We see pink everywhere. From pink cell phones to pink vacuum cleaners (both for daughter and mother), nearly everything has been given the pink treatment, or "pinkwashed," as this woman calls Molson's decision to add red food coloring to their beer in an attempt to make it more palatable to female consumers. The artist Christo even covered 11 islands in a shade of pink likened to "the color of frangipani".
And of course, the color is especially prominent in October, when everyone from participants in the Komen for the Cure walk to NFL players don shades of rose, magenta, and bubblegum for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
So what does it mean that the color still used to represent and market to women (to many women's chagrin) doesn't actually exist? Scientists have found that "pink" is the effect of our eyes' inability to view what's actually betwen red and blue -- radio waves, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, gamma rays, and other unseeable wavelengths of light, as this video from Gizmodo explains:
Should we be flattered that "our" color represents all that is unseeable? Or is it fitting that pink is a catch-all for vastly different wavelenghts, just as pink has become a shortcut for marketers that covers up the complexities and nuance of half the population?
As pink gets called into question, it's worth remembering that it wasn't always the official color of womanhood. Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of "Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America," told Smithsonian Magazine:
Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I--and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, 'The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.'
In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.
Paoletti says that the idea of blue for boys, pink for girls wasn't established until the 1940s and was dictated by retailers and manufacturers' interpretations of American preferences.
The problem is, the identification of "pink" and "female" has now been largely internalized by women, according to a study by The Rotterdam School of Management. The study examined the efficacy of pink marketing to women and found "too many women directly identify with the color," causing the Komen for the Cure Campaign's use of pink to actually be counter-productive:
"By adding all this pink, by asking women to think about gender, you're triggering that. You're raising the idea that this is a female thing. It's pink; it's for you. You could die. The cues themselves aren't threatening ... But it connects who you are to the threats."
The study consistently showed that women who saw gendered ads covered in pink were less likely to click through and contribute.
No wonder the pink sell has never won me over. There's just not much to it.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more