4 min

Pink: a post-sexist love affair

A hot pink take on colour correctness

I’ve been thinking a lot about pink lately.

Sometime last year I fell in love with it. I started buying pink clothes and envying the women who were brave enough to put pink streaks in their hair. I started using pink in my drawings and when I got my own website I chose green and pink for the colour scheme.

So yes, I love pink. But every day I am confronted with a new reason to question my devotion. Who knew that a love affair with a colour could be so complicated?

Last fall, scientists “discovered” that women naturally prefer pink and men prefer blue. A team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne studied a group of 200 people — all white except for about 30 Chinese people added in to ensure that there were no cultural influences on people’s choices. And indeed, most of the female subjects chose pink as their favourite colour, while the men chose blue.

The lead researcher said, “The explanation might date back to humans’ hunter-gatherer days, when women were the primary gatherers and would have benefited from an ability to home in on ripe, red fruits.”

The mere existence of this project, let alone the unbelievable amount of dead serious media attention that it got, should immediately silence any suggestions that our society is post-feminism.

I suspect that the enforced blue/pink division for children is even worse now than it was when I was growing up in the 1970s. Lately when I walk into any major toy or clothing store, the walls of pink toys and clothes for girls completely overwhelm me. It’s bad enough that girl = pink (and frilly and flimsy) but most of the stuff is a vile, screechy reddish sort of pink or a pathetic shade of bubblegum.

Recently I spent some time with my three-year-old nephew, Zev. One morning as he was getting dressed, he informed me that he wore boxer shorts because he was a boy. When I explained that some girls and women also wear boxer shorts, he thought about it for a second. “Yeah,” he said, “but they only wear pink and purple boxers.”

Then he told me he hated pink and purple because they were girl colours.

“I didn’t teach him that!” my sister said, in what I could tell was panic about me giving her a feminist lecture.

“You don’t need to,” I said. “It’s all around him.”

Oh, and the other pink thing in my life right now is our dog. Yeah, for Halloween we decided it would be cute to dye the white blaze on his face red so that he could be a demon dog. A hairdresser told us to use Kool-Aid since it wouldn’t hurt him and it would “come out in a week.”

Well, a) I was filled with misguided enthusiasm and put the Kool-Aid all over his head and back and tail and b) the Kool-Aid turned from red to pink right away and still has not come out.

At least a couple people have expressed concern that our dog is male but has been dyed a female colour.

One man was patting him and cooing, “Oh what a cute little girl!” When my girlfriend said, “He’s a boy,” the man stepped back, horrified. After a few seconds he breathed out.

“Well,” he said, “I guess he doesn’t look too embarrassed.”

A woman in the park told me that dogs hate to be dyed and that it makes them cower in the corner. When I pointed out that my dog was not cowering, she changed tactics.

“Poor thing,” she said to the dog, “they made you pink and you’re a boy doggie!”

I assured her that he was open-minded, but she was already walking away.

These people — so concerned about our six-pound dog’s machismo being damaged by an application of pink dye! (When actually of course it is his owners who are suffering because we have been exposed as complete dorks who dye their dog.)

It’s bad enough that my beloved pink is a symbol of rigid, unquestioned gender division. But about 15 years ago, with the launch of the pink ribbon, pink also became the symbol for breast cancer — or rather, the bizarre cult of breast cancer “awareness.”

Year round, but especially in October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — we are surrounded by pink ribbons, and, as time goes on, more and more pink ribbon products: running shoes, golf balls, teddy bears, toe rings, Christmas tree ornaments.

If you don’t find the sheer amount of pink ribbon merchandise horrifying enough, just dig a little deeper into the pinkness and you find out how small a percentage of the money from this stuff ends up benefiting patients. Or read the snarky articles by breast cancer patients who do not fit into the Inspirational Survivor model that sort of goes along with the pink ribbon deal. Or just google Breast Cancer Barbie (seriously).

Yet in spite of all this, I still love the colour. And I have to thank queers for this. Not the brave queers who reclaimed the pink triangle. Though I embrace the politics behind the triangle, my pink is not this pastel shade. I fell in love with hot pink.

Hot pink makes me think of femmes.

I know two queer women who’ve had hot pink streaks in their hair — one is an acrobat, the other a comedian. They both embody the things I strive for: strength, boldness, hotness. They wear their pink hair and clothes with a certain irony — the irony at the heart of subversive femme identity: I wear girl clothes but I can kick your ass.

When the crazy, sexist capitalism all around me threatens my love for pink, I just think of my femme sisters. They reassure me that I can reject the narrow-mindedness and consumerism that pink represents, but still love the colour itself.

I can wear it without becoming just another girl.