The paradox of pink

Oh pink, how you vex me so!

One of my favorite running outfits consists of a hot-pink racer-back tank top, a black running skirt and a pair of fluorescent green-and-pink shoes.  The outfit is so obnoxiously bright that if you sent me out to Tampa International Airport at night, I could probably help planes land safely on the runway just by standing out there.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I love to wear this outfit so much, especially as it is so much girlier than the clothes I normally wear.  I almost never wear pink, and I wear skirts so rarely that people actually comment on them when I do.  I realized that I feel extra-aggressive when I’m decked out like this, and that the aggressiveness is tinged with subversion, a combination of which I am always a fan.  Pink disarms people.  It makes them think of Bonne Bell lip gloss and lacy things and stuffed animals.  The pink-and-skirt combo says, “Underestimate me at your own peril.”  It says, “You may think I look cute but you can think that while eating my dust.”

So when I wear pink when I am competing, I find myself almost subconsciously pushing harder than I would have otherwise.  It’s like there’s some part deep inside that just hasn’t managed to let go of the inferiority complex nurtured over years of hearing, in the words of the riot grrrl manifesto, that Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak, and so whenever I get the chance to flip that script on its head, I do not hesitate.

I’ve seen it happen more than a few times while racing in that outfit.  A guy, almost always a younger one, sees me coming up from behind him, and he picks up his pace.  Even if he is sucking wind and stumbling with fatigue, he can’t bear to let me – or any other woman – pass him.  I’ve even seen it while out training, which is especially unfortunate when it happens on speedwork days.

And lest you think I’m just making this all up in the anti-feminist dystopia that exists only in my mind,  let me just remind you that the word “chicked” does in fact exist, and that the entire point of its existence is to shame guys who find themselves losing to girls in physical activities where “normally a man should outperform the woman.”  Yep, I’d say that wearing pink while kicking ass is a subversive act when we live in a world where men have to worry about being “chicked.”

But the problem with subversion and its relatives, irony and reclamation, is that not everyone is savvy enough to get what you are doing.  I might have this whole idea constructed in my head about how I’m sticking it to The Man when I race in pink, but The Man may very well not see that.  In fact, The Man looks at me and goes, “Yep, I knew it – the ladies loooove pink.”  I’m no longer a warrior fighting against stupid gender stereotypes; I’m yet another embodiment of those stupid gender stereotypes.

This is especially problematic when you are dealing with consumer goods.  First of all, how really rebellious can you be when your rebellion is all about the things you buy?  And what kind of rebellion is built upon the backs of poor people in the Global South?  I mean, it’s not like my Nikes or my sweat-wicking running top were built in Sheboygan (unless there’s a city called Sheboygan in Vietnam).  That’s a fundamental issue right there, and one that always has to be kept in mind.

Secondly, large corporations that create products – in this case, sporting goods and apparel – simply don’t care what my motivations might be.  All they know is that I’m just another female buying female-coded products (aka pink stuff), which just affirms the decision to act like they are catering to a female sports population by offering gear in pink.  (And lord, do they offer a lot of it.  I’ve found chin straps, receiving gloves, boxing gloves, hockey sticks…just about everything you could possibly think of comes in pink.)  A lot of lady athletes have complained about this, specifically how it seems like the corporations think it’s enough to offer gear in pink without actually changing anything about the product to make it more woman-friendly.

Third, the pinkification of sports gear is part of a larger overall trend of pinkification that is pretty much everywhere.   I mean, you cannot walk into a girl-oriented toy aisle without feeling like you are drowning in an ocean of flamingo puke.  Products that are otherwise totally gender-neutral are designed for one gender or the other by using color – pink for women, black and chrome for men.  The idea that something could be unisex – which is actually how I remember more of the world being when I was younger – seems to have evaporated from the world.  (And hey, because it’s not enough to make all our junk pink, corporations evidently think it’s okay to charge us more for it, too.)

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not one of those athletes who is reflexively anti-pink.  I like pink.  I also like red, purple, green, blue and yellow. (Sorry orange, I think you look like poop.)  But what I don’t like is the idea that simply because I am a lady I must automatically want to have everything in pink.   I mean, what if I want boxing gloves in light blue?  What if a pair of weightlifting gloves in purple would really pump my ‘nads?  Am I just shit out of luck?  Do I have to console myself with black or pink, because those are the only colors Corporate Sports America thinks people want?

I think the thing that gets me most of all is how politicized this single color has become.  I mean, pink is nothing more than light waves traveling at a specific frequency, and yet you’d think that frequency is a special one that causes penises to shrivel up and fall off upon coming into contact with it.  The more pink becomes associated with women and girls, the faster boys and men scramble to get away from it.

I can’t pretend like I do have the answer, because I don’t.  I don’t think women should burn piles of pink razors and footballs so they can stick it to The Man (and not just because that would make a huge ecological mess), because I recognize that a lot of women – myself included! – actually like the color.  But I also can’t deny that I am troubled by the way that something as simple as a color has become yet another polarizing force in our culture.

What do you think?

14 responses to “The paradox of pink

  1. I have no idea what to do about pink, but I AM dismayed to learn about the word “chicked.” Not that I wasn’t intimately acquainted with the concept…. *sigh* *grumble* *kick the dirt*

    • I’m going to have to write more about the word “chicked” because it is definitely a word/concept that bothers me a lot.

  2. Hell yes! In relation to getting chicked, in my university mountain biking club, there were guys who had the complete and utter fear of being passed out by a girl on trails.

    There would be certain guys who would be slower than me on certain trails and the code was to let people who are faster than you go before you, and invariably after leaving a large gap, I would catch up to them and not be let past them. Talk about ruining a trail! I wasn’t a particularly good mountain biker but fast enough to be able to hold my own in the middle of a group and smart enough to know to let someone past me.

    Anyway, rant aside, the girly colours in mountain biking are baby blue, pink and light grey, not very easy to get mud out of!

    • That is extremely uncool on the part of those guys, not to mention very unsporting! It’s great to be competitive but only as long as that competitive spirit is based in things like fairness and respect, not a frantic desire to preserve one’s fragile widdle ego at all costs.

  3. What I think:

    1) If your poop looks like orange, that might merit a visit to a medical provider. 😉 But I don’t like to wear orange either. It makes me feel like I am perpetually running during deer hunting season.

    2) I am wearing a pink athletic shirt right now. I like pink.

    2a) Do I need to show you my pink Vibrams? I. Have. Pics.

    3) I theoretically share all your thoughts about pink. I like it, and I feel deliciously wicked wearing it while doing something stereotypically unfeminine. At the same time, I am quite aware that I’m not making a truly free choice to wear pink — or at least, pink plus other similar “girly” colors. Basically, when I shop for workout clothing, the vast majority of it comes in: pink, purple, aqua, or black with pink/purple/aqua accents. It’s hard to feel subversive when I’m basically just buying what was there on the shelf.

    4) I hate to keep coming back to this, but the issue is compounded for me, being on a budget and wearing plus sizes. Case in point: The last time I went to Wal Mart (the only place in my city that sells affordable-for-me clothing in my size), I bought both shelf bra tanks that they had in my size. (That is to say, two. On all the shelves and display racks in the store.) One was pink. One was black with aqua accents. While I do like both shirts, the fact of the matter is that I needed two (or more, really) shirts to put into regular wearing/washing rotation. I would have needed them even if they’d only been available in orange.

    Basically, regardless of what pink does or doesn’t signify to anyone who sees me wearing it, it’s hard for me to feel like I’ve made a meaningful choice to wear it in the first place.

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  5. I have some incredibly complicated feelings about pink. I hate it, unless I feel subversive about it, but who notices the subversion when it’s PINK. So, a lot of what you said.

    I was shopping with my husband for golf shoes for him this weekend, and I wandered into the women’s golf section and spied a set of bright pink clubs. I don’t golf, but I saw these clubs and though, “Huh. These would be pretty awesome to golf with.” And I showed them to my husband and he wanted to know if I’d fallen and hit my head.

    PLUS, I go out of my way to buy pink toys for my 2.5yo. But I get pissed off when I’m doing it because it usually happens when I want to buy him something and am faced with a blue option or a pink option – clearly there are ONLY TWO COLORS EVER.

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  7. I like pink. My favourite running jacket is bright pink. I don’t own any other kind of pink garment (I wear often purple, lila, but not bright pink).
    But I also don’t own a bright yellow, or bright orange garment. And I’m happy that for me, pink is just a colour. No special feelings toward pink (ask me again when I have a daughter; i have seen those pink toy aisles and I’m horrified). I wear it, if I feel like it. It’s a freedom I have, my bf does not seem to have (or he feels like he does not have it, but I’m not sure how I felt if he sported a pink jacket…. and this means that even though pink is just a colour on me, it’s clearly not just a colour for me or I would not care if he wore pink. But I do.)

  8. I am another person who’s never heard the word “chicked” before, and now that I do know I find it depressing.

    Weightlifting is what I do, and I do it really, really well. I have yet to hear anything but admiration from the male lifters (and people in everyday life — my strength comes in handy when people are moving, building things or digging big holes) who’ve noticed this. I do surprise them sometimes, like if a guy is using some really heavy weight and I come up behind him asking if I can use it, too. I am big, but I have a small, quiet voice that gets very high when I try to make myself heard, so I probably sound a lot girlier than I look.

    I don’t like pink, but I understand your glee at kicking ass while wearing it. I don’t like it mostly because I have some goth tendencies, and really prefer black, but there is also the fact that I have a gender identity which is definitely not feminine. AND I have a reddish-orange complexion that looks really weird with a lot of the lighter shades of pink. (I will rock magenta or red-violet, though.)

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  10. I’m so happy to have found your blog. I’ll be spending a lot of time here in the future, catching up on what you’ve written.

    I’m one of those who doesn’t like pink (and I think my dislike is getting stronger as the pinkification–an excellent word–has increased). I don’t like being told who I am and how I’m supposed to look.

    I’m also one who is still often unnerved by running skirts (mostly because of I look at them partly within the context of the sexualization of women’s sports). And so I was very happy to read your take on them. The question of running skirts is something I’m still thinking about a lot (sexualization? feminist defiance? pinkification and cutification? just another way to market expensive clothes to women?). Probably all of the above, which makes the whole thing just utterly fascinating.


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