One of my favorite running outfits consists of a hot-pink racer-back tank top, a black running skirt and a pair of fluorescent green-and-pink shoes. The outfit is so obnoxiously bright that if you sent me out to Tampa International Airport at night, I could probably help planes land safely on the runway just by standing out there.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I love to wear this outfit so much, especially as it is so much girlier than the clothes I normally wear. I almost never wear pink, and I wear skirts so rarely that people actually comment on them when I do. I realized that I feel extra-aggressive when I’m decked out like this, and that the aggressiveness is tinged with subversion, a combination of which I am always a fan. Pink disarms people. It makes them think of Bonne Bell lip gloss and lacy things and stuffed animals. The pink-and-skirt combo says, “Underestimate me at your own peril.” It says, “You may think I look cute but you can think that while eating my dust.”
So when I wear pink when I am competing, I find myself almost subconsciously pushing harder than I would have otherwise. It’s like there’s some part deep inside that just hasn’t managed to let go of the inferiority complex nurtured over years of hearing, in the words of the riot grrrl manifesto, that Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak, and so whenever I get the chance to flip that script on its head, I do not hesitate.
I’ve seen it happen more than a few times while racing in that outfit. A guy, almost always a younger one, sees me coming up from behind him, and he picks up his pace. Even if he is sucking wind and stumbling with fatigue, he can’t bear to let me – or any other woman – pass him. I’ve even seen it while out training, which is especially unfortunate when it happens on speedwork days.
And lest you think I’m just making this all up in the anti-feminist dystopia that exists only in my mind, let me just remind you that the word “chicked” does in fact exist, and that the entire point of its existence is to shame guys who find themselves losing to girls in physical activities where “normally a man should outperform the woman.” Yep, I’d say that wearing pink while kicking ass is a subversive act when we live in a world where men have to worry about being “chicked.”
But the problem with subversion and its relatives, irony and reclamation, is that not everyone is savvy enough to get what you are doing. I might have this whole idea constructed in my head about how I’m sticking it to The Man when I race in pink, but The Man may very well not see that. In fact, The Man looks at me and goes, “Yep, I knew it – the ladies loooove pink.” I’m no longer a warrior fighting against stupid gender stereotypes; I’m yet another embodiment of those stupid gender stereotypes.
This is especially problematic when you are dealing with consumer goods. First of all, how really rebellious can you be when your rebellion is all about the things you buy? And what kind of rebellion is built upon the backs of poor people in the Global South? I mean, it’s not like my Nikes or my sweat-wicking running top were built in Sheboygan (unless there’s a city called Sheboygan in Vietnam). That’s a fundamental issue right there, and one that always has to be kept in mind.
Secondly, large corporations that create products – in this case, sporting goods and apparel – simply don’t care what my motivations might be. All they know is that I’m just another female buying female-coded products (aka pink stuff), which just affirms the decision to act like they are catering to a female sports population by offering gear in pink. (And lord, do they offer a lot of it. I’ve found chin straps, receiving gloves, boxing gloves, hockey sticks…just about everything you could possibly think of comes in pink.) A lot of lady athletes have complained about this, specifically how it seems like the corporations think it’s enough to offer gear in pink without actually changing anything about the product to make it more woman-friendly.
Third, the pinkification of sports gear is part of a larger overall trend of pinkification that is pretty much everywhere. I mean, you cannot walk into a girl-oriented toy aisle without feeling like you are drowning in an ocean of flamingo puke. Products that are otherwise totally gender-neutral are designed for one gender or the other by using color – pink for women, black and chrome for men. The idea that something could be unisex – which is actually how I remember more of the world being when I was younger – seems to have evaporated from the world. (And hey, because it’s not enough to make all our junk pink, corporations evidently think it’s okay to charge us more for it, too.)
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not one of those athletes who is reflexively anti-pink. I like pink. I also like red, purple, green, blue and yellow. (Sorry orange, I think you look like poop.) But what I don’t like is the idea that simply because I am a lady I must automatically want to have everything in pink. I mean, what if I want boxing gloves in light blue? What if a pair of weightlifting gloves in purple would really pump my ‘nads? Am I just shit out of luck? Do I have to console myself with black or pink, because those are the only colors Corporate Sports America thinks people want?
I think the thing that gets me most of all is how politicized this single color has become. I mean, pink is nothing more than light waves traveling at a specific frequency, and yet you’d think that frequency is a special one that causes penises to shrivel up and fall off upon coming into contact with it. The more pink becomes associated with women and girls, the faster boys and men scramble to get away from it.
I can’t pretend like I do have the answer, because I don’t. I don’t think women should burn piles of pink razors and footballs so they can stick it to The Man (and not just because that would make a huge ecological mess), because I recognize that a lot of women – myself included! – actually like the color. But I also can’t deny that I am troubled by the way that something as simple as a color has become yet another polarizing force in our culture.
What do you think?