Pretty In Pink?

By Paige Hawkins

I have a strange relationship with pink. It is stunning, the color of breast cancer and cotton candy; of blushes and summer roses; of high eyes and sunrise.

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Pink is beauty, it’s our insides, our brains, it’s what we’re made of. But according to our culture it’s considered feminine, and as such, weak. Men are mocked for wearing it, and women are mocked for liking it too much. We’re called princesses or Barbies, and if there is too much of it in our lives there are negative assumptions made. What a novel concept: to make judgements on the basis of a color.

“Traditional femininity,” or what Colorpsychology.org describes as the socio-psychological associations of pink are “calming [and] non-threatening.” The site categorizes these traditionally positive characteristics as, “innocence, optimism, nurture..” and the negative or “weak” characteristics are described as “vulnerable, silly...shallowness and not seeing reality.” With these subconscious signals telling us what it means to wear pink, it’s more and more significant to note where the color is represented in our society.

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The question is, of course, how did this all start? Where was this bias born that inspires the impulse for pink and blue themed nurseries, clothes, and toys as soon as a child’s sex is identified? It wasn’t always this way. The commercialization of pink and blue began in the mid-20th century, straying away from the gender-neutral clothing options that defined children’s clothes up until the mid-1980s.

Around that time, multiple factors played a part in the gendering of children’s clothes and toys. First, the science of prenatal testing allowed parents to begin shopping for their child before they were actually born, and markets subsequently discovered that the more clothing became “individualized” the more they could sell. This meant setting a cultural standard for distinct differences in girls’ and boys’ clothing, which eventually extended into products such as blankets, cribs, toys, etc. Thus, pink became associated with girls and blue with boys. But how does this affect us on a subconscious level?

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Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America explains in her book that children are extremely perceptive to “sophisticated and pervasive advertising” that emphasize distinctions between gender. So for example, when a child goes to Toys R Us and sees the pink sparkly makeup sets with little girls on the cover, they know that makeup is expected for girls, not boys. When they see that the vast majority “Learning” toys such as science sets or adventure games are marketed towards boys, those are subconsciously magnified as masculine traits.

This restricts both genders as they grow and continue to develop opinions of “girl” and “boy” characteristics and what is considered normal in our society. Think about how many women are in STEM fields, for example. While women hold just under half of the jobs in the United States, they hold only 24% of STEM jobs according to a 2017 report done by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Comparatively, when looking at ToysRUs.com and analyzing the STEM Toys section that are either implicitly or explicitly marketed towards boys, you can clearly see that more than half available on the website either have boys splashed on their packaging or their designs heavily feature green or blue.

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Conditioning of this nature trains us similarly to the way we train our pets. Little boys who prefer pink tutus to blue sweaters are viewed outside the norm as they break gender scripts in a blatant fashion, and pink continues to be a signifier of defying those unspoken societal rules. The phrase, “Real men where pink” is a perfect example of this, implying that a man must be so strong in his masculinity that he can display feminine characteristics without damaging that masculinity. The very concept that wearing pink has any relation to one's’ masculinity in the first place is rooted in the correlation between pink and femininity, and accordingly between femininity and weakness.

But it’s just a color. Let us celebrate pink, celebrate the strength of it, of femininity in general. Who says there is no strength in softness? Throughout history, women, and femininity in general have been represented to epitomize weakness. Being female has been equivalent to being soft, passive, domestic, pious...there are so many expectations placed on us, very few of them celebrating our strength.

Women are strong.

We’re strong as we wear pink to represent breast cancer. We’re strong while women go to hospitals and homes every day to give birth and add life to this world. We’re strong as we choose to wear war paint in the form of pink lipstick and winged eyeliner and strut down the street in our high heels. Or we’re strong as we do the opposite and embrace our masculinity, our athleticism and our machismo. We’re strong because we can do both. So pink shouldn’t be shamed for being feminine. Let’s redefine what it means to wear pink, to be feminine, to be strong.