The Color Pink

A few years ago, when my friend Robin gave birth to a baby girl, she spread out Olive’s baby gifts and placed her beautiful child in the center. Then she took this *picture…

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.19.20 AM

Did I mention that her daughter’s name is Olive?  Despite this, so many of Olive’s baby gifts were pink rather than green.  Robin writes about this herself at her blog rainydayriot.

I like the color pink.  I am also a fan of blue, yellow and certain shades of green but I reject the notion of color coding genders.  Why?  Because once a color is considered feminine, it can be used against men to humiliate them.  This was the case in Maricopa County, AZ, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio made headlines when he started forcing male inmates to wear pink underwear as punishment.

And though most Americans subscribe to this gender delineation of color coding boys and girls, this is a relatively new and nonsensical practice. Around the turn of the century, when people began dressing boys and girls differently for the first time, the color pink was assigned as a decidedly male color.

From a 1918 editorial called “Pink or Blue.” cited by Michael Kimmel in his book Manhood in America: A Cultural History,

“There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”


In addition, there is a more sinister element to the assignation of color coding for girls and boys. As Peggy Peggy Orenstein points out in her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, this one comes from the hand-wringing, mwah ha ha admen who figured out that, if parents identified different colors for boys and girls, than those parents would buy more stuff.  After all, if they purchased a pink lawn mower for their little girl, their boy would most certainly require a green one because pink is for girls and pretty much any other color can be for boys.

Two!  Two lawn mowers!

Anyway, the problem is that delineating one color for girls only places an undue burden on both sexes.  In fact, Orenstein found that the pink culture being marketed to girls can have serious, negative consequences for girls’ psychological, social and physical development as it includes the added gender stereotypes that girls are bad at science and math or that they have to dress or look a certain way to be acceptable.  And the resistance to rejecting the gendered color scheme is intensely strong.  In fact, when two sisters launched an anti-pink toy campaign in 2011, they were sent hate mail from all over the world.

There are a few fabulous voices fighting against the pinkification of girl’s lives.  Pinkstinks describes themselves as,

...a campaign that targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. We believe that all children – girls and boys – are affected by the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. Our aim is to challenge and reverse this growing trend. We also promote media literacy, self-esteem, positive body image and female role models for kids. 

While I am not a fan of the name (as I said, I like the color pink and think all colors should be accessible to all people) I do like the sentiment. Because when a baby is named Olive, people, her baby gifts shouldn’t all be pink.


*Robin got the idea for the photo after coming across JeongMee Yoon’s MFA thesis project exploring culture, color and gender.



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    Juliet C. Bond

    Juliet C. Bond is a writer and professor at Columbia College in Chicago. Her first book, "Sam’s Sister," was published in 2005, and has sold over 50,000 copies. She went on to collaborate with Newberry winner Joyce Sidman to publish the stage adaptation of "This is Just to Say." Juliet’s shorter works can be found in "The Prairie Wind," at and Juliet serves as the Welcome Coordinator for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Illinois, and has had the pleasure of working under the tutelage of award winning authors including; Jane Yolen, Jane Hamilton, Laurie Lawlor and Audrey Niffinegger. She chose the name for this space as an homage to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony whose hard work on gender equality serve as daily motivation to continue fighting for girls and women everywhere.

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