Back in the medieval times, blue was considered a colour for girls.
This is due to the shawl of the Virgin Mary having been that colour. Blue was considered to denote the womanly virtues of obedience, penitence, devotion, and grace.
Pink, meanwhile, in belonging to the red family, was viewed a colour most appropriate for boys, presumably due to the redness of all the blood they’d be spilling as future knights and fighting men.
I mention this not to argue that pink isn’t truly as feminine a colour as it’s portrayed present-day, but rather to demonstrate that the practice of colour-coding by gender is by no means a modern phenomenon.
Although perhaps the opposition some feel towards it is.
The case of the ergonomic bike saddle
Earlier this week, I was shopping for a new seat for my bike.
My previous seat – a women’s ergonomic saddle, which has a special cutaway to ease pressure on the pubic bone – was eight years old, split at the seams with the foam stuffing spilling out, and had a large chunk of foam missing in a rather strategic area required for the comfort of a daily cycle commuter such as myself.
For my last birthday, my sister gave me a gift card to a popular sporting goods co-op, so I hastened over there to find a replacement seat.
Only to discover that the two best quality women’s ergonomic saddles most comparable to my own both contained pink somewhere on them – one with pink stitching and logo around the edges and bonus sparkly detailing on top, and the other with a pink floral design on the side against the seat’s black background.
I stood before the display rack with just one thought in my head.
You’ve gotta be f*ckin kidding me!
Pink (as well as purple, the pastel version of any colour, and silver or gold sparkles) is the most blatant form of marketing shorthand that a specific product is targeted to female consumers. A quick trip down the aisles of your local Toys R Us bears testament to that: the girls’ aisle is pink and sparkly, and the boys’ aisle is every other colour but.
Even products that have traditionally been gender-neutral, like Lego, building blocks, and such non-toy items as pens, computers, and even cars have now been segregated to their appropriate gender aisle.
Pink is not an trivial colour choice; there are powerful social connotations associated with it. It’s a colour associated with being weak, and sweet, and sensitive, and all things stereotypically female.
It’s a colour many men refuse to wear or interact with for that very reason – because to be thought feminine is an accusation of being lesser. Young boys have been beaten up for wearing pink, leading to the creation of Pink Shirt Day – a day of solidarity against what was essentially an instance of gender-based violence.
We also see this in the words that males use to put each other down: girl, ladies, sissy, pussy, bitch.
The opposite colour-policing doesn’t apply: a woman wearing blue will receive no backlash. But a man needs to be very secure in himself and his relationship with women as a whole to wear pink in public.
Can and will be used against you
The irony of all this, at least for me, is that as a colour in and of itself, I don’t dislike pink. That day in the sports shop, not only was I wearing a pink shirt, my cycling jacket – which I wear every day – is also of the pink family.
I make a point of wearing pink from time to time to show that I refuse to reject my femaleness (how certain corners of society define and represent my femaleness) to prove that I too am strong – strong in my own way rather than the weaker sex – and not lesser at all.
Even though pink is used as a weapon against women, I wear it to show that my own true colours are far more vibrant.
(It’s a complicated relationship to have with a colour, I fully realize.)
And so, I might well have felt like a hypocrite dressed as I was in the sports shop, complaining to the sales associate that I didn’t like the pink stitching on the bike seat. But I chose to buy a pink shirt and pink jacket from among a number of different (still gendered, though not as blatantly) colour options.
Meanwhile, a women’s bike saddle is ALREADY a gendered product. Granted, everybody and every body is different, but for the most part, this was a product inherently targeted to female consumers just by virtue of what it is.
So to further feminize it with pink stitching, flowers, and sparkles serves no practical purpose than to appeal to those who happen to like those things, all the while alienating those who don’t.
Which is precisely how I felt: Othered by a bike seat, even though biking is one of the most inclusive pastimes out there, done by people of all genders, ages, fitness levels, and even by some who are differently abled thanks to innovations in styles of bikes (e.g. recumbent bikes, hand crank bikes, adult tricycles).
I did end up buying the pink-stitched saddle, although I don’t at all feel good about it, and may yet return it. Either that or sending both the company that made it and the shop that sold it this blog post. And then transforming the saddle with a black Sharpie marker.
What are your thoughts on pink? Are you bothered by colour-coding and/or gendered consumer projects? Share your thoughts in the comments.