The Color Pink

For most of my life, I’ve disdained the color pink.  It brought to mind the stereotypes of women, the arbitrary allocation of traits, desires and capabilities based solely on biological sex.  It reeked of superficiality and concerns with the froth and frilliness that I had rejected.  When I had children I refused to adhere to my culture’s dictate that I dress my daughter in pink and my son in blue.  In their babyhood, I chose yellows and greens—-colors that my eye also in fact preferred.  Pink seemed just a faded version of the more vibrant red.  I hoped thereby to grant my children the freedom to choose their own ways of being and doing, of loving and longing.

There was a time in late childhood, when I was 11 or 12, that I did embrace pink.  My parents were painting the rooms in our apartment in Turkey; and I was allowed to choose my own color.  I chose pink, and complemented it with black.  I remember the two black plastic silhouettes of ballet dancers with which I festooned one wall.  I suppose it was later that I found a more ideological view of pink.  Or, on second thought, perhaps I simply changed ideologies:  from one that pressured me to conform to the traditional ‘women’s role’ to one that longed to broaden our sphere.

My thoughts about pink took an unexpected turn when I lived among the Kenyah of East Kalimantan, in Indonesia in the late ‘70s.  After a month or two there, I noticed that many people, men and women alike, chose pink attire.  It was so common and unlike their general use of primary colors that I eventually asked about the practice.  I learned that for them, pink symbolizes mourning.  People don clothes of pink when a loved one dies—a common enough occurrence at that time.  But this experience was just a hiccup in my longstanding prejudice against the color.

A more substantial chink in this particular prejudice came a few years ago one October, soon after again taking up residence in the US.  I was startled, while watching a football game, to see the players’ uniforms—so strongly linked to each team’s identity and certainly never before in pink!—festooned with bits of this color.  Pink shoes here, pink socks there, pink gloves, any accoutrement seemed acceptable in pink. 

This was my first recognition that pink symbolism had changed.  It was of course in support of the fight against breast cancer.  But what a powerful statement of a change in gender ideology—-that powerful and admired football players, the epitome of masculinity in American culture (or many versions thereof, in any event), should take up a color so closely linked with women and femininity.  This suggested a different meaning for pink than the one that for so long had prompted my own disdain.

And then came the pink hats movement.  In December 2016, I met a woman who was knitting at a get-together.  She told me about an upcoming march to stand up for and promote women’s rights in the Trump administration; and explained that women were knitting pink hats, ‘pussy hats’ (in parody of Trump’s rude acceptance of grabbing women’s genitals), to keep the marchers warm, to express solidarity with the marchers, and to renew commitment to key American values. 

I loved knitting, and I loved this idea.  I went home, bought some pink yarn and began knitting.  I knitted 7 hats and sent them to the organizers of the march on Washington DC.  Then I knitted and distributed three more, and I decided to march myself in Ithaca’s march—something I’d never done before (despite being a ‘child of the 60’s’).  We all know what a spectacular success the march turned out to be, replicated all over the US and the world—my hats were among the sea of pink that characterized the crowd. 

And now I continue to knit.  Women  who don’t know how to knit want a pussy hat.  Three young women in a class I taught recently admired my pussy hat, expressing their wish that they could knit.  I gave them the three I had available.  I plan to keep on knitting (not like Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, with thoughts of retribution, but with strength of purpose to maintain what is good in this country).  It’s a small thing that I can do to continue to express my own commitment to these values that are under attack in my country.  We must all do whatever we can—signing petitions, writing letters, calling senators, marching, keeping the pressure on.  But in our leisure some of us can also knit and give pussy hats. 

There’s clearly been a sea change in my feelings about pink.  No one can consider the issues raised in these marches to be ‘froth and frilliness’; no one can discount the reality of unity among a population motivated by such disparate but related concerns:  Equity, justice, inclusiveness, concern for the environment and the future—these are the values that pink has come to symbolize for me.

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