By Chelsy Ranard
October’s colors tend to be an array of oranges, reds, and yellows. As summer leaves and fall takes its place, our surroundings follow suit. Pumpkin spice, Halloween, and Fall culture takes over. However, there’s another color that takes its place once October hits: pink. Everyone knows what the pink ribbon means, and it means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast cancer is a disease killing women and men at high rates across the country, so it’s obviously an important topic. However, it’s important to understand pink marketing, other ways to give, and the other causes in October that are dwarfed by the pink ribbon.
The Trouble with Breast Cancer Marketing
There is no denying the reach of breast cancer marketing. It’s as if October stopped being October and became Pinktober. Paper towels, beauty products, cleaning supplies, yogurt, office supplies are all pink washed. Many products add a pink ribbon and promise to give a portion of the proceeds to the pink ribbon powerhouse: Susan G. Komen. All of the attention on breast cancer marketing seems great for such a worthy cause as breast cancer is the most aggressive cancer affecting the global female population. However, there is some trouble with the pink campaign.
Some of the products that sport a pink ribbon for the month of October are actually linked to causing breast cancer. Water bottles, for instance, show some of the hypocrisy in pink marketing. The BPA in water plastic bottles has been linked to causing cancer in people. This example shows the intent behind many pink marketing items where companies exploit the issue for their own gain, and not for the betterment of understanding cancer and its causes. Breast cancer is an extremely serious issue and the cloud of pink over the issue can trivialize a deadly disease, turning it into a pink marketing fiasco over the course of October. Many companies tend to use the pink ribbon for their own gain and it has lost the original message of awareness.
Knowing Other Ways to Give
Some may say that manipulating the emotions of the consumer into buying a pink product isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since ultimately it’s benefiting breast cancer research and raising awareness through that method. It’s true that the high levels of marketing are teaching women about BSA (breast self awareness) and early screening. It’s helped raise awareness for women needing breast cancer screenings as preventative services, a practice that saves lives. However, before donating time or money to the dominant awareness of Pink campaigns, people should understand how to give to breast cancer in the most helpful way.
Susan G. Komen, the biggest charity for breast cancer, is ranked pretty high – at an 81.1 out of 100 on Charity Navigator. This means a good portion their funds are going towards research and education. However, it’s still worth noting the way this organization receives funds. It’s not just a charity, it’s a business. That mindset is made obvious by its decision to pair with companies like Ford, KFC, and other companies that promote products that pair with the likelihood of women to develop breast cancer. Luckily, there are other ways to donate that don’t involve being sucked into the pink ribbon marketing vacuum.
October’s Collection of Causes
Breast cancer awareness is extremely important. About 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Bringing up the trouble with pink washing isn’t meant to downplay the need for breast cancer research, it’s meant to understand the intentions behind the flood of marketing. Similarly, there are other causes that have their month in October. Talking about the other causes in October is not to imply that they are more important than breast cancer, or vice versa, but in the flood of pink marketing, some of the other causes in October get lost.
- Filipino American History Month: In 1988, the Filipino American National Historical Society established Filipino American History Month in October. Many of the festivities happen in California and Hawaii where a large number of Filipino Americans reside. There are dances, food, and entertainment to celebrate Filipino culture in the United States.
- LGBT History Month: The civil rights movements in LGBTQ history are celebrated in the month of October to coincide National Coming Out Day on October 11th. The work to be done towards equality isn’t done yet as many kids still face discrimination in school and many laws have not been passed to protect those in this community. Celebrations in October applaud the work done and raise awareness for what still needs to be done in the LGBTQ community.
- National Bullying Prevention Month: National Bullying Prevention Month is a campaign that started in 2006 to raise awareness, educate, and prevent bullying. Schools and communities everywhere have events discussing bullying and the lasting negative effects it can cause.
- National Domestic Violence Awareness Month: October 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In the U.S., 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced domestic violence. This month is all about the purple ribbon and spreading awareness, education, and community outreach about domestic violence and how to break the cycle of abuse.
- National Pit Bull Awareness Month: National Pit Bull Awareness Month was born from National Pit Bull Awareness Day, October 28th, and it spread to the entire month. This month is about bringing positive awareness to the Pit Bull breed. The dogs are celebrated and communities are educated on common Pit Bull misconceptions.
- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month was designated by Ronald Reagan in 1988. This cause is about awareness for things like miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS, among others. It’s a day for remembrance which is observed with vigils or ceremonies for those lost and parents who have experienced it.
Some other month-long observances include German American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, RETT Syndrome Awareness Month, and many others. October is filled to the brim with causes, not all of them are sporting the iconic pink ribbon of breast cancer awareness. However, it doesn’t make these causes any less important.
When October rolls around, it’s not uncommon to see football players sporting pink on their jerseys or stores selling winter hats with a pink ribbon on them. However, what we aren’t told is that there is some hypocrisy in the immense breast cancer marketing. We aren’t told that our emotions are being taken advantage of in order to sell items with a pink ribbon.
We aren’t told that there are other ways to give that don’t feed into the pink ribbon market. With a pink blanket around October, it’s hard to see the other causes that call October home as well. These causes are also important and need our attention. Next time October rolls around, remember the other causes as well as the pink ones.
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about feminism, is a shark enthusiast, and can be found playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow her on Twitter.