Pink makes women less assertive? Really?


I would ride this bike so hard, and I would enjoy every second of it. (Photo courtesy: Girls Biking to Work)

To pink or not to pink: are we still asking this question? Evidently we are!

Last week, the Guardian published a blog post by Grace Wong in which she asked “Why must cycling companies saddle women with pink?”  The post inspired Total Women’s Cycling to host a series in which several women posted a variety of viewpoints on the conversation, which is how I became aware of the post. They’re all good reads, whether you agree with them or not, and so I’ll link to them all at the bottom.

My take on this is simple. Some women like pink. Some women don’t. The solution?  Make products for women in a variety of colors – including pink.  This is not rocket science.

But this is not why I chose to throw my bike helmet into the ring on this debate, because really, this would be a boring post if I just left it at the preceding paragraph.  My reason for wading into this debate, yet again, is this: “Endless frills and florals may encourage women to be less assertive riders.”

Is that so.

I read this, and all of the anti-pink sentiment that followed in the post, with amusement.  My running shoes are hot pink, I have pink tape on my handlebars, I swapped out the green laces on my Asics racers for hot-pink yanks.  My biggest, most visible tattoo is a huge pink and purple flower.   If Wong’s logic is correct, then I must be the most shrunken violet to ever shrink.  After all, I dared to etch my body with florals!  In pink no less!  It is a miracle I can even show my face to the world.

I actually like wearing pink – and not just any pink, but obnoxious, fluorescent hot pink transmitted straight from the early 1990s – when I compete because it makes me feel fast and tough. Plus, I can’t lie, there’s a part of me that loves subverting the expectations that go along with the color pink, which is that the wearer is going to be docile and timid and all of the other negative stereotypes attached to the concept of girliness.  (I’m really not down with the implication that little girls are weak, probably I’d survived so much shit by the time I was eight years old that I look back at that tiny version of myself with something approaching awe.)  I’m not the only one who feels this way.  In her book “The Sweetest Thing,” Mische Merz writes about a woman whose locker is done up in pink, and then who climbs into the ring and destroys her opponents.

For some of us ladies, the enjoyment of pink is perfectly consistent with our inner natures as warriors and badasses.  They do not contradict each other.

Now, pink isn’t the only color I love – I also love purple, red and blue.  Yes, blue – the color that is supposed to be all for the boys.  And I totally understand that there are a lot of women and girls out there who just don’t share my aesthetic preferences, and that’s totally fine as well.  Viva la difference and all that.

But what I do take exception to is this idea that pink – the color most commonly associated with girls and women – somehow possesses qualities that imbue anyone within a five-foot radius of it with a weakened backbone and an instantaneous inability to assert themselves.  The idea that wearing it might render me less assertive – simply because it is on my body – has more than a whiff of sexism.

I’d like to suggest the possibility that maybe there is a relationship between pink and frills and less assertive cycling, but that maybe it goes the opposite direction. Maybe a woman who is less assertive is drawn to the frills and the pink because she feels that these things are just what women do and like.  That’s certainly a possibility.  And maybe it’s possible that she’s not assertive on the bike because it’s new to her and she’s cautious and scared (like, hey, me!), and that she would feel that way whether she is wearing pink or shiny black or orange stripes.  There are a lot of possible explanations, but the idea that frills and pink make women less assertive, quite frankly, seems to be the least likely of all of them.

I feel as though that mindset is the flip side of what we’ve seen with colleges that paint the opposing men’s locker rooms pink as a way of waging gender-based psychological warfare on their opponents by making them feel “more passive” and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s insistence on making male inmates wear pink underwear to humiliate them.  Under this way of thinking, pink emasculates men (or, for those who are “brave” enough to wear it, proves their masculinity) and it makes them passive and it humiliates them by associating them with women.

Pink is just a color, but just as with so many otherwise innocuous things in our society, we have laden it up with so much cultural bullshit that many people now can’t scramble away from it fast enough it.  Pink has become so deeply intertwined with girlhood and femininity, which for some reason are still considered culturally poisonous things to be, that it has become like the third rail of the color wheel.

I don’t mean to make the argument that in a perfect world everyone would just looove pink, and that women should just accept the “shrink it and pink it” mentality that is so pervasive in the realm of consumer goods. I understand completely why women are critical of manufacturers that seem to believe our lady parts automatically mean we want to swim in seas of blush and bashful. I am also trying not to reinforce the gender-based divisions that say certain colors belong to certain genders and only perversions of nature ever think otherwise.  (By the way, this lady?  A big fan of so-called “perversions of nature.”)

What I am trying to get at is that this idea that pink makes a person less assertive and more passive is at its core a sexist idea. That’s true whether it comes from female bike professionals or fascist Arizona sheriffs.

Here are the links to the Total Women’s Cycling posts:



38 responses to “Pink makes women less assertive? Really?

  1. I have read an incredible book you may enjoy too: Chromophobia by David Batchelor. In it he investigates the use of color in its role as a symbol and reinforcement of harmful cultural constructs such as sexism and racism. He posits that a fear of corruption or contamination through color – lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought.

  2. Anecdotally, I’ve never met a male cyclist in a pink kit or on a pink bike who wasn’t FAST.

  3. My two favorite racing items are my 2011 QR CD0.1 pink camo bike and my Betty Designs tri kit – hot pink with sculls and butterflies. Both unapologetically ‘in your face’ pink. I feel like a badass when I race in them more so than any other gear I wear (in a multitude of colors). Honestly I’ve never heard anything but “nice bike!” or had people asking me the brand of the kit- women AND men. Though possibly triathlon and open water distance swimming are more inclusive than a more male-dominated sport like cycling?

  4. My road bike is white and pink. I had to order it offline because I’m very short and other bikes just didn’t fit me. When I first saw it I thought it was funny that I was buying a small woman’s bike and that it just so happened to be pink. I rolled my eyes, but hey I needed the bike and it wasn’t ugly. I don’t understand why people fight against pink so much. Its just a damn color. My running shoes are blue, does that mean I am trying to make some statement about gender stereotyping? Nope, I just like blue. You like pink, and I have a friend who loves purple. Assigning pink to women is sexist and it will continue to be sexiest until we realize its just a freaking color. Pink does not speak to what kind of a person or woman or athlete a person. I really enjoyed your article and your perspective!

  5. Pink has become a sexism thing. That only made me hate it more.
    I liked pink when I was about 4 years old, deep, saturated raspberry pink. As an adult, red is my colour. Fiery red.

    And little bits of pink is OK. Like a flower in a garden to add some cheer. Hot pink I appreciate too, it’s one of the strongest neons.

    Apart from that, pink irritates me. The girls toys section irritates me. I’d hope my competitors would paint the locker room pink or wear pink gear because it makes me aggressive.

    Seriously. I cycle to work on a green bike (I had the choice between light green, pink and light purple. Give me the green!). The other day I encountered a woman on a pink bike wearing pink shoes and a pink sweater with flowers on some part of her whole outfit. She was overtaking me at the light, cycling through red, and I hate when people do that. I always have to overtake them later, and in this case it was hard to not punch her!)

    Anyway. I hate how things for women are made in pink. I have a vagina and I hate pink. It’s too soft, too dreamy and too sweet. I don’t like orange much either, but with pink; society has associated the colour with the girl I never was.

    To me femininity is not associated with ‘soft, dreamy and sweet’.

    I’m the lady in red. (Hah. The red nail polish I’m wearing is called ‘leading lady’ Thanks, Essie, that is really great. )

  6. Personally, I hate the color pink. I understand that some women love it, but I don’t. It used to be very hard to find athletic apparel for women that wasn’t either black or pink, and I’m very happy that companies are branching out. Pink is still an option, but not the only one.

    • Molly, im with you. Though I still find it hard to find equip that doesnt have pink in it. I have never liked the colour and never will. No reason. I would like to find shoes in yellows, blues, greens, reds….i find myself buying men’s shoes, in their smallest sizes, bc i like their colour combos more.

  7. Personally, I just like colorful things and so often things come in plain black, gray, or bright pink. I’ll go for the pink. But then I also run in a pink polka dot skirt and whenever people try to pass me, well, they’ll see what kind of girl wears a pink polka dot skirt to run.

  8. Magenta (or maybe it’s fuschia?) is one of my power colors. But I don’t like the idea of making everything “for women” pink — it’s just overkill. I’m not a five year old going through the princess phase, I don’t need my razor to be pink or whatever. I’m not big on the gender binary in general, though.

  9. Oh this is a can of worms, isn’t it? I am in the “hate pink” camp, but recently have been challenging my own aversion to the color. It’s just a color, after all. I love pretty much every other color – yes, even orange (especially orange, actually). But I associate pink with feminine, girly, and Disney Princesses. None of those are things I want to be. But I’m trying to tell myself it’s just a color. If I choose to wear pink, my essence won’t change. I’ll still be me, only in pink instead of green or purple or orange or cream.

    Even so, I wish manufacturers would offer us a broader color range, starting with children’s toys. If we challenge the “pink is for girls only, and the only color for girls” notion that bombards us, maybe girls like me can grow up seeing pink as just another color and not a statement.

  10. I love the Steel Magnolias reference.
    “My colors are Blush and Bashful.”
    “Your colors are pink and pink.”
    I love pink. I love flowers. I love Disney Princesses. (In fact, my first half marathon is going to be the Disney Princess Half in February of next year.) I don’t like it because I’m “supposed” to. I just think pink is pretty. I’m still pretty badass when I deadlift in my hot pink Chucks.

  11. I love wearing pink workout clothes and it’s funny how many comments I get about it. “Who knew someone so girly could lift so much?” etc etc. I just happen to like bright colours and don’t equate it with femininity. My husband happens to wear pink occasionally and it looks great on him! Right now my nails are painted in a very light shade of pink – I don’t think that makes me a shrinking wallflower!

    • I looove bright colors. I tried to explain to non-athletes why so many of us seem to be attracted to the most insanely bright colors and I can’t figure it out. But god, I love to wear really bright stuff when I’m getting after it. (The ironic thing is that I pretty much stick to neutrals when I’m actually wearing street clothes. Go figure.)

      • I hear ya on this one. I think it’s partly to do with being secure in one’s femininity, whatever that entails. I was that girl who wouldn’t touch a pink object with a 10-foot pole, but the day I proudly wore a pink T-shirt (granted, it did say ‘ Grumpy girl mornings’), I knew I’d grown up.

        That said, I don’t really have any pink stuff in my wardrobe, but yes, somehow really like hot pink workout rags. Got the top, got the socks…still working on the shorts.

  12. I’ve had an interesting relationship with pink. Most of my teenage years I hated it. At the time it represented all my negative stereotypes about women – gossipy, scared, weak women who fluttered together and only cared about their appearances. “Pink” was the popular girls at school and the feminine club I never understood. I refused to wear it.

    Then in my mid twenties I was at a gathering of girl friends, when one gal (who had always felt the same way I did,) declared that this was the year she was going to “Open the Pink Door” and embrace her deeply feminine side. All of us that night loved the idea and vowed to find the joy in being women – and to assert our right to paint our nails pink, wear lace, and take up boxing if that is what we wanted! We weren’t going to let anything (or anyone, including ourselves) stop us from following our hearts. We knew we were strong, and wearing pink wasn’t going to change that – in fact, it proved our strength! All of us dove into the color pink to represent that change in our lives.

    Now I am nearly 40. After 20 years of avoiding it and 10 years of embracing it, the color pink doesn’t matter to me much anymore. I don’t wear pink either to show who I am – or who I am not. I pick out things I like. My running gear has a lot of hot pink, I think its fun, but I am just as likely to pick bright blue or green. (Which pair fits best and is on sale?) Pink doesn’t carry the same emotion for me that it once did, but I understand this debate. I’ve certainly felt both sides of it.

    • Yep, I’ve been on both sides, too. When I was younger I didn’t like it precisely because it was a “girl color” but in the past few years, I’ve really moved away from “one of the boys” persona I affected for much of my adolescence and my twenties and have started to really embrace things I like that are stereotypically feminine, like drinking red wine while taking a hot bath, good skin creams and hair products, cooking huge meals for people I love and playing around with nail polish. There’s a lot I don’t like – like I can’t seem to make the whole make-up thing work for me, and forget high heels omg – but I feel comfortable picking what I like and what works for me and discarding the rest. Enjoying pink is just one part of that.

  13. I used to date a guy who was a badass mountain bike racer, and he had a custom bike with hot pink fork. He loved it because he knew guys REALLY hated being passed by “the guy with the pink bike”. I’m not sure exactly how this is relevant other than that he was certainly not a wallflower. Maybe on some level it’s fun for all of us to defy the stereotypes… as in… “we can wear/ride pink and STILL be badasses! So take that!”.

    PS. LOVE the new blog template! A lot.

    • Thanks! A new template was looooong overdue. In fact, I need to do a lot of work on this blog. Maybe when I find a spare day or two.

      Your story makes me wonder if the guy who races tris in a hot pink speedo does it for that same reason, or if he just likes the color. It’s funny how you can really exploit someone’s weak psychological spots in such a simple way.

  14. I don’t love the color pink, but I can appreciate a really great fuchsia pink as I definitely have a top in that color. My power color is blue, but only because I find it to be incredibly soothing and energetic (likely due to the connection to the water). Honestly, the only place pink does not have a place in my book is in sports merchandise that are made pink to appeal to women. I’m thankful that FC Barcelona doesn’t do this–the team colors are the team colors, and I don’t need pink to support my team..

    • I totally agree with you on that last point. The team colors are the team colors. When I buy a Tampa Bay Rays shirt, I’m not getting a pink Longoria shirt. I get a blue one. I get a blue hat. Because their colors are BLUE.

      Also, I love your reasoning behind adopting blue as your color. I lately have been drawn towards blue a lot more and I feel like a lot of it has to do with the love I am developing for being in the water. Certain shades of blue make me think of swimming in the gulf or being in the Florida Keys, and I can’t help but feel relaxed almost right away.

  15. I just started working on my engineering degree. So, I had to go out and get myself a graphing calculator. I saw the pink one and KNEW I had to have it. I tell my parents about it while my husband and I were having dinner with them. My husband said,”Pink doesn’t belong in science”. My dad replied, “Women don’t belong in science”. My father is a smart man, because he said that while I was going to the car to get the calculator to show my parents. Also, all my workout equipment is either pink or black. Great post!

  16. I don’t like pink, but I don’t hate it either. Black is the color I love. Sometimes I pair it with a bright red or blue, or whatever jewel tones I can find (LOVE jewel tones), but I also love the effect of head-to-toe black. (And no, I don’t do it to look smaller. I’m going to be looming at you whether my clothes are black or chartreuse.)

  17. Honest, I’m just drawn to wearing pink cycling attire while cycling. But my socks might accidentally have some pink. I doubt people notice my socks while I bike. I do wear pink off-bike occasionally and it actually looks good since my hair is black. No rational for my pink indifference. But then I’ve worn my lavender purple jersey for last…um decade. My 4 bikes are: silver, orange, dun brown and red with black highlights.

    I’m a small person @ 5’1″ so pink on bike just strikes me as too cutesy.

  18. I love pink and think its a great color. But bottom of the line – its just a color. I would look just as cute (and slow. lol.) with anyother color other than pink. It just so happens that my bike is black and pink. I might’ve as well bought a white/red one, but the pink was on sale.

    Weirdly though, I grew up in a country where pink/blue weren’t associated with gender (atleast not 25 years ago), so I didn’t care. I liked Pink, Red and Black equally (Pink was my ‘softer’ side and Red & Black were my rebel periods). But as the mom of 2 girls, one of whom doesn’t care for pink at all, I get frustrated at the toys and dresses. The color gender is too much pushed on you.

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  21. I remember I saw somewhere that pink was the colour for boys in the distant past. It shows how Pavlovian these associations are, that if we hear something often enough we start to feel that it is right, that it comes from our natural intuition, when it doesn’t. So how many times have heard words like, “women are not strong enough for that job”. Have we been conditioned? It was said that women were not sturdy enough to compete in a marathon. Then it became an Olympic sport and people forgot what was said.

    • That’s how I tend to feel whenever someone points at physical jobs that are dominated by men as proof of men’s inherent physical superiority over women. It’s hard to use that as proof of anything when the psychological/social/cultural structures that keep those gender divisions in place are basically impermeable!

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