Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Pink Is for Everyone

Years ago, there was an ad from cars.com featuring a guy who was obsessed with everything lime green. When he's surfing the website and sees a lime-green hatchback that the seller's wife says no one will ever want, it's of course love at first sight for Lime-Green Guy.

"Oh, sweet mercy."

The humor is in the love for a weird, unloved color. But while people might find a guy odd for loving lime green, there's still something of a stigma around men and the color pink. And there's no reason for it, other than years of social conditioning that says blue is for boys and pink is for girls. 

It wasn't always this way. As GQ explains, pink was once the color of male power and virility:
Centuries ago, men wore pink to express their masculinity as it was a derivative of red, the color of fire, strength, and passion. The courtiers of King Louis XVI walked around in pink coats embroidered with flowers, something you might envision your grandmother loving. [...] It wasn’t until after World War II, when men came home to reclaim the workforce, that femininity was designated pink by the home and the hearth.

That pink is a "derivative of red" -- a mixture of red and white -- was probably also symbolically significant, with the fire and heat of red being cooled by the purity of white. That would suggest a social restraint on the otherwise unchecked power of masculinity, as manifested in things like social propriety, gentlemanliness, even chivalry.   

Some cultural observers think the modern trend of associating pink with femininity cemented itself with the emergence of rigid stereotypes for men and women in the 1950s, followed by a subsequent feminist rejection of pink as being too frilly and girly. Marketers played a role, too, as retailers in the mid- to late 20th century slowly coalesced around pink for girls and blue for boys, following decades of no consensus on the matter -- or, in some cases, just the opposite. And if it seems surprising to think that folks ever associated blue with girls and women, may I direct your attention to the Virgin Mary, who at least in Western Christianity has for centuries been associated with blue

But the point is that colors don't belong to a particular sex. And as far as pink goes, it's "a feel-good, comforting colour that appeals to all humans, male and female, young and old alike," writes Karen Haller, operator of a "behavioral design consultancy" that helps people use color and design in ways that promote health and positivity. 

Haller continues:

The confusion arises when we apply social conditions to a particular colour and it becomes something we feel we should view in a particular way. We base our choices on what we think we should do or we follow what everyone else is doing because we‘re worried about being judged, instead of embracing a colour because of how it speaks to us or makes us feel, act, and behave.

That seems to be where we are now as a culture. Lots of men still shun pink because they think it's off limits to them, or because they think it undermines their manliness. If we men are socially "allowed" to wear pink, it's usually for just one month a year, in support of a women's cause. (In fact, one of the things that got me thinking pink as of late was the pink jackets the umpires are wearing during the T20 Men's Cricket World Cup.) It's a worthy cause, of course, but it ultimately also keeps the color pink tethered to the fairer sex. 

To be sure, it takes a certain level of confidence, and/or a willingness to flout convention, for a man in today's world to wear pink without feeling self-conscious. But it might be worth the risk, guys: Researchers have found that men who wear pink earn more money than their peers, get more compliments from women in the workplace, and are more likely than men who wear plain old white shirts to the office to have an advanced degree. Not that there's anything magical about a color, of course, but there's an obvious correlation between guys who feel secure enough in their masculinity to wear pink and those who pursue success and excellence.

Now, I never was a ladder-climber, even when I did work in an office environment. So my affinity for pink is rooted in nothing more than just liking the color, and not caring what anyone else thinks about it. My favorite dress shirt for years has been a pink button-down Gold Series shirt from DXL. On top of that, when I started wearing bow ties a year or so ago, I liked pairing my pink tie as an accent color with shirts of other colors that I owned. I suppose it just never occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to embrace pink. 

But then I've always had a contrary nature, and that plays into it, too. I'm the kind of person who wore a tie only on casual Fridays and would light up a cigar to observe the Great American Smokeout. I absolutely despise being told what to do. Heck, the reason this blog launched in November is that I didn't want to start it in October and make people think I was mindlessly jumping on the Susan G. Komen bandwagon. I'm allergic to groupthink. As such, October may end up being the one month out of the year when I stick to my traditional blues, blacks, grays, and greens and avoid pink altogether.

Mostly, though, I just got it in my head to try something different. My wardrobe has been dark and drab for most of my adult life, and I decided it was time to brighten things up a bit. It's also one little thing I can be in control of, in a world where I control so little. I can't even control my increasingly malfunctioning body as I age. But I can control what I wear.

As I accumulate more pink-colored items to wear, I figure this will also be a kind of sociological experiment, living as I do in a pretty conservative area where people rarely challenge social norms. Around here, tattoos are about as wild as it gets. I've had one person, a female cashier, comment on my pink Crocs, but that's about it so far. Similarly, I've had a few comments on my bow ties -- mostly from older folks. (Well, I'm an older folk, but I mean older than I am.)  

In any event, I don't intend to become a human flamingo. As I incorporate more pink into what I wear, I'll use it mainly as an accent color. I don't like drawing unnecessary attention to myself anyway -- though I hate being like everybody else, hence the attraction of trying something different but still kind of low-key.

The real challenge, I've already found, is just to find pink stuff that fits me, as a big-and-tall dude, and that isn't covered in hearts, lace, and rainbows. The last thing I want to do is walk around looking like a 14-year-old girl. But trust me -- if you go looking for pink apparel, even if you specify men's apparel, you'll usually get search results for women's apparel, or you'll get something more suited for wearing to a teenage girl's slumber party. Which just proves that pink is still socially geared toward women, for no good reason whatsoever.

Don't misunderstand, though. I'm not trying to appropriate anything from women. Women already have to deal with being marginalized and having things that should be exclusively theirs taken away from them. I love women and would never dream of intruding on their turf. But at the same time, those goofy online quizzes do tell me that I have a girl's brain -- not surprising, as I've never comfortably fit in to most male stereotypes. I also happen to have a female alter ego who loves pink so much that even her hair is dyed pink. (Don't worry; she's just a figment of my imagination. I'm not going to start cross-dressing anytime soon. I'd make a really ugly woman anyway.) 

Moreover, my spiritual life is centered on the Sacred Feminine, with Mary symbolizing a kind of compassionate universal mother and the feminine creative principle. In pagan terms, she's my goddess. In psychological terms, she's the loving mother I never had. I also think of the Tao as a life-giving mother, but as someone who grew up Catholic and always felt drawn to the Blessed Mother, Mary stands in well enough as a human symbol of the feminine divine.

And then there's Wonder Woman, who's pretty much my archetype of the ideal human person. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, considered her to be "psychological propaganda for the new type of women who, I believe, should rule the world." And that's because he essentially felt that women were superior to men, inasmuch as men ruled with force and violence, where women could induce submission in relationships and were therefore more able to employ things like truth, beauty, and love to bring about positive social change. Not all that different from Catholic theology that adapted the Platonic transcendentals into the theology of the divine as the embodiment of goodness, truth, and beauty. 

Think about Wonder Woman's monologue from the end of the wonderful 2017 movie:

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light and learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So, I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.

And so it all comes full circle: Wonder Woman is a kickass Mary; Mary is the human face of Sophia, the Wisdom of the Divine, who is in turn a personification of the Holy Spirit, the feminine aspect of divinity; and the Divine itself is the Great Mother, understood as the limitless fruitful womb of the Tao, or as the active feminine creative principle that animates the inert male principle in Hinduism.

Bit of a digression there, but it's important for understanding where I'm coming from. With National Novel Writing Month upon us, I may try to finally write my book explaining my own Divine Feminine-based theology. (Again being contrary -- writing nonfiction in a fiction-writing contest.) And in the meantime, I'll probably add some more splashes of pink to my personal look -- just because I can. 

Perhaps the funniest part of all this is that I seem to be drawn to pink far more than my 11-year-old tomboy daughter is. I dressed her in pretty little dresses when she was too young to choose clothes for herself; now she's a shirt-and-pants kind of girl who doesn't really give a flip about looking, or acting, girly. And good for her, for choosing her own path. 

Would that we all did the same, rather than locking ourselves into the expectations that we think others have for us.

[Pink toy soldiers photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.]

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