Monday, August 25, 2008

Mera-wala pink

When I was a kid, my favourite colour was red. I still remember a red silk dress I had, with thick silver trimming all over the bodice and sleeves. And if you're a close friend of mine, you'll probably have heard my little story about the huuuge tantrum I once threw in Hazratgunj, Lucknow: it was all about wanting a pair of red shoes.

I don't know at what point I stopped saying that red was my favourite colour, and when I went through a shifting spectrum of favourites - 'white' and 'black' and 'sea green' and, at one point, 'lilac'. Pink, however, was never my colour.

Nevertheless, there was a lot of pink in my wardrobe. And I didn't have a problem with that. Pink was just another colour - it was nice. Lots of other girls wore pink and I was told it suited me. That was all. I never really thought about it much until I grew up and heard phrases like 'baby blue' and 'baby pink'.

It was the women's magazines, I think, that started me off on this coloured gender association. Magazines like Femina and Cosmo would educate me about which colours to wear in which season, and what men were supposed to wear and what not, and what look marked you out as what type, and what colour to paint your room when you started to plan a family.

Knowing that it was a 'girl' colour didn't make pink my favourite. What did happen was that my brother stopped wearing it. And he gave up red too. And bright yellows. Actually, by the time he went to college, my brother's wardrobe had been reduced to shades of blue, white and black.
Still, I never paid close attention to this 'pink'ing of the female half of the globe until recently, when I bought a pink and white shirt for myself, and suddenly realised that it was the only pink item of clothing I had bought for myself over the last six years.

Then I began thinking about why. It isn't as if I have anything against it but there's something in me that's sort of turned off by a certain kind of pink. Not hot pinks. Not pale, rusty pinks. Not shades of maroon. Just the particular shade of pink that's typically associated with girls - the shade most men would not be seen dead in. Maybe that was my feminist streak rebelling against the stereotype.

Perhaps, it's all psychological. I did get quite exasperated when one of my landlords had the entire barsaati whitewashed pink, when he realised that his next tenant would be a single woman. I do not particularly like powder blue, but insisted on his repainting a room blue instead, just to make a point.

At any rate, all this got me obsessing about colours. I noticed colours on walls, on cars, on street signs, at cafes, corporate furniture, logos, banks, advertisements, electronic goods.And I noticedthat pink doesn't really figure in our world. There are no pink cars in showrooms. Over the last few years, I have spotted only one baby pink Ambassador (it reminded me of a giant,upturned cradle for some reason) near a shopping complex in Delhi; it had a laal-batti on top, so perhaps, it belonged to a woman sarkaari official.

I'm assuming that the cars are not pink because the assumption is that women won't be the ones buying the cars, even if they do drive them. Car colours are therefore mostly greys, whites, blacks, blues, and a couple of 'safe' ones like red and yellow, which men wouldn't mind being seen in. I noticed too that there are almost no 'pink' sign-boards. No pink cafes. No pink computers. No pinks on bank doors or cheque books. And even goods that are traditionally handled by women aren't really available in shades of pink. Not many pink refrigerators or washing machines or even mixer-grinders, for instance.

Where I did find pink was for services that were exclusively for women. There's a taxi service in Mumbai that's supposed to be especially for women. And sure enough, it had a pink thing going - the cars had a pink line painted somewhere and the female chauffeurs wore pink uniforms. More googling revealed that similar women's only taxi services in the UK and in Russia and almost everywhere else also had pink names and pink themes.

In small towns and villages where there is no conscious, generally accepted gendering of the colour spectrum, you see a lot more pink. Men wear pink turbans. Walls, doors and windows are painted a very pink shade of pink. Pink-n-gold parandis glitter around rear-view mirrors in autos and cycle-rickshaws. The horns of cows and bullocks are painted pink and so are many shop signs, and the nails of several men with big moustaches.

What is clear is that pink is seen as a women's colour in many places, and it is also clear that wherever this prejudice prevails, pink seems to vanish from the public eye. And I'm not surprised. If something is defined as definitely, exclusively meant for one group of people, the other group is made uncomfortable by it. In a world where everything must sell, nobody can afford to alienate customers. But of course, the final clincher is the fact that women never are alienated - or so the market assumes - by typically male colours/contours. They rarely protest at things always being blue or black or grey. They don't mind things not being pink. In fact, if they're like me, they may even wrinkle their noses at pink, perhaps sub-consciously resenting it.
Now, having thought all of this out places me in a weird situation. What do I do about pink? Get more pink? Get rid of it? Ignore it? And what do I do about blue? What does a modern feminist do?I don't know, of course. But for starters, I've bought myself a new pink toothbrush - a first in over a decade, (I refer to the colour, not the newness of the brush). Maybe I'll find a few answers in the sink some morning.

Written for Ultra Violet


Rachna said...

I am a pink person: In fact, very recently I did the same kind of observation about my clothes as you- and discovered that ALL of my clothes that I had bought in the last 2 years had been in differing shades of pink. And it was NOT a conscious decision at the time- it just happened, and I noticed this phenomenon later, MUCH later.

And that does not make me more or less of a feminist. Though I DO have severe objections to all things being black, blue or gray. I have been desperately looking for the PINk LAPTOP- and it irks me no end about the almost NO (make that NO) choices in the market. There is ONLY the SOny Vaio- and that too is pink only in the 14.1" size. As I want the 15.4" screen, i am reduced to NO CHOICE again- or maybe white, since I totally refuse to go for black.

So yes, this has been my particular problem in the last month as I search for new laptops- and I do do strongly protest that they don't come in all colors, not just pink. The Sony may have them, but why only in the 14.1" size? Aren't women allowed to use LARGER laptops (assuming that the pink one is aimed at women).

Sorry- just that you touched on a topic really close to my heart- and since I have been ranting about lack of good 15.4" pink laptops in the world, this had to come out :)

About the clothes- well, I never chose pink consciously- so I don't think its the world telling me to wear pink that makes me do it. I think choosing what to wear has more to do with what you like and what you think you look good in (what color suits you ;)
that pseudo-societal convention about the same.

1conoclast said...

If you're spitting pink post brushing, see a dentist! :-D

Shravan said...

Pink is disgusting.
Pink is an unofficial member of the Axis of Evil.
Pink causes blindness.
Pink is stupid.
Pink should be nuked from orbit.

It's not just that it helps the stereotyping, but it's so unpleasant on the eyes (unless you are color-blind). But it's not going to go away as long as the majority of people can be controlled by showing shiny objects. Ooooh... pink... I'm going to jump up and down and proudly show my conformity... sigh!

P.S. Please write more often - I feel very happy when my RSS reader shows a new post from you :).

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I have 2 pink shirts. I wear them. Even though I'm Old.
Just saying.


cipher said...

Ahem, true. I had observed something like this about Hindi names. Many female names seem to be an extension of male names. Subtle signs of how males have ruled the world for all its age!

Anonymous said...

welcome back Annie. good to see a post from you

-Regular here

kaatib said...

Telangana Rashtra Samiti have pink flags,
and unless you live in femina, or with those who live in it, pink is quite a nice colour,
My friends say I look good in pink, and long back some used to say that my nose and shirt are cordinated.

sumana001 said...

Gorgeous post, Annie!
(Reverse gender stereotyping: what is it about men and blue btw?)


sumedha said...

I like to think of myself as a feminist; my friends think I'm overtly so, though I think I tend to exaggerate my feminist ideas to prove a point. Anyway, I very conciously try to stay away from pink. Not only because I don't look particularly good in it, but because I resent the assumption that since I'm a girl, I must like pink. And if I don't, I'm not girly enough.

Though I must say I hadn't noticed the lack of pink in the market until now. And I do resent it now. :)

The Line of Beauty said...

I don't get the whole point of this pink thing. I mean isn't it little too far fetched to associate a color with particular gender.

And haven't you got hold of the fact the the color pink has been hijacked from women to metrosexual man. Not to mention the whole gay angle with all the pink-money, pink drink to pink what not.

May be I am color blind or some such thing, but the way this works for me is that there is no universal single favorite color. And I think that's true for most people. I might like pink shirts, but I don't like pink curtain or sofas. I like pastel colors on my walls, but I don't like them in my wardrobe.

the mad momma said...

annie meet Jedi

Nabila Zehra Zaidi said...


Colors are the new basis of gender discrimination now!!

Some men look 'hot' in pink, but would not wear it for this reason.... And no man, even a 13 year old Sardar boy from the gallis of Bhatinda wont be named 'Pinky'.

Poor Pink! Its a nice color, you know.

Anonymous said...

Some prisons in US have inmates wearing pink outfits to make them feel

Preeti Sharma said...

I personally think that a pale pink shirt on a guy is red-hot!

Sara said...

I think this whole 'Pink is for girls' is just a marketing stunt..which starts from little babies/ have to buy pink bicycle for a girl and blue for a boy..thus increasing teh sales volume!!

bluespriite said...

Trying sneaky tricks to make you write more... you've been tagged.

Shwetha said...

Maruti in India sells the Zen Estilo in pink and I see lots of Scooty Peps in pink. Sometimes there is a guy driving as well... Though I think its aimed at the higher spending (& decision making?) power that women have these days.

Personally, I dont care if something is pink or blue. I pickup whatever I like at that time and what looks good.

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