Raising Trouble: Does Pink Really Stink?

The merchants of pink would have loved School Picture Day at my son's preschool: hardly any other color was visible on the little girls. Naturally I was thrilled to learn about an organization called Pink Stinks, a UK-based project – founded by twin sisters, both mothers of girls -- seeking to challenge "the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls' lives." This group has, among other achievements, successfully pressured Sainsbury's, a major UK clothing retailer, to stop gender stereotyping in its kids clothing sections. Awesome, obviously. I wish there were more groups like this everywhere.

But I'm curious what we should think of the vilification of pink. When I've criticized the pinkness of girl culture here on this blog, some readers have suggested that to demean girly culture is to demean girls. And I agree that there's no question that girls should feel free to wear pink and aspire to be astronauts –there's no contradiction between being feminine and being powerful.

Maybe pink is not such a big deal. Studies show that despite being enveloped in pink and obsessed with princesses in preschool, girls today are growing up playing sports in greater numbers than ever, and are more likely to go to college than boys. They're less limited by gender roles than girls have been in the past – or, interestingly, than boys are today.

For most girls, pink is a phase, and kind of a cute one at that. I like the way the little girls in my life dress. Most dress themselves, usually with charming results: they wear a ton of pink, but with creatively mismatched tights. They wear jeans under their dresses. Most look hipper than their parents. They seem to enjoy being girls. Moms – and in private moments, dads – often admit that they wanted daughters because it's so much more fun to dress girls than boys. (Unless your son is a fashion visionary like Iggy, who this morning was wearing his little brother's clothes; he'd been spending some time in Williamsburg and got inspired by all the trendy short jackets.)

But those of us who grew up in the '70s wearing our boy cousins' hand-me-down overalls – indeed, I suspect many of our mothers make up for the asceticism of this period by lavishing glittery femme treats upon their granddaughters – do find the ubiquity of pink disturbing, and I think we have a point. Little girls wearing coordinated pink outfits with ballet slippers don't look ready to climb trees and get dirty. Pink sends a message at an early age that a girl's job is to look nice, rather than to be messy, scary and -- when she feels like it -- downright ugly. Pink tells all kids that boys and girls are vastly different, when they don't have to be.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts. As you can tell, Raising Trouble is conflicted about this issue. Is pink harmless fun, especially if we take it for granted that femininity is compatible with feminism, a notion some of us have been happily rolling with since sometime in the '90s? Or is pink a pernicious feature of a culture that tells girls that while it's cool to kill a dragon now and then, it's even more important to be pretty? Please discuss!

by Liza Featherstone
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23 Comments Have Been Posted

I'm really enjoying all the

I'm really enjoying all the pink posts on here. It's something I started thinking about a lot in the last year, since having a baby girl, and I'm still far from settled on the issue. Which I suspect will just get much worse once that baby starts voicing her own opinions.

I think you're right - vilifying pink isn't necessarily productive and it doesn't really move us forward in any way. It's just a pendulum swing from one end to the other. Banning pink is just as much a reaction to the pink onslaught as embracing it. Although I'm not sure I agree that demeaning pink is demeaning girly culture is demeaning girls. Largely b/c I don't think girly culture is something to embrace. And there's a lot more to being a girl than the girly culture that pink represents, so I'm not sure that demeaning one part of how girls are socialized is automatically demeaning all girls, or everything about girls.

For me, the problem with pink isn't the colour itself or its association with one or the other gender. It's the full on ubiquitousness of pink - going into stores and finding nothing for girls other than pink (and likewise nothing but blue for boys). I would be just as annoyed if we'd gone with blue for girls and pink for boys; either way, it's ridiculous.

The gendered colour-coding is especially obvious with babies b/c they really do look the same for the first long while. People make all sorts of assumptions depending what colour the baby is wearing (generally they assume boy baby if she's got on anything but pink).

I've so been enjoying these

I've so been enjoying these Raising Trouble posts.

If your either/or proposition of girls being girlie in pink vs. girls playing in dirt and climbing things were a two-party system, as a little girl I would've been registered as an "independent." The entire year I was five, I demanded that I be clothed in a dress every single day. My mother tried to get me in pants, but I staunchly refused. But there is a picture of me from that time in a red and pink striped mini-skirt in the middle of a giant mud puddle in our backyard that was created during a rain storm. I had a brother who was a year younger than me. He played with Barbies sometimes. I played spaceship sometimes. I will never forget when I got my best friend Jessica, an extremely "girly girl" out in the backyard after another storm a few years later and practically made her roll around in the mud. Her conclusion? "This is fun!" She looked quite shocked. So your line, "Little girls wearing coordinated pink outfits with ballet slippers don’t look ready to climb trees and get dirty," struck me because, well, a girl in a pink outfit with ballet slippers can TOTALLY climb trees and get dirty! I did it all the time! And looking back, I never felt any kind of pressure to be "gendered." Maybe I'm lucky in that regard. I have parents who, above all else, encouraged independent thinking, so I got to be any amalgamation of supposedly gender-specific traits I wanted to be. I don't think that clothing little girls in pink does much to their ideas about gender because little girls don't recognize pink as being tied to gender until later. I think dressing girls in pink is no issue at all. The issue is whether or not parents are allowing their very young children to be free to express themselves openly however that looks. In an environment that encourages small children to be "girlie" or "boyish" or whatever combo they wish, kids will find their niches. These conversations are too often framed (sometimes very covertly) by the ideas of good and bad. First we have to fight being associated with "girlie" things. Then another faction comes in and says we have to fight the idea that "girlie" things are bad and reclaim how awesome "girlie" things are. Underneath that, though, is the idea that one thing has to be good and one thing has to be bad, and all things have to be tied to gender. Why not just untie them from gender altogether?

I just did my thing, and that seemed to work out pretty well.

Again, really enjoy your viewpoints and your writing.

No Pink For Me

If women and girls want to wear pink, super. However, I am tired of femininity being associated with pink. I'm tired of pink being rammed down my throat as a woman. I'm not a particularly feminine woman and blue is my favorite color which is typically a masculine color. Whatever, it's a color, can we please start treating it like a color, of which all genders should have a choice of, instead of a gender, which is cemented into an inaccurate binary?

It's about choice.

Based in the UK, where ‘Pink Stinks’ began, I have to say that it is the lack of choice which I find most problematic. I was shocked recently, in the children’s section of a shop, to find a wall of pink and a wall of blue. Some girls were always going to go through a pink phase, fine, and some were always going to be rebellious, and insist on the blue. For everyone in between, though, we are sending very clear views about what we expect girls and boys to value, and emphasising, which colour coding, the difference between them. Pink, in itself, isn’t harmful, but it is a good beginning for the path to Playboy pencil cases, and a preparation for starkly gendered identities and expectations.

A long time ago ...

... <i>Bitch</i> once did a <a href="http://bitchmagazine.org/issue/17">Pink-themed issue</a> of the magazine exploring the concept of "Pink." The debate over it is not new.

I want to add that I also get tired of Pink being the "official color" of breast-cancer awareness. It is sometimes nauseating for me to walk into some stores during the month of October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month - to see them all decked out in pink streamers, banners, ribbons, and balloons like there's no end in sight.

Pink Doesn't Stink

Pink really doesn't stink, but the color can be a fashion and gender stereotype for girls. Gender stereotyping or coloring begins when the sex of a child is announced. And the annoying fact is that some girls take longer to get over the "pink phase" than others because of the fashion industry's perpetuation of pink.

However, I respect Code Pink, and feminist organizations and publications that still sport the color. On my web zine, I still incorporate pink, depending on designer mood and season, but you won't find it a dominating my wardrobe. Pink is just another color in an amazing spectrum of colors that shouldn't be bound by gender.

Not just pink

I don't really think that it is the color pink as much as what our society tries to represent with the color. It is the rigid gender roles that are represented with the color and obsessed with that is the problem. I don't have children but when I do boy or girl they will wear this color, and there will be mud involved.

Performing femininity is NOT

Performing femininity is NOT compatible with feminism, it is in fact anti-feminist. Twisty explains further:

"It isn’t okay to be pretty. Not if smashing patriarchy is on your to-do list. Pretty is merely a semantic variant of feminine, which is itself a code word meaning ’subjugated, degraded, and controllable.’

Or beautiful, sexy, or fuckable — it’s all the same thing: a set of behaviors indicating that the woman in question is dominant-culture-compliant. The degree of compliance is judged according to standards based on a system of male appeasement (compliance should be full and discernible at a glance).

If a woman is unable or unwilling to capitulate to male desire by cute-ing herself up according to the standards of the day, and is resistant enough to broadcast this unwillingness by eschewing beauty, boy is she in for it. The Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women state that a woman will internalize the beauty mandate to the greatest possible extent, lest Dude Nation kick her non-compliant ass."


Respectfully disagree

Roesmoker, I believe I understand your viewpoint, but I have to respectfully disagree with you and Twisty on several points.

A) This might seem obvious, but "pretty" and "feminine" aren't exactly fixed terms, even within the mainstream. If it weren't "okay to be pretty," how would one go about making sure she was never found attractive by someone with cultural dominance? First of all, this/these someone(s) could be in a position to oppress for many different reasons, each of which has their own norms for desirability. Secondly...she can't, and I'm not sure there's a lot of value in trying. Acting of her own volition and refusing to succumb to those trying to put her in a position of "subjugat[ion], degrad[ation], and controll[ing]" will ultimately be more powerful than trying to *look* like she wouldn't succumb.

B) Twisty's piece applies the same connotations to the word "pretty" that Ani DiFranco did, and I understand that, but then she goes on to condemn the words "beautiful," "sexy" and "fuckable." That last one can be problematic in an overt way, but if we apply Twisty's claims about "pretty" to all of those words, we run into some problems, starting with the ones I addressed in A. According to Twisty, being pretty, beautiful OR sexy is only defined by agreement with "standards based on a system of male appeasement" (and I've barely even touched how absolute and binary all of this language is.) I understand that, despite variance, each culture has a concept of what is "conventionally beautiful." What's to become of females who naturally have some of these traits? Most likely, everyone possesses some but not all of the traits that a portion, if not all, of dominant media would present as desirable. In order to be a feminist, must an American blonde dye her hair or a big-chested gal get a reduction lest an anti-feminist assume she is weak at first glance? (And yes, I'm aware that my examples may seem extreme, but I would argue that the piece quoted is entirely extreme itself.) This puts potential anti-feminists in a huge position of power: instead of defining what feminists do, they're defining what they DON'T do.

C) "Performing femininity"...okay, I'm well-versed in Butler and am familiar with the concept of women donning female drag. (I won't even get into the fact that the phrase "performing femininity" would mean vastly different things in different circles or parts of the world, and that agreement on what it *does* mean would be hard to reach even within a lot of those.) What about when we're *not* performing, or are performing in a deliberate and specifically self-gratifying way? Let's start with appearance, though I get that Twisty is conflating stereotypically "feminine" behaviors with the concept of beauty. This piece concerns the word "pink," so I'm assuming you brought it here to argue that wearing pink is anti-feminist. I agree, absolutely, that feminists should question what they want to wear to express themselves and where else those desires or sentiments might come from. It can be hard to keep sight of what we like intuitively and what we like because it might make others happy. So, what if a feminist keeps a careful eye on her motivations, yet finds herself more aesthetically pleased by her pink t-shirt than her green one? Would you really argue that she's not a feminist? Getting back to "feminine" behaviors, do feminists need to condemn, say, cooking or cleaning because some chauvinists see those as skills of an ideal female? What about the woman who lives alone, does these things exclusively for herself, and takes joy in taking care of herself these ways? The point I'm trying to make is that there are plenty of situations in which a woman might "perform" a stereotypically "feminine" action for reasons that are completely within what I understand feminism to be.

The point I'm making *overall* is that in order to live our lives as each of us wants to live them, what we do and wear will inadvertently fit into some definition of "feminine" at some point. So long as we keep our own satisfaction at the forefront, there is nothing wrong with, say, being sexy by our own definition...or, yes, wearing pink.

This is the "but I'm doing

This is the "but I'm doing it by choice, so it's feminism by default because I'm a woman!" argument. I used to believe it. It sounds so nice, doesn't it, that we get to define ourselves? Sadly, our motives don't mean shit to the patriarchy, and we don't have the luxury of determining how it sees us. We are an oppressed class, and participating in the beauty myth can only hurt us, both individually as far as we internalize it and feel bad for not being pretty or feminine or fuckable enough (and we will feel bad, because whatever you do is never enough, that's the point), and as a class by perpetuating the mindset that women should be judged by their looks. It also keeps us distracted from the real issue of our oppression by focusing our attention on ridiculous shit like whether our skin-care routine is giving us the poreless look of a newborn baby. Not to mention the fact that many beauty products are actually toxic!

There's also a difference between cooking to feed yourself and putting on makeup - the former serves the critical function of keeping you alive.

As far as what naturally hot chicks can do to fight the power, here's a radical thought - try not shaving your legs. Dude Nation can't stand it when women deliberately refuse to comply with the Beauty Mandate. If said women are attractive by patriarchy standards to begin with, that makes it a stronger statement.

Not to sound like a mindless Twisty minion, but the more I read her the more I think she hits it right on the money.

"Here’s a little taste of some of the shitty shit that beauty does:

• It creates and reinforces the notion of the sex class.

• It creates and reinforces the notion of social status.

• It promotes pointless adversarial relationships between women, effectively isolating them from each other (divide and conquer).

• It promotes physically and emotionally damaging, dangerous practices.

• It genericizes women, transforming them from humans into interchangeable fleshbots.

• It infantilizes women, transforming them from humans into morons who seek baby-soft skin.

• It publicly communicates private information which may be used against a woman, including her caste, sexual availability, and degree of personal investment in patriarchal mores.

• It diverts women's financial resources from things like health care and organic margaritas to the beauty industrial complex, to the tune of billions a year.

• It diverts women’s attention from stuff that actually matters, like global women’s oppression, to superficial, meaningless, neurotic rituals."



I actually like pink and have been known to wear it on occasion. But I don't try to kid myself that my wearing gender-appropriate colors in this world where one of the underpinnings of patriarchy is the (artificial) gender divide between humans (default, male) and non-humans (women, slave/sex class) is helping the cause, because it's not. No one can tell by looking at me that "she's wearing pink *ironically*!"

Colors are awesome!

First and foremost, the fact remains that girls rock, no matter what they are wearing. I am a 32 year old adult who spends the bulk of my life climbing the proverbial tree and getting dirty, so a pair of boots, 5-pocket Dickies, and a tee shirt comprise my daily garb. However, I sometimes attend events where a more refined look is expected if one is to respect the occasion as special. It is a very nice thing to spend extra time caring for my body and skin, carefully dressing myself in often delicate articles of clothing, and then taking the care to let my body be calm and graceful enough to remain comfortable and tidy while dressed in heels or tuxedo pants or stockings or what-have-you. It can feel very peaceful and it's good to attend to that certain aesthetic aspect of my physical self.

That said, not unlike the girls wearing jeans under their dresses, I like to say that every good Broad carries a pair of flats in her purse (for the afterparty).

When I worked with toddlers, the little boys in my class loved to get dressed up in the princess dresses as much as the girls. And I will (at least verbally) slap anyone who says that Hendrix didn't look like even more of a stone fox than usual in that feather boa at Monterey. Basically, I try to hang out with people who are delighted by things that are fluffy, sparkly, shiny, magical, romantic, fabulous, and generally enchanting. Exploring those wonderful qualities of life is a child's primary occupation, I hope. If that bothers people, they should leave children alone and hang out with a film noir club or something. And really, people, you seem to have access to the internet. Buy your kid a green shirt. They are available. Your money will talk.

pink and feminism

FWIW, I grew up wearing lots of dresses and adorable outfits, but I also climbed trees and stomped around in the woods and did whatever other outdoor things I wanted to do with my friends or when following my older brothers. When I got older, into junior high, high school, and early college, I was definitely a girly girl/fashionista, but that never stopped me from being a feminist. Once I started getting politically involved and my feminism became more radical, I began to make some different choices when it came to expressing myself through my appearance. I am told, however, that no matter how I choose to present myself, I always come across as very "femme," for lack of a better term.

Today, I follow fashion only as much as I enjoy it. I wear makeup when I feel like it, not because I think I have to (or should never), and my favorite Birkenstocks are silver with rhinestones on the buckles. Oddly, pink has only started to appeal to me recently and I just turned 42. (My Kindle cover is magenta and lime green.) So I guess what I'm really trying to say here is that if you truly raise your daughter (or son) as a feminist through actions as well as words, it doesn't really matter if s/he wears pink dresses or blue jeans.

I would be so sad if I could

I would be so sad if I could never wear pink again. I mean I know that it is gendered, but its pretty and just because you wear pink doesn't mean you have to be "girly" (as in delicate). For me it goes to the core of what a strong woman is. Personally, I believe that a strong woman is someone who is someone who can be independent and makes choices that fit her. A strong woman can wear skirts, makeup, and heels, just as long as she wears them because they make her happy. For example, one of my friends and me decreed that Wednesdays were for wearing skirts. Just because we felt like it, because it makes us feel good. When I slip on a pair of heels, a pink top, or slap on some lipstick, I don't do it because it will make boys (or girls) attracted to me, I do it because it makes me feel fierce, it makes me feel happy. Should I stop doing something that makes me happy because it's gendered? And just because I like to be girly doesn't mean that I can't go hiking, watch football, or fix a flat tire. To me being a strong woman is more about being able to say no to the creeps, pay your rent, and take care of yourself. My mother always taught me that a partner was always always optional, and to be ready to take care of myself at all times. It's not about what you wear or the color you decorate in, its about making the choice yourself about what you want to wear or how you want to decorate.

I was just talking about

I was just talking about this to a friend earlier today! I'm seventeen right now, and I grew up in a house where there were no boy colors or girl colors. I think I had the best of both worlds, in a sense. I loved (and still do) dress-up, but wasn't afraid to don a power-ranger suit, or a light-saber, or go army-crawling through bushes or climb a tree. I liked to dance, I dreamed about having a ruffly canopy bed, and owned barbie dolls. However, I thought for myself, and was a firm believer in 'anything you can do, I can do too!'. I have around a dozen cousins that are little girls right now, and I must say that I've been upset, well, rather horrified at some of the things they've said and done...let me elaborate.
Two of my young cousins are playing dress-up, perfectly normal right? Well then they tell me that they are going to the top of the stairs to be princesses waiting to be rescued by their handsome princes. I think my jaw dropped to the floor, I was in a state of stupor, and asked "well why can't you escape by yourselves, or team up and escape together?" ...their reply was "girls can't do that!" in a very 'duh!' sort of way.
Well, maybe I just never thought this way, and its less culture, more based on the individual? I'd like to think so, although I'm not convinced. I never liked Cinderella, because I always thought she should go to the ball by herself (and in second grade, I began reading alternative versions of this classic tale, both of which were very feminist versions, in which Cinderella stopped waiting, and took action---in one she even saved the prince!). I think I've always been a very strong person in that way, and I never associated pink as a weaker color, actually i think its fiercer....and it was once a color associated with males (considered a "younger" version of the manly red) while blue was considered feminine (the color of the virgin mary). I just wish every little girl toy wasn't pink and sparkly, because pink has never really 'been my color'.

Wearing pink and climbing

Wearing pink and climbing trees and getting dirty are definitely not mutually exclusive. Our daughter has basically refused to wear anything but skirts or dresses since she turned 2. I eventually gave up and started letting her wear what she wanted to. I admit I also stopped buying clothes other than pink or purple bc she refused to wear anything else and I got tired of wasting my money on clothes she wouldn't wear. She wears a skirt or dress to hike, play soccer, dig in the garden. Sigh. It's turning out to be a very long phase (she just turned 5).

It's not the clothes...

I don't have an issue with pink or "girly" clothing. As an adult I got into Lolita street fashion which is girlier than any department store buyer could handle. Clothes are about self expression and in that respect pink is a perfectly valid color. What bothers me is everything that isn't clothes that absolutely must be pink. I can choose between a ruffles skirt and jeans but why must my razor look like it came straight form the barbie playhouse? Does Gillette think I would forgo shaving rather than use the ubiquitous navy ones?

I fully agree with stated

I fully agree with stated goals of the Pink Stinks project.

At the same time, "Pink Stinks" sounds and feels and reads like the name of a club that meets in a treehouse with a sign on the door that says <em>NO GIRLS ALLOWED!!!</em>

And I'm not too down with that.

male bonding is important

male bonding is important and totally ostracized from our society due to fear of gayness and feminist backed intrusion into a secret bond of brothers. If you can bond then we can bond. So no girls allowed i think is ok.

"Male bonding" is not

"Male bonding" is not synonymous with the "old boys club", and I've never heard a flesh and blood feminist complain about the former. (Do hear lots of straw feminists complaining about it, of course.) Anyway, if you can't figure out how to socialize with other men without reinforcing the glass ceiling, it sounds like you have some introspection to do.

I think we all have some

I think we all have some introspection to do. I doubt there's any grandmaster monks on here. Anywayz i don't get what hanging out with some guy friends and talking about cars or technology or philosophy has to do with reinforcing the glass ceiling. And i think the top 5% of the population with 90% of the wealth is what i think of when i hear the word "old boys club" and i don't think they are trying to enforce a glass ceiling on just women. I think you totally came off as a "man hater" in that comment.

gender socialization

I agree- girls can wear pink and be intelligent, powerful, and aspiring, BUT pink and blue are 'tools' that our culture has used to socialize little children into acting out their gender roles. Pink has obviously feminine connotations; pink is innocent, pink is giggly, pink is stay inside and play with dolls all day, pink is sweet. Pink can also be translated in other, much more detrimental ways; pink means barbie, pink means slut. Pink is just a way of making generations of girls "ultrafeminine." What are the implications of being ultrafeminine? Not that being ultra feminine is a bad thing at all (I consider myself to be quite feminine) but the implications are strong for when young girls socialized on pink become women socialized on pink: women who devote their lives to motherhood, women who assume the 'housekeeper' role, women who have unequal partnerships, etc. Blue, on the other hand, is active. It is going outside to run and play and get dirty. It is rising to the top of a law firm. It is active and pink is passive. If pink is not such a bad thing, lets start dressing our little boys in it and paying attention to everyone else's reactions.

I wear pink

I wear pink because I am pale skinned and blue eyed, with ash-colored hair. I also wear a lot of blue and grey and lavender, and the occasional dusty green. I don't wear orange or gold. Ever. I prefer not to look like an extra in a bad vampire movie. I'm not going for feminine so much as healthy.

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