It may come as a surprise to you that pink was not originally considered a “girl color.” Until the nineteenth century most babies wore white. The idea that boys should wear blue and girls should where pink was apparently a French innovation although the exact origin of the custom remains unknown. However, it soon made its way into popular culture on this side of the Atlantic and now every baby girl is sent home wrapped in a pink blanket. From that moment on and long past the terrifying birthday when she realizes her age is greater than her bust measurement the girl is bombarded with advice on how to wield her feminine wiles. This sort of advice made me sick. I formed an early opinion on all things pink and girly and hated them. Pink seemed like an attitude about what proper female behavior was and this was reinforced by toys and all sorts of consumer products especially Barbie Dolls. The color assumes that there is a standard for young girls to aspire to regardless of age, race, personality, or body type; femininity.
In “The Practices of Looking” Sturken and Cartwright reference a French philosopher named Roland Barthes who defines “myth” as “the hidden set of rules and conventions through which meanings, which are in reality specific to certain groups, are made universal and given for a whole society.” Pink is a myth. Pink is just a color, but since the nineteenth century it has been wrapped up in gender defining ideology.
It is time to reclaim pink. In rural Northern India in a tiny village called Banda a group of vigilante women have done just that. The Gulabi (pink) Gang is a group of several hundred women in India committed to protecting women against social injustice, corrupt administrators, and abusive husbands. The Gang is lead by Sampat Pal Devi who is the wife of an ice cream vendor and mother of five children. “We are not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We are a gang for justice” She says. Two years after giving themselves a name and a pink sari uniform they have thrashed men who have beaten their wives and unearthed corruption in the distribution of grain to the poor. Another gang member summed it up simply, “Men used to think the law didn’t apply to them, but we are forcing a huge change.”
Watching and reading about these women has been extremely empowering, and showed me that just maybe, pink has real power and shouldn’t be reserved for Barbie Dolls.