READY TO GO. And I’m thinking, You know, this woman is showing me up! This is my meeting, I’m running for president and she’s dominating the room! … after a few minutes, I’m feeling kinda fired up. I’m feeling like I’m ready to go. So I start joining in the chant… suddenly I feel pretty good… we drive out and it’s still raining, but it doesn’t seem so bad… Even though we still weren’t getting any big crowds any place, even though people still couldn’t pronounce my name, I felt good.

Does it lessen him to admit that he didn’t build that alone?  You can make that judgment yourself, but the next day he won an historic second term easily.

So I’m left to wonder…

How many other foremothers’ stories have been lost.  And what would our world look like if they hadn’t been buried?  Of course, the only question that matters is, what are we going to do about this now?

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