Monday, January 10, 2011

Metastatic Pink

"Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket".
--Eric Hoffer

I walked into a running store a few months ago to buy some shoes and shorts; men's gear on one side, women's gear on the other.  This makes sense given the different sizes and cuts of shoes and clothing needed. What became immediately apparent and painful to me though, was not just that the smaller sized stuff was on the right side of the store.  As I approached the racks I realized I was drifting dangerously closer to what more closely resembled a Barbie Playhouse nightmare.  Much of the running apparel and shoes were pink, glittery or some trendy shade of something ubër girly.  

In other words, nothing I could take seriously.

 I refuse to buy into the stereotype that all it takes to market an item to women is to "shrink it and pink it”. 

The simple formula is this: Pink=Girl.  Later on it becomes Pink=Women.   Who decided this? Who said so? Many women will claim that they just love pink and all things glittery and superficially girly. Maybe some do, but I believe that most of them learn to like what they think they are supposed to like because it’s expected of them.  It sends the right message. 
Women, everyone really, has been programmed by Madison avenue to think that if it's pink it’s feminine, regardless of the quality.

The sad truth is, there is nothing biologically innate that links pink to women.  It’s purely a cultural brainwash of the past 40 years.  Prior to WWII , pink was actually more closely associated with young boys or men.  The Great Gatsby himself wore a pink suit.  Many catalogues of the times showed pink children’s clothing for boys. In fact, pink was considered a stronger, more passionate color, softened from the warrior’s red, whereas blue was regarded as a dainty color, more suitable for girls.

No one thought Elvis the least bit effeminate for owning numerous pink cadillacs, and to this day, almost any mid century modern home sports at least one pink bathroom, originally intended for both genders to use.

I have a theory about what may have triggered the “pink is not for men” mentality.
I suspect the aversion had its subtle beginnings when our G.I.’s liberated the concentration camps and saw pink triangles assigned to the gay men in the camps.

It took quite some time though, before it became a mainstream notion.  I attribute a rapid shift in attitudes more recently, to the miracle of sonography.  Now that we may know the gender of the baby ahead of time, there’s money to be made in the  customization of products and pink imprinting now starts early. Prior to sonography, people bought “neutral” colors like green or yellow because no one knew what gender the baby was going to be.

Now baby showers may be properly color coordinated and parents tediously plan out the perfect shade of pink to paint their nursery well in advance of the new arrival.  The day a girl arrives at the hospital some sort of pink label and identifier is slapped on her as well.   Need more proof? Perhaps head on down to your nearest toy store and experience the Barbie Playhouse nightmare for yourself.  Certain aisles will blind you with the dazzling array of pink dolls, accessories and toys intended for GIRLS that emanate from the shelves.  

Why does the pink marketing bother me so much? 

I think, particularly with regard to sports equipment, there is a subtle, unspoken message.  Years ago, women were discouraged from participating in sports.  It wasn’t until as recently as 1972 that women were even allowed to participate in the Boston marathon.  Sports, it was said, masculinized women; it built up muscles and women weren’t supposed to have big muscles-not to mention beautiful, healthy bodies.  Even in medical circles at one time, it was argued that vigorous activity was harmful to women.

Sweating wasn't considered a feminine activity.  An athletic woman was presumed to be a lesbian. Fear of this stigma threatened and discouraged many women from participating in sports for decades.  Lesbians, according to some, were not really women, but women trying to be men.  This served the prevailing attitude of the time that sports participation somehow diminished femininity.

Those attitudes have mostly evaporated but we still have slightly more than vestigial remains. 
Women today get to have it all...They can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan….

Well almost…

Watch a broadcast of any women's sporting event lately?
The Olympics, perhaps?  Ever notice how they always manage to do a feature segment about how one athlete in particular can be a wife, terrific mother and….a super athlete! There is always that subtle attempt to disprove the stereotype that being a female athlete does not automatically make you a lesbian.

No kidding?

I guess it’s not quite such a miracle when a male athlete can father a child or two or three.  Some of them may even be with his wife, if he’s married.

Another angle to consider…

I'm sure athletic wear companies know they are getting many new female runners and walkers entering the sport for the first time via the Komen 5K and 3 Day gatherings.  I’m certain that the pink overlap between Komen’s "Race for the Cure" and the increasing amount of pink running gear being sold by race sponsors is no accident.  

Women’s bodies are different and we do have different needs.  Companies that market a smart, well thought out product that fits my 4’11’’ frame, will earn my dollar and my loyalty.   But don’t dare give me a dumbed down, low grade version of something.   I want a real product with the same features and colors available to men without the pandering and condescending attitude that pseudo-feminizing the technology conveys.

Once again there’s that unspoken bugaboo that’s being addressed.  The message is, you can run and sweat and still be a “real woman” if you wear these pink shoes/shorts/shirts/hats.  No one would dare suspect you are a lesbian if you drape yourself in pink gear because it has magical powers and serves as a counterweight to ward off the perceived masculinity of any sport.

The same pink paintbrush is often swept over other items like tools, guns and electronic technology-items that are not traditionally considered women’s products.  Or so the marketing people think.

Pinking” an item becomes an apology, an acknowledgment that yes, this isn't normally something a woman would buy but coloring it pink makes it not only appealing but permissible.

I don’t need anyone’s permission for anything.

It also carries over somehow into the Komen Foundation’s annual October onslaught of pink ribbon adorned products, some of which are actually unhealthy, all designed to get us to “think pink” regarding breast cancer awareness.
Is this really necessary?

Do I want people to be aware of breast cancer and the steps they need to take to help prevent/diagnose or treat the disease?

Of course I do.


Must we dress it up cute as a puppy to raise awareness or dumb it down by pinking it up?

Putting something as dark and insidious as breast cancer on the shiny, pink marketing wagon is more than surreal. 

It’s ridiculous.

More than ridiculous-it’s insulting.  

No one mentions that MEN also die of breast cancer-but that is quietly pushed aside.  I really feel some pain for the men that are struck by a disease that is so hyper feminized.  What kind of effect does this have on their mental state?  How do they hold on to their masculinity on their journey through the world of pink super saturation?  From diagnosis to treatment there is a constant assault on their Y chromosome.  When a man discovers a lump, they generally have to go to the "women's health or women’s imaging center" within the hospital to get their mammogram. I know of at least one company that has gone so far as to market a breast specific MRI scanner that has pink trim. 


I have seen men snuck in through back hallways of a hospital because someone thought they might make women uncomfortable if were they to sit in the regular waiting area with them.

Even when allowed in the waiting area, they must sit in a pinked out room, plastered with pink ribbons and women’s magazines reminding them everywhere that breast cancer=pink, which if we recall from our original formula, pink=woman, so where does that leave men with breast cancer?  

What I find particularly egregious is that many breast cancer support groups explicitly ban men outright.  This is so that women may engage in “girl talk”, or other some such nonsense is how it’s been explained to me.     

If they understand nothing else, Komen knows marketing, (many members of their board of directors came from the fast food industry) and they know that women have been conditioned to respond to pink when it comes to making purchasing decisions.  

Yes, it raises money for a cause that affects many women, and they have done some good, but they have unbalanced the equation. 

Let’s see if you can solve for pink:

Given that Pink=Women and Pink=Breast Cancer, does that make pink the square root of women with breast cancer?

What peculiar calculus allows for pink to hold more than one value?

Is there a standard deviation? 

It’s not adding up to me.

What I have personally witnessed over and over is this…

Certainly not all, but so many women spend their entire lives so wrapped up in their families that they have no other interests.
They have nothing that THEY do, as an individual that brings them personal satisfaction, be it a hobby, a sport, a craft, anything.  Their entire lives revolve around being involved with what is going on with other people, their spouses, their children.

They are completely subsumed as human beings and do not exist except as an adjunct to others.  Is it any wonder they are drawn into soap operas, fantasy literature and 50 Shades of Grey?

When women like this get breast cancer, as devastating as a diagnosis is, it’s the first time in their lives that attention is focused on them.  For this one moment in time, for the first time ever, something is all about them and they revel in it.  Not that any of them will admit or understand this, but I have seen it.  

Sadly, for many women, cancer is the most significant event of their lives. It’s all they have that makes them special and they hang on for dear life.

Suddenly, they are the center of the universe and their lives now revolve around the culture of breast cancer. 

This is very normal at first, for anyone with any type of a cancer diagnosis.  It is very useful to have support from a community, be able to ask questions, in order to gain an understanding of what they are going through medically.

Years later however, many women who have survived, never seem to move on, all the while nurturing open ended pity parties.  

Being a SURVIVOR, is the first thing you discover about them,
because, thanks to Komen Foundation events, and a million other online message forums, these women are given a new identity.  They belong to a cool new sorority. And of course, this sorority has a special uniform- any pink adorned product that screams I AM A SURVIVOR.  No need for a secret handshake because whether it’s the ribbon on their car, the license plate, their T-shirt, their hand bag, or their hat, they now have a visible way to identify their “bosom buddies”.

They buy into it and it owns them.

There are gatherings, and walks and all sorts of fun things to do with their new “sisters” and instead of learning to move on from a breast cancer diagnosis, they become mired in it and it becomes the crux of their existence.  Being a victim becomes full time occupation for them.

What I find pitiful is that Komen understands this and uses it.  They promote the wallowing, because it keeps them, shall I say, “well endowed"?  

 Don't get me wrong, I do believe that surviving cancer is something to be proud of, but I refuse to tattoo it to my forehead in order to draw attention to myself.  Whenever I come across someone needing medical advice or support I always gladly offer it, but moment to moment, cancer is no longer part of my life.

 It shouldn’t be.

There will never be a pink ribbon on my vehicle or my clothing. 

Displays of triathlon or marathon triumphs, cute sayings about my dog’s intelligence, politics or my favorite microbrew, rate much higher than pink ribbons for me. Ask me how many pull ups I can do, how much I can deadlift. Ask me about my work or let me show you the latest, crazy cat video I have made.

 I want a first impression to be about who I am, and what I do, not what happened to me. I would never hide it, but it's not first and foremost.  It's certainly not paramount.  It shouldn't be. 

I am greater than the sum of my treatments; 

I am not less than the remainder of my parts!

I am and have always been, much more than a diagnosis.


Dalai said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
23 Skidoo said...

Wearing pink is cool. Pinking things is not. It's not the noun I object to, it's the verb!

ehowton said...

Wonderfully, wonderfully written as always, and insightful as well.

The only thing I have to disagree with is something I assumed for many years - as you do - until I experienced it for myself, and my own empirical data trumps even my own opinions.

Having both a girl and a boy offspring, I was SHOCKED to discover they were each intrinsically and wholly "boy" and "girl" respectively. There were no blurred lines. 100% of the time she reached for girl things or colors with zero prompting when given a choice, as he reached instinctively for boy things.

Before children I'd assumed that some sort of parental influences guided growth and development, the age old nature vs. nurture.

Nope. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Shaheen said...

I agree with ehowton. I have tried my darndest to remain gender neutral with my children; nonetheless, the boy leans toward "boy" and the girl leans toward "girl". Or, maybe I'm just hyper sensitive when it happens??? Is it possible they both love playing with the same toys, and I notice it more when it goes along gender lines. I guess I'll have to keep watching.

Kristy said...

Very well written. I do LOVE pink, but growing up my mom alway seemed to surround me in blue. My bedroom, my clothing, etc. YUK! I wanted pink!

Does this mean you're never speaking to me again when I finally get that pink tri bike I've been wanting?

Stacey Gordon said...

Don't worry Kristy... Pink Tri bikes are just fine... It's not the color so much as the attitude behind the verb, of "pinking" something to make it ok for women.

Packer said...

I am hearing this . The business of raising funds.