Along with the flurry of leaves and colder weather every October comes a flood of ribbons and wristbands in that tell-tale pink. It’s breast cancer awareness month.
Whitman participated in this annual ritual with a “pink-out” day Oct. 18. We stood unified in the fight against breast cancer, except for me, of course. In my typical morning rush I threw on the first thing I saw and ran out to meet the bus. I regretted it immediately. All day my friends jokingly nagged me about my lack of spirit.
Apparently by not wearing pink that one Thursday last week, I’ve been forever labeled as an opponent to the breast cancer movement. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and has since had a double mastectomy. I might be lazy and absent-minded, but I’m certainly not against finding a cure.
But it was heart warming that the majority of students thought it was worth their time to dress in the symbolic pink. Even President Obama sported a pink wristband in Monday’s debate. But are they really contributing more to the movement than I am in my green sweater?
Research conducted by professor Stefano Puntoni of the Rotterdam School of Management and published in the Journal of Marketing Research proved quite the opposite. Through a series of ten experiments over three years he showed that when exposed to gender cues like the color pink, women became less aware of their vulnerability to breast cancer, were almost twice as unlikely to remember breast cancer ads, were less able to process the information and were less likely to donate to gender specific cancers like ovarian cancer.
Putoni explains this in terms of psychology and our defensive response to threatening ideas, which can trigger very strong denial mechanisms. Because women identify with the pink, they also identify with the intangible cancer threat, which in turn elicits an unconscious denial reaction. So ironically, when we wear pink we’re actually counter-productive to the cause we’re all so desperate to help. The only aid we’re providing is the boost to our sense of self worth and our need to be perceived as good people.
Be honest with yourself. What have you done to support breast cancer other than contributing to the sea of pink last Thursday? Instead of taking the easy way out with a pink out day, Whitman should do something proactive in the fight against breast cancer by sponsoring a walk for the cure or even just holding an old fashioned fundraiser. You might even find that the satisfaction of doing something useful outways the sensory rush “pink out” day can provide.