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:
- Pink cycle clothing, what’s not to love?
- Saddling women with pink: a response
- Marketing to female cyclists: the good, the bad and the ugly
- Does pink really stink?