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Reclaiming pink has been a disaster for feminism

Feminism_pinkFeminism’s reluctance, or failure, to abide by consistency in a movement’s rules of color has, in effect, rendered it the 1960s tribute ideology ruled by advertising execs, career politicians and pretentious humanitarian windbags, writes Hollan Peterson.

I have hated the color pink since I was a little girl. And it was precisely this innate hatred of pink that misled me to believe during the awkward years of adolescence that I was something of a natural-born feminist.

However, I recently discovered that pink-disdain is not an uncommon trait in females with at least two older sisters: the color is conspicuously absent from the wardrobes of my other third-daughter friends; my niece Rielyn, also the youngest of three girls, has at the age of two already begun shunning all things pink in favor of all things Thomas the Train.

In my experience, the aversion only sharpens with age. At 26, I find myself rendered awkward and anxious, irritable and inept by the presence of even a shirt dyed the most unthreatening shade of peony. Even the most superficial of conversations become these herculean exercises in attentiveness when the person with whom I am conversing is wearing something pink.

As it turns out there is also a possible psychological explanation for this animus towards pink: prisons used to paint the cells of their most violent inmates a shade known as “Drunk-Tank Pink” because it was believed it to have calming properties.

However, the wardens later discovered that prolonged exposure to this certain warm-Pepto-Bismol-with-a-hint-of-peach hue provoked irritability and in many cases increased violent tendencies of prisoners.

The psychologists who championed the theory blame the problem on mixing process malfeasance and continue to maintain that only the exact combination of R:255. G:145. B:175, HEX: FF91AF possesses perpetual pacification properties.

Although it is also possible that the emasculating undertones of forcing extreme alpha males to inhabit a pink prison cells more than likely contributed to the adverse reactions, it is at least worth mentioning that with two older sisters I was subjected the hue at rates significantly higher than most.

Either way, the point here seems to be not whether drunk-tank-pink relaxes people, but that a great many variations of pink do precisely the opposite. And the story of drunk-tank pink has become in my mind a sort of metaphor for contemporary feminism.

(I sometimes wonder if it were customary for little girls to wear light blue, as it was in the early twentieth century, if I would hold blue in as much contempt. I do not suspect that I would. After all, the sky is blue, the ocean is blue, and the mountains in the distance appear blue. Pink, on the other hand, calls to mind the incessant clanging of mass production, of shopping malls at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, of sweatshops and carbon monoxide, of polyethylene and nail enamel, of cavities.)

Feminism has not always been pro-pink. The suffragists of the early 20th century colored their banner purple, gold, and white. It was largely the result of the 1970s Second Wave feminism that pink came to be seen as something of badge of inferiority inflicted upon girls in the earliest stages of development.

This unilateral opposition to pink lasted up until about the mid-to-late nineties when, all of the sudden, in addition to still representing the thrust of inequality hurled at females from the outset, Pink became the color of female empowerment and feminism’s Third Wave was born.

Though I have not found a reason stated, I posit several plausible reasons for the sudden reversal as follows: (1) capriciousness, since society had stopped caring whether feminists resented pink, they decided they wanted it back; (2) convenience, it would have taken too much time and effort to reunite women around another hue; (3) chicanery, the feminists knew they were beat, but this never has stopped them from passing off certain defeat as their own vague victory; (4) consumerism, promoting pink proclivities is highly profitable (e.g. Victoria’s Secret collegiate Pink line).

But since many second-wavers are still around these days, still writing books about the many ways in which school-girls are oppressed, in the early 2000s it became necessary to reach something of a compromise: the color pink is gendering and debilitating for little girls but also symbol of “mature” women’s liberation.

However, when a “movement” fails to maintain consistency in regards to color convictions, rest assured its manifest has been compromised.

Environmentalists do not quibble over whether green means good (though they are meticulously concerned with what is and is not green); mainstream America in the 1950s may have been ill-acquainted with the tenets of communism, but there was never anything ambiguous about calling someone a ‘Red’; Ukraine’s Orange Revolution knew what it wanted.

A movement’s color guard lends the necessary solidarity to keep the leadership on task and gives the rank-and-file something tangible, a flag to wave in the face of tyranny, real or imagined. The rule is clear: get your colors straight first then sort out your ideological point.

Feminism’s reluctance, or failure, to abide by said rule has, in effect, rendered it the 1960s tribute ideology ruled by advertising execs, career politicians, and pretentious humanitarian windbags.

Viewed in this light, the presence of feminist’s two shades of pink, powerful and passive, illuminates the vile and duplicitous reasoning upon which contemporary feminist arguments are built.

And it is precisely this sort of two-faced logic that allows contemporary feminists to be at once anti-war and pro-women-in-the-military without giving any thought to problems of “ideological” consistency.

Earlier this year the Feminist Majority Leadership Association (“with a growing network of 431 campus groups in 44 states”) website advertised the option to “Host a Green-Pink Party” with ready-made activist kits including “mission statement cards, fact sheets, two short DVDs, Green & Pink condoms and more!”

As to the reason for these Pink and Green Parties I cannot say with any degree of certainty as nothing was given on the website, which is probably a fair estimate.

The motive, however, is all too clear for those of who are hue-obsessed. The blasé-ironic pallet championed by Lilly Pulitzer has for a long time been the preferred schema of country clubbers, private schoolers, and old-money circles.

It can be found at debutante balls, weddings with bridesmaids in excess of seven, baby showers with Kate Spade invitations, Junior League luncheons and any other place where mimosas are sipped from frail champagne flutes and white chicken-salad finger sandwiches are served on silver platters by black waiters dressed in white jackets with tuxedo pants and the commonplace passes itself of for fresh because nobody is really listening.

Places where one finds oneself silently chortling in a wave of cynical delirium brought on by one’s observation that the celebrated new mother is more attentive to the proper positioning of her Louis Vuitton handbag than of the baby in the portable bassinet and everything in her demeanor suggests her feelings toward the infant are not unlike those of last season’s must-have parcel that has already gone out of style.

Places where nowadays one can get away with saying something like “The women’s movement is an interesting conflict because it is both about the individual and freedom and then it’s about us as an entire society,” which is actually something I heard Third Wave Feminist spokeswoman, Jennifer Baumgardner say in a 2009 round table discussion, but I’d heard before.

Or perhaps they might say something along the lines of, “I support the troops, but I’m against the war,” which is also something Baumgardner said in the round table discussion, and I’ve heard about once a week since 2003.

Never mind the fact that the difference between “supporting the troops” and being “pro-war” is only an issue of semantics—both require first and foremost an unquestioning belief in the moral rectitude of the American Military-Industrial Complex.

That this appears to be a belief no longer anathema to the very notion of feminist thought should come as no surprise if we consider the fact that Pink and Green is, after all, the only banner in the spectrum more pro-establishment than Red, White & Blue.

I am reminded of something Hunter Thompson once wrote in a letter to friend on the importance of his not appearing bourgeois (and therefore being taken seriously):

“One conforms with a cynical smile which says ‘I’m smart because I just APPEAR to be a conformist: I’m really a secret individualist.’ The smile also says ‘I lack the courage of my convictions: you have to be listening, though, to hear it say THAT. One gets tired of listening.”

Hollan Peterson is a writer from North Carolina, now residing in California. She blogs at Open Salon.



0 #4 Sarah Wilson 2010-08-25 00:42
I am with this. In a world where things are treated largely as black or white, the clever ambiguity is lost. I'm a great fence sitter, but am finding it increasingly difficult to stay up here. So yes, ditch pink. If that's alright with everyone...
0 #3 Joe John 2010-08-23 09:43
I don't think the success or failure of
Fem. is the heart of the matter here. It has more to do with contradictions in thoughts and Red as "post grad" you should see the importance of questioning relevance rather than proliferating
0 #2 RedGlitter 2010-08-23 06:35
wow seriously, the success or failure of feminism is related to a colour? a colour is only as important as you choose it to be, it seems to me that you're making it an issue for you, and projecting it onto all of feminism, but what do I know, I'm only a feminist post-grad
0 #1 CV Harquail 2010-08-20 13:57
What a great article! I was with you the whole way, until I thought about CodePink. I hope they get a pass, or at least the benefit of the doubt, about their use of 'pink'. Maybe they are being intentionally ironic?
Either way, their commitment rocks.

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