The Power of Pink

Posted on March 17, 2010

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from Notes From Nowhere in we are everywhere

Glam it up, girls. Pink is power. Wearing pink in threatening situations changes everything.

– the journalist in Evans (2003)

Pink is the colour of hypocrisy.

Germaine Greer (2007)

pink1 (pĭnkgk) n. 1. Color. Any of a group of colors reddish in hue, of medium to high lightness, and of low to moderate saturation. […]

American Heritage (1997)

Pink is a controversial colour. Pink is the colour of choice in modern times for both male and female. Pink can show support for Breast Cancer Campaigns, Peace, or a more general anarchist spirit. Pink stands for femininity, be it the pureness, tenderness and empathy of pale and pastel pinks or the sensuality and eroticism of a hot or deep pink. Pink is used as the name, or as part of the name, of magazines, singers, songs, cartoon characters, films, aircraft and much more.

Pink Gadgets on amazon

It may be due to the extensive use of pink everywhere, from billboards and flyers to consumer products to fashion, but reactions to pink are strong. One loves pink or hates it, hardly anyone remains indifferent. Also, pink is a fairly new phenomenon. Some reactions to pink are featured in reader’s responses to the article Colour Psychology of Pink (Wagner) on the website about.com:

Pink is my favourite color. I wear pink since I was in preschool now I am a college student and I still wear it almost every day. It makes me feel HAPPY!

–Gloria

I hate PINK! I have a couple of dress shirts that are pink and I very rarely wear them. The apartment that I live in through the week has a PINK dining room wall, it drives me crazy, I almost did not rent the place because of it. […]

–Connie

Digression:

Pink is a relatively new colour, only after the discovery of magenta, or fuchsine, in 1859 in Italy pinks became rather voluptuous instead of soft and pleasing. The original or rich magenta was made from coal tar dyes (Maerz and Paul). Munsell called it red-purple, magenta is one of the primary colours in the CMYK colour scheme of printing and a secondary colour in the RGB model, consisting of red and blue. The RGB and CMYK magentas differing hue. Elsa Schiaparelli used an intense magenta for her perfume “Shocking Pink” in 1936, giving way to the use of pink in avant-gardist and rebellious movements (Varley).

Everyone not male is pink

Pink Tank at anti-war protest

Before women reclaimed pink, there was a time “when feminists rejected pink as the colour of daintiness, tenderness, biddability and all things girly.” (Greer 2007) If campaigns such as the Pink Ribbon Campaign against breast cancer or Code Pink, Women for Peace, decided on the colour pink because or in spite of its implication of “effeminacy, receptivity, holeness as opposed to wholeness” (ibid.) is hard to say. But it is not only women who show an affinity to pink. Another social group sporting a lot of pink are gay initiatives. This goes back to one of the most horrible periods in human history, the German Nazi state, that had an elaborate system of colour coding concentration camp inmates. Homosexuals were assigned a pink triangle, bigger in size than the usual triangles (Heger). Queer groups have been re-appropriating pink in an act of reaffirmation and rebellion. For some women this might be similar:

Pink to me represents the right to be a girl, to be your self to speak freely and out load. It associates so culturally to females that there’s is nothing left to do then to say but “no boys allowed.”

–Katie (Wagner)

Pink… and Silver

Pink Venus in Farrer, (2002) Dance Around the G8

One afternoon we were bent over sewing machines in the slanting autumn sunshine, splashes of pink unrolled around us, crumpled silver foil escaping across the yard. A police helicopter suddenly rose over the rooftop and hovered 80 feet above us with a camera.

Evans 2003

[…] Pink Silver aimed to be a prominent carnivalesque spectacle. It was to be colourful, noticeable, fun to watch and empowering to be a part of.

Farrer 2002

Within the context of a new global protest movement, the anticapitalist or globalisation critical movement, a new for of protest, a new appearance on demonstrations evolved. The more traditional forms of marches, carrying banners and signs, shouting slogans, was complimented by a whole range of newer forms, the carnivalesque protest. The new anticapitalist movement has been focussing on mass mobilisation at large economic meetings since the end nineties. During the protests against the IMF and World Bank meeting in Prague in 2000 one of the carnivalesque forms of protest emerged for the first time: Pink-Silver. The concept was simple:

everyone who wanted to participate was to dress up frivolously in pink and silver and take to the streets dancing to samba bands rather than marching and shouting slogans, thus giving desire and creativity a physical form, incorporating them in oneself, instead of following often practised rituals of protest.

Pink Silver Activist

Pink-Silver and other carnivalesque forms provide an opportunity to direct our wishes, our desire, our creativity, and our life against the capitalist system during a demonstration, at least temporarily.

Foltin 2002

Another goal was to undermine the hegemonic maleness of protest and embrace femininity in an voluptuous as well as aggressive manner. Or how Ben from Rhythms of Resistance puts it:

Pink, in some ways, is a good colour to use in demos in that it’s typically portrayed as a ‘female’ colour, and childlike, but its use in masses of people, with everyone dressing up, and men in particular cross dressing and reclaiming the colour seems to accentuate the ‘challenge’ and freedom of expression that the demos embody. I’m sure that people have their individual feelings about the colour and about dressing up but in my experience I’ve certainly found it very liberating, and I’ve seen the affect on many many people who also do the same.

Besides the liberating and empowering aspect for the people involved in a Pink-Silver group, it is also a very mediatic form of protest. The images from Prague showing a pink fairy being chased down the road by a police squad in full riot gear went around the world (see title image). The image holds a strong impact not least due to the choice of colour. How can a pink fairy be possibly be posing such a threat to legitimize the police reaction. The image at the same time looks inherently violent and ridiculous. But not the one dressed up seems ridiculous, the policemen in their riot gear do.

Pink Vice Girl

Pink is not only the colour of baby girls, but also the colour of prostitutes. At the same time that “pink not only promotes affability, but actually discourages aggression and ill will.” (Sutton and Whelan 2004: 168), pink is also outrageous, screaming, rebellious, and aggressively feminine. This is considered unacceptable to large parts of society and represents a direct challenge to male hegemony.

While Pink-Silver emphasized those liberating moments of the colour implications, which most definitely worked for Prague (Evans 2003) and Genoa (Farrer 2002) this form of action is in danger of being turned into a ritual itself and loosing at least part of the positive affirmation of all things not male. Already during the international NoBorders Camp in Strasbourg 2002 some of the dressing up had turned into a re-affirmation of gender stereotypes, with young women dressing up in pink and silver cheerleader costumes.

Pink & Silver is a possibility for employing the creativity and corporeality demanded by capitalism outside the realm of traditional forms of representation. In this context, it is possible to question the construction of gender identity and to anticipate elements of lighthearted revolt. However, this demonstration form is only ONE possibility, which can achieve a subversive effect to a limited extent. As soon as these kinds of structures become established, they become part of a controllable representation. Creativity and corporeality are then just a decorative supplement, just as the female frequently is in the dominant society.

Foltin 2002

Pink-Silver was good as long as it lasted, but with the pink hype that we are experiencing in (not only) consumer products, the growing acceptance of men wearing pink and the form of action being based on surprise and doing the unexpected, it would be hard to bring it back, at least for now.

Pink, like poison, must be used sparingly. Heighten pink and you get the colour of disease, scar pink, pimple pink, gingivitis pink, herpes pink; or, conversely, the colour of medicine, Pepto-Bismol pink, mercurochrome pink, mouthwash pink.

Greer 2007

The re-appropriation of pink by feminist and queer groups, denying the intended humiliation implication of weakness and submissiveness, might have been an empowering process at some point. Considering the pink overkill we have been witnessing in recent times, pink all but lost its rebelliousness.

If you need to know more about pink:

Evans, K. (2003) ‘It’s Got To Be Silver and Pink: on the road with Tactical Frivolity’ in Notes From Nowhere, (ed.), we are everywhere, pp. 290-295. London, New York: Verso

Farrer, L. (2002) Dance Around the G8

Foltin, R. (2002) ‘Radical Cheerleading in Pink&Silver. Demonstration Culture Between Conformity and Confrontation’, in Transversal 09/02 hybrid?resistance, Vienna and Linz: eipcp

Greer, G. (2007) Why has the world gone pink mad? It’s the colour of hypocrisy, gingivitis and all things girly in Guardian Unlimited

Heger, H. (1980) The men with the pink triangle, London: Gay Men’s Press

Maerz and Paul (1930). A Dictionary of Color, New York: McGraw-Hill

Munsell, A.H. (1936) A Color Notation. Baltimore: Munsell Color Company

Sutton, T. and Whelan B.T. (2004) The Complete Color Harmony, Hombrechtikon: Edition Olms

Varley, H. (ed.) (1980) Color London: Marshall Editions

Wagner, K. Van Colour Psychology of Pink – Reader Responses

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Posted in: essays