March 2015
E-mail this article

Stirring the gender bucket pink

By Cindy McCombe

What do you get when you cross a feminist with the color pink?

If you were to study my life, that answer would vary based on where you would find me during the continuum of the 42 years I have lived.

If you take my relationship to the color pink and put it in one big pot, and then you stir 10 times with realizations from given moments in time, you wind up with a colorful story and a realization that a color is not a gender.

Here is that story.

“Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl,” my father heard, and immediately he ran out and bought me a pink blanket. He had two boys, and now he was having a girl, and surely I needed to be wrapped in a nice, soft color.

The first house I ever remember living in is a pink house with red trim.

My parents, wanting to encourage creative and independent thinking, asked me to pick out my own color for my room. I chose a hot-pink swatch, and soon afterward, my room was painted accordingly.

During my junior year of college, I took a women’s study course. I learned about gender programming and how it often began before a child is even born. Girls are often placed in pink nurseries with pink bedding, with other pastel colors as complements. This is to encourage nurturing and kindness.

Boys, on the other hand, are placed in brightly colored nurseries, with toys that encourage fine and gross motor development.

If you follow this gender programming over the long haul, you end up with women who are teachers, nurses, and librarians, and you end up with men who are mechanical engineers, software developers, and computer programmers.

I slowly started weeding all pink out of my wardrobe. I had lived near large metropolitan areas enough to get hooked on the old and reliable mainstay of having black clothing in a variety of different styles. Black slowly crept in and replaced all the pink in my wardrobe. The only sprinkles of pink I had were accent colors on scarves or maybe some small studded earrings.

“You are going to have a girl,” I heard the doctor say. I immediately went to work creating a gender-neutral nursery. I picked bright colors that encouraged fine and gross motor development. I wanted any “gender programming” that would happen to be taken away. If I were able to provide a completely gender-neutral environment for my daughter, then any urge or draw she would have toward traditionally feminine ways would be innate.

Despite the gender-neutral environment, my daughter ended up loving Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, and almost every traditionally feminine story that has been created. I came up with catch phrases for her to repeat, such as “princesses are fine to like, but they don’t need to be rescued.” I didn’t much care for her having any Barbies to play with, as the unrealistic body image that many women have stems partly from playing with unrealistic toys. But then my daughter ended up having a very small bone structure and extremely slender … just like Barbie.

And she loved pink.

Years passed with no pink in my life. I made no conscious decision to remove it, but I eradicated it from nearly everything I owned. I think I would have bought a pink shirt for any man in my life. But there was no way I was buying a pink shirt for myself.

Then I read an article called “The Power of Color” by Thelma van der Werff in a magazine called “The Best of Law of Attraction” this past January. I delighted in reading about colors and how I could shift and combine them in my wardrobe to try to elicit responses and states. When I got to “soft pink,” I was surprised.

“Soft pink is actually one of the strongest colors, and it can show the true nature of someone. In color therapy, soft pink is associated with unconditional love. Unconditional love is the strongest love there is: It surpasses judgment and criticism.”

And then I had to scratch my head and ask myself, “Did my eradication of all pink in my wardrobe and belongings mean that I got rid of unconditional love in my life?”

And my answer was surprising.

“Yes, it did.”

Mostly, pink was replaced with black, a color that communicates the message “do not come too close; just let me do my own thing,” according to van der Werff.

I am at a unique juncture in my life where I have time, but little money. I wanted to rapidly add pink to my wardrobe to see how I felt. I ended up going to the Salvation Army to buy a few pieces.

Immediately, I enjoyed the feel of the color. And I ended up with an endless amount of compliments from friends and acquaintances.

Those gender-neutral nurseries I made, and in the end I made two of them, were missing something. What would it look like to go back and add both traditionally male and traditionally female aspects to these rooms? Instead of omissions, what about inclusions?

In the end, I am concluding that pink is not a gender. It is a color. If you look at it as unconditional love, both boys and girls, men and women, benefit from having it in their wardrobe and around them.

To answer my original question, “What do you get when you cross a feminist with the color pink?”

My answer is: “A feminist.”

Cindy McCombe is the president of Ability- Catcher, a company with the goal of humanizing the way the world thinks and treats individuals with differing abilities. She lives in San Diego, Calif.


E-mail this article