10/14/2014 10:45 am ET

The Problems With Pinktober

JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

It’s October—the leaves are turning yellow, porch ornaments are coming up pumpkin orange, the first frost is sparkling silver, and everywhere I turn the sight of pink ribbons affronts my sensibilities. The annual pink ribbon extravaganza, surely one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history, has millions of Americans walking, running, racing and selling merchandise “for the cure.” Having spent the first half of my career studying religious rituals, I can’t help but think that many of the ribbon bearers see their little scraps of pink as an amulet or a charm, a means of warding off an enemy that makes us all feel impotent. If we just wear or sell enough pink ribbons during the month of October, we bargain with the cancer gods that maybe we’ll be safe from breast cancer for the coming year.

Maybe I’m a cynic or an agnostic, but as a means of averting breast cancer I’d rather put my money on cleaning up toxic chemicals from the environment than on adding a bunch of pink ribbons to our November trash piles.

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