Pretty vacant in pink

May 31, 2008

Goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink cadillac

Carrie, one of my co-bloggers at TFW, has made a technology-related post (link here) which captured my geeky attention. Carrie was looking to buy a new USB memory stick and her search turned up, amongst other things, a model which had as its unique selling point the fact that it was pink and “designed specially for women of all ages”. As Carrie rightly pointed out, the only real consideration when buying something like this is that you get the highest storage capacity for your price range, and not what colour it is. She also questions the manufacturer’s apparent interpretation of the word ‘feminity’ to mean ‘pink’.

And while I agree that the advert is sexist and an insult to the intelligence to make that suggestion, I must confess that I find it really hard to understand why the colour pink has these connotations. I don’t believe that any colour is inherently equated with any one state or condition: ‘pink’ certainly does not mean ‘feminine’, but neither is it oppressive of itself. It doesn’t have any particular significance for me when I, for example, wear a pink T-shirt. I’m not making some coded political statement; the chances are it was just at the top of the stack of clean laundry that morning as I dressed, the first thing I grabbed and nothing more sinister. Am I to assume that, because I also like to wear black – like the Puritans did – that I am a moralising killjoy with an irrational belief that a mythical being has complete authority over humankind? No, Helen, now you’re being silly…

Society attaches meanings, yes, I know about that: this is the familiar territory of constructs and social/cultural conditioning, isn’t it? But why do we seem to accept unquestioningly those artificially attached meanings, at the same time as we rail against them? By which I mean: surely the connotation will only persist as long as we let it? “Oh Helen, it’s so anti-feminist of you to wear pink”. Oh really? Why’s that, then? You see, I wear pink because I like the colour; I think it looks well on me. Accuse me of vanity if you like, fine. But I really don’t understand how wearing pink oppresses me, or how I’m participating in the continuing oppression of women by doing so.

However, I can understand the argument that I’m perpetuating the exploitation of cheap labour in manufacturing sweatshops, and that that perpetuates capitalism; not to mention the environmental costs of cash crop economies and the polluting effects of transporting the finished articles from factory to shop. But then, that applies to pretty much every item of clothing in every high street chain store and, let’s be honest, the colour of an item is pretty much irrelevant in that context.

If I wear a pink top because I like how it looks, maybe I’m just paranoid, but I feel I’m leaving myself open to being criticised for breaching some apparently unwritten feminist rule, which is – well, I don’t really know. The meme seems to be “pink = girly = bad”. As far as I can tell, because pink has come to be irreversibly associated with women (for whatever reasons), it can now be used as a cipher, a symbol, a shorthand way to label women against their wishes and is therefore a form of insitutionalised oppression. Which, actually, I can understand in principle. So why don’t we reclaim it for ourselves, strip it of its symbolic (negative) meaning and give it a new (positive) one?

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Okay, so pink is a girly colour, and I’m a bad feminist because I like it – we’ve established all that. But I think there’s a parallel thread to this argument, too, a trans* subtext, but I’m still working out how it ties in… Consider this timeworn criticism: by transitioning, trans* women simply cross from one ‘side’ of the gender binary to another and are therefore upholding that same binary, which is, as we know, a patriarchal construct used to subjugate and oppress women through sexism.

This hypothesis is then extended to add that trans* women are Teh Most Evillous because not only are we actively embracing our new-found femininity but are revelling in being ‘ultra femme’, thereby adding insult to injury by presenting to the male population a false stereotype of woman. Truthfully, I don’t doubt that there is an element of truth here, in that some trans* women do present in a very femme way. I’m not going to make excuses; I can even relate to it in a small way. But I don’t think it’s the heinous sin that some make it out to be; I think it’s simply an over-reaction, and quite possibly only transient (no pun intended). If you’ve spent most of your life repressing your identity, when you finally do ‘come out’, there is – along with the sense of a huge weight lifted – a wish to explore things which were previously denied you. I myself have never been that upfront about it – I don’t like trowelling on the makeup and doubt I could ever walk in a 4″ spike heel – but maybe there’s an element of that over-compensation in me that manifests itself in liking the colour pink. I just don’t think that necessarily makes me a bad feminist, per se.

Only time will tell if wearing pink will turn out to be just a phase I’m going through. But to ease the boredom of waiting, I think I might just take something else to bits with my pink screwdriver… like the patriarchy…

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(Cross-posted at The F Word on 31 May 2008)

©2008 Helen G

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