My relationship with the color pink is a mixed bag. I’ve never been much of a “girly girl,” instead opting for more muted tones for much of my wardrobe (save for that period of neon during the late ’80s/early ’90s). Lately, however, I’ve come to embrace it somewhat. Blame it on this never-ending winter that has brought cold, dreary, grey days and has essentially forced me to wear some pink to brighten up my spirits. Last winter I even dyed my hair pink and purple!
I say all this because pink has been in the news lately (this color will *never* get a break). Over at NYMag’s The Cut, Yael Cohen asks, “What’s the Problem With Pink, Anyway?” Cohen takes a look at the backlash to the “pink aisle” – aka the girls’ aisle in toy stores or clothing stores where everything is saturated in pink. Cohen pushes it further asking what’s the problem with being girly, as if it’s something to shun. But here’s the thing, nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with being girly, and certainly nobody is saying there is anything wrong with liking the color pink.
Pink is not the problem. What I do have a problem with, however, is the co-opting of pink for all things girly. The issue for me is two-fold.
1. It boxes girls in.
2. It boxes boys out.
Pink is a cool color – I get it. Flamingos are pink and flamingos are awesome. What’s not to love? And many, many girls love pink. Also awesome. But when all we offer them is pink? That’s when the trouble starts. By taking “boy” toys (Legos, Nerf guns, etc…) and turning them pink in order to sell them to girls, we’re offering up two messages – the first is that the default for toys is that they’re for boys. The other message is that the only way to get girls to play with them is to drench them in pink. That’s completely insulting to the diversity of girls out there that have a range of likes/interests/tastes. Not every girl likes pink. And even the girls who are all Pinkalicious enjoy other colors. When we automatically push pink on everything made for girls, we’re saying that if you don’t like pink (or “girly”) then there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t think that’s a problem, then look at the recent story of Sunnie Kahle, who was forced out of her private Christian school for dressing too much “like a boy.”
What’s interesting is that Cohen never mentions the interesting (to me at least) history of the color pink. Historically, pink was a masculine color. It wasn’t really until clothing and toy stores needed to make more money that we started to see the gender divide of boy=blue and girl=pink. That way, folks with more than one child were discouraged from using hand-me-downs, and were encouraged to buy all new things – toys, clothes, beddings, the works! The Smithsonian Institute has a really fascinating piece on the history of the color pink that delves into all of this and looks at how branding/marketing was really the push being this color divide.
Beyond boxing girls in and not providing them with an array of choice (and yes, please keep pink among those choices, but don’t limit it to *just* pink!), when we attach pink to all things girly then we box boys out, creating stigma and shame for those boys who happen to like pink. I wrote about the “Pink Scare” as it relates to boys and society for Bitch magazine back in 2011, and sadly not much has changed in the years since. Just type “pink” into the search engine for this blog and you’ll come up with a ton of posts about my son and his love of the color pink and the crap he’s gotten because of it. He’s not alone. Anything deemed girly automatically makes boys targets. Just look at the story of 9-year-old Grayson Bruce who was told that *he* was the problem (not the bullies) for bringing a My Little Pony backpack to school.
So, excuse me when I get a little cranky when folks say that “pink isn’t the problem” without diving into the actual, very real issues. The color itself is not the problem: It’s all of the ideals and stereotypes we’ve attached to the color that is the problem. And those deserve a lot of attention, a whole lot of unpacking, and even more thoughtful critique.
*Speaking of thoughtful critique on this subject – check out Melissa Atkins Wardy’s new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween