“Pink to make the boys wink”? Not in 2015.

My feminist heart sinks every time I see a baby and buggy colour-coded pink, and I remember standing alongside other expectant mothers choosing baby clothes for an unborn in 1984, who were totally unprepared to dress a boy child in anything other than blue – not even white or yellow were acceptable.

30 years later whole industries are devoted to coercing girls and women to be either ‘girlie’ or femme fatale (or both): above all to conform to a femininity that is ‘sexy’. We all grow up in this toxic soup and have to find ways of negotiating and surviving its pressures and distortions. Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, has spent years in the public eye, facing this challenge on a daily basis and the relentless, hostile (misogynist) scrutiny of her body and attire . What to wear and how to wear it?! Judith Williamson memorably noted in her book, Consuming Passions, that putting on a brown paper bag in the morning would have made life a lot easier.

I have been saddened over the years as professional women in particular have resorted to black as the ‘safe’ option. It starts as short-term evasion, about survival (not standing out as a woman); becomes long-term conformity, a form of denial, camouflage, a relinquishing of exuberance. We took our cue from men and put ourselves in uniform / a black straitjacket. Don’t tell me we were exercising ‘free will’.

One Labour woman on the street in sight of Labour women’s fuchsia pink van suggested to Channel 4’s Michael Crick it should have been black. . . . But that was in response to his keenness to deride pink as “patronizing”. And well, as was pointed out by the Labour women themselves, it couldn’t be black or white or blue or green . . . And it needed to be noticeable rather than tasteful, and to carry some symbolic heft. This is about women striding not mincing on to the streets.

Also, over time, the status and connotations of pink have changed. Many women and feminists have reclaimed pink as assertive, as both feminine and feminist. It’s all about context and use. I laughed out loud when I saw the Labour women’s pink van. The audacity of it: the fearlessness, the refusal to fear the accusation of stereotyping! Step aside the literal-minded and fearful (of what men, Tory women or other feminists might think). These women have a sense of humour and fun. This bright pink van bespeaks bold confidence and courage.

13 01 2015


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