Tag Archives: equality

Thinking Pink


In western culture pink has become synonymous with femininity and homosexuality and is often used as a signifier of gender or sexuality. Historically, this has not always been the case. For a long time there were no such gender-colour relationships. Then, in the 1920’s, blue was aligned with girls, because of it was associated with the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness and seen as dainty. Pink was seen as being suitable for boys and men because red was a masculine, more definite colour. In the 1940’s this became inverted into the norm that we now experience. This is surprisingly recent, considering how imbedded in our culture this relationship between colours and gender and sexuality is.

Whilst in the past many 2nd wave feminists may have sidestepped pink in order to avoid conforming to stereotypes, for sometime now many different voices have been reclaiming pink and femininity. Femininity is not less legitimate or ‘good’ than masculinity so why shouldn’t femininity be a valid choice?  After all, feminism is about equality and freedom. If a feminist cannot choose to wear make-up, jewellery or pink, then this is not really freedom. So we have girlie feminists. We have CODEPINK. Under its hot-pink cover, Ellie Levenson’s The Noughtie Girls’ Guide to Feminism, carries the message that “you can be feminine and a feminist”. We also have Pink, the singer, who is involved in ‘take back the night’, amongst other charities and who took back control of her own career when she felt that her image was not true to her. The colour is good and bright and fun and strong.

But sometimes we are not getting the freedom to choose pink; sometimes it is forced upon us when companies stereotype to such an extent that the pink options far outweigh the others. This is especially noticeable if you try to buy sportswear. When I looked for trainers in the “suitable for sport” category in a large sports shop, if I wanted pink on my feet, there was LOTS of choice; if I didn’t, there were plenty of others… so long as I wanted touches of baby blue instead. The ladies’ footwear corner was awash with pastels. The large men’s footwear selection was a mixture of neutrals and primaries. When I have looked online, pink is actually used to designate that you are in the women’s department, even if the options are much better than those I experienced bodily in a ‘real-life’ shop.

 Elsewhere the choice is worse. The ‘UK Boxing Store’ do sell ladies’ gloves, pads, headguards and shorts. But if you want the headguard or shorts, the only option is for a certain bubblegum hue… because obviously a girl who chooses to box would definitely want to wear pink (maybe she would but maybe she wouldn’t). I don’t know if these  stores are trying not to stereotype sporty women as ‘butch’ or they presume that women will want to balance the supposed masculinity of sports with a pretty feminine touch… I just find it weird: pastels do not dominate other high street shops in the same way. Fashion shoe and clothes shops do have a much wider choice.

The choice again becomes narrower if you are shopping for children. Whether you want clothes, toys or general toot, children’s goods are highly gendered. I suppose it starts with babies. We can’t tell which gender babies are automatically so we label them. I imagine, that even if you decide to clothe your offspring in yellows and greens that you will presented with other less neutral items as gifts (not having a baby myself please tell me if your experience differs to my assumption). In my local tesco, if you want to buy party bag fillers, there are primary-coloured toy fighter planes, bright green bouncing balls and fluorescent water pistols. Alongside these, there are hot-pink glittery pens, pale pink and purple plastic pencils and pink lipstick-shaped rubbers. The ‘feminine’ colours are used mainly for stationary and the solid masculine colours are used for more active toys. In Victorian tescoland little girls sit and write passively and little boys do not. Obviously we know that this does not reflect the real world which is thankfully not so simple. Many of the young boys I know, love to write and would have loved a pen instead of a ball… but not pink one!

Whilst I think Ellie Levenson must approve of her new book’s pink design, I also remember at a Ladyfest discussion on feminism a couple of years ago, politcs lecturer Sarah Childs expressed deep frustration that  the books she authoured were automatically put in pink jackets because the titles featured the word ‘women’ as well as ‘politics’.

 Although I like pink, I also like other colours. I own some things that are pink and many things that are not. But pink is still used to signal ‘female’ and to stereotype us. Turn away from one stereotype though and you slam headlong into another: girls like pink vs feminists are not feminine. So, I’m wondering… how does this impact on our ‘freedom of choice’? If we wear pink whilst living as feminists will we be able to change the image of feminists and feminity? Or will the number of pink products increase until we’re drowning in a sea of cerise? Whether you love it, wear it, hate it, shun it or aren’t really fussed, I’d like to hear: what do you think about pink?


Thoughts on Parental Leave Postponement

Coincidently, on the same day of Sir Stuart Rose’s denial of gender inequality, it was confirmed that deatheateresque business secretary Lord Mandelson had managed to ‘delay’ the government’s proposals that would enable parents to share parental leave. The recession is being blamed for their postponement but Dark Lord and ‘businesses were not exactly fans of the measures before the economic crisis. Business’s profit 1 Individual’s rights nil.

Labour’s plans were based on a pledge they made in their 2005 election manifesto. The proposals were not perfect but they would have been a start.  Both the conservatives and liberal democrats have policies for extended parental leave that actually appear to improve upon Labour’s by increasing flexibility. I prefer the Lib Dem’s policy overall (they also want to expand free children care and flexible working) but realistically I have to assume David Cameron will be moving to Downing Street in the not too distant future and pushing the tory package (greater choice in childcare = more options rich parents can pay for). It would have been interesting to see if Harriet Harman managed to get the proposals past The Dark Lord following the recession but it seems extremely unlikely that the government is going to make it that far. Instead we may have to wait to see how the tory’s policy fairs against business opposition.

In the meantime we can contact our MPs to ask them to press the government on implementing the proposals. We ask that they urge them to strengthen the equality bill. The Fawcett Society’s website has some brilliant resources for acting: letter templates and petition links on various campaigns including the equality bill, discrimination against pregnant workers and within the square mile.

The Apprentice, Bitching Women and The Glass Ceiling

It’s going to be an all female Apprentice final. This should be something to celebrate. It is brilliant for many obvious reasons: visible role models who have been successful and who are intelligent, ambitious and not relying (primarily) on their looks etc. However, alongside this positive message finalist, Kate Walsh’s various comments give less cause for rejoicing. Her lack of empathy for other women and egocentric view of the bigger picture have left me indignant. I had warmed to Kate and quietly supported her but in this week’s show that changed. As I watched Kate coolly smile through her interviews it was revealed that on her application she had written that her biggest challenge would be working with an “all female team”. Why? Apparently, women bitch, moan and whine… in her experience. She does not like bitching, moaning or whining. She prefers to be a lone ranger amongst men. And with that injection of lazy, harmful stereotyping I watched my quiet liking plummet over a steep cliff to its squishy demise. I was cheered up by Karen Brady as she took Kate on a slow-burning dance up a cul-de-sac. Her route was carefully planned to cause Kate to moan and whine, then to come out in support of moaning and whining, before Karen calmly pointed out her hypocrisy. Yay for Karen Brady.

In commenting on this I am aware that I am entering some sort of headache-inducing vicious circle where I am moaning and bitching about Kate moaning and bitching about moaning and bitching. Phew. The words are heavily caked in cultural implications: moaning and bitching = bad, women talking = moaning and bitching… women talking = bad.  Are they actually negative activities? For a long time now there have been many examples of feminists fighting attacks on female voices by reclaiming the word ‘bitch’ as positive. Furthermore moaning and bitching is not just a feminine trait- it is human.  Men and women sometimes bitch and moan. Sometimes it is annoying and negative; sometimes it is vital and cathartic. But women, like men say and do much more than bitch and moan. They communicate in a fantastic variety of ways and, importantly, they actively do things.

 Following Kate and Yasmina’s success in the semis, I came across a little Guardian piece hopefully titled, “Apprentice finalists fired with ambition for women”. Yasmina and Kate hope to ‘inspire’ other women. So apparently Kate does see herself as a role model. Whilst we really need more strong female role models, we really don’t need them to spout negative generalisations attacking women. It is Yasmina though who is quoted as hoping to “speak a lot of other girls” and “inspire”. Hopefully she will continue to be a more empathetic role model. Meanwhile Kate’s input was the killer assertion that the glass ceiling does not exist. The press association give more space for her comments. She appears to try back up her claim by pointing to Margaret Thatcher and Michelle Obama. Strong women, yes. Proof that glass ceiling has gone, no.

Kate, has done well in business. She has not experienced a ‘glass ceiling’. Surely though, common sense should dictate to her that not every woman’s experience is going to be the same as hers. Just because she has not encountered a glass ceiling (yet) does not mean that it does not exist. She wouldn’t have had to look far to find someone with a different experience. Semi-finalist Lorraine admitted she has found difficulties in trying to balance being a great mum with having a great career. The result: she felt her career had suffered, as had her self-esteem.

Kate’s opinion seems to be a scarily popular one at the moment. Only a few days earlier in his interview with the Observer’s Elizabeth Day, Marks and Spencer’s chairman Stuart Rose had smugly dismissed women’s “moaning” and the existence of any glass ceiling or indeed any gender inequality. What on earth was it that women wanted now he asked? Apparently he knows some women who have succeeded, he can even give a name, so obviously there’s not a problem, is there?

The facts do not support these assertions: only 9% of directors of the UK’s top 100 companies are female and the pay gap has increased so that women earn 17% less on average than men. Yes, women can break through the ‘glass ceiling’ and some do. Of course this should be celebrated and used to inspire people but other people still encounter direct and indirect discrimination. Even if we feel that employers are not discriminating in the way they pay and appoint, a system weighted against women impacts on what decisions we make. They are affected by a culture where, amongst other things, men cannot take parental leave for more than 2 weeks, flexible working is not always possible in higher paid roles, 30 000  women are fired for being pregnant every year and women who wear make up are like to be promoted. Some people do have genuine freedom to choose but for many it is any illusion.

Maybe Kate’s denial of the ‘glass ceiling’ is linked to fears about being seen as a moaning bitch or as a ‘victim’ if you state that there is a problem. Whilst we do need to take some responsibility and act as well as moan if we want to achieve in the work place, it is okay to admit that the system and culture should change. Change would not be a kind deed to women, tilting things in their favour. Change is needed to level the field; to give women and men the same opportunities. Recognising this does not make you less strong.  Acting and campaigning for equality, as well as for our own individual careers, will make us even stronger.