Wednesday, February 24, 2010

pink stinks

I don't really hate pink. As colors go, it's brilliant when leaning toward magenta and, well, pretty in its paler form. I own (among other things) a hot pink rain slicker and myriad writing implements in various shades of fuchsia and rose. But I have to say that I see red when I think about the pinkification of anything and everything related to the female gender.

It might surprise you to learn that pink didn't always conjure images of princesses and other precious playthings; the truth is, until the late 20th century blue was actually considered the daintier, more girly color, while regal pink was considered stronger and more masculine. Today, of course, we've done a complete 180, and then some. Consider, if you will:

Exhibit A: Toys! Step into any major toyshop—or chain store featuring a toy section—and it'll be painfully obvious which toys are intended for girls and which are for boys. I won't even go into how horrible it is that we're socializing our children to assume that certain skills/pastimes/careers are more masculine or feminine, but I will share with you one example of mind-blowing pink stupidity. A recent Toys "R" Us catalogue featured simple telescopes and microscopes for budding young scientists. The 'scopes were available in different colors and with different levels of magnification. Sickeningly, the lowest-resolution options for both microscopes and telescopes were (wait for it...) the pink ones. How idiotic is that?! Even the newly announced Computer Engineer Barbie, one of very few toys portraying women in technical fields, has to come with a pink laptop, pink cell phone, and pink accessories like shoes, glasses, and wristwatch. Yeesh!

Exhibit B: Electronics! When you offer a product in a rainbow of colors—think candy-colored earbuds or iPod Nanos—pink is a perfectly good option to add to the mix. But when you throw pink in as a second color simply to try to woo certain female customers, the outcome is often just ridiculous. Let's SLRs? Check. Pink PSPs? Check. Pink Wii remotes? Check. And then there's this monstrosity. Excuse me while I find somewhere to throw up. But seriously, who buys this stuff? I am genuinely curious to know.

Exhibit C: Team sports apparel! So apparently the people who own major sports franchises have decided that instead of offering items for their female fans in, say, their team's colors (a logical choice, right?), they'll instead provide only one option: pink or pink. No joke, most of the time it's either pink jerseys and caps or black t-shirts with pink rhinestone studs. This isn't a fashion show, folks, it's a sporting event. Oh, and have you ever been to a ladies' giveaway day at the ballpark? Nothing screams "Let's beat the Evil Empire!!" like a pale pink visor, ya know? (Small consolation: The Evil Empire gives away pink visors, too.) Mind you, it's not exactly rocket science to figure out why no professional sports team that I can think of—male or female—has pink as it's primary color; even women's teams would be seen as too feminine or girly for that. Unless, of course, they're dressing up for a special occasion...which leads me to my next point!

Exhibit D: Breast cancer awareness! Yup, even the pink cancer ribbon (and the pinkification of anything in the name of breast cancer awareness) bothers me. Now obviously, cancer of any type is a very serious matter. But I completely agree with social activist Barbara Ehrenreich, who recently wrote in the LA Times of her frustration with the fact that pink has become a symbol for what I'll call "feminism lite":
"To some extent, pink-ribbon culture has replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity. When a corporation wants to signal that it's 'woman friendly,' what does it do? It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some minuscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research....Instead of embracing the full spectrum of human colors—black, brown, red, yellow and white—we stick to princess pink. While we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk 'for the cure.'"

I must say, I'm happy to know I'm not the only one truly bothered by the pinkification of the female gender. While the marketers of the world continue to do their damnedest to make sure pink = girl/woman, I've seen more articles in the last several months examining the role of pink in modern society than I have in many years of caring about this. There's even a new book about the subject, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America by University of Maryland professor Jo B. Paoletti, due out later this year.

I was especially happy—dare I say tickled pink?—to read about a new campaign out of the UK that hopes to "challenge the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls' lives." Called Pink Stinks, the organization aims not only to encourage girls to think in other shades of the electromagnetic spectrum (okay, truth be told pink isn't even cool enough to be in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum...), it also strives to reverse gender stereotyping by providing positive role models for girls in all walks of life—especially those traditionally closed to women.

Sadly, the two sisters who started Pink Stinks, Abi and Emma Moore, have already been branded by naysayers as "dour and humorless feminists," "communist loonies," and worse. I find it amazing how strongly these Defenders of Pink can come out against what seems like such an egalitarian agenda! Well, I, for one, support Pink Stinks and everyone else who's raised awareness about this issue of late. To be clear, I don't think pink should be demonized as a color, but niether should it be the only color associated with feminity. Why not start on day one? If we could get to the point where babies come home from the hospital dressed not in pink or blue but in something a little more gender-neutral (chartreuse, anyone?), I think we'd all begin to see the world through slightly more rose-colored glasses.

Photographs by JeongMee Yoon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

score one for the girls: sylvia pressler (1934 - 2010)

It was a bright afternoon in May of 1992, and I was two strikes down. Sixty feet away, the opposing pitcher, a scruffy kid of 14 or 15, stared intently into his catcher's mitt and tried to remember that I was just another batter before hurling a fastball in my direction. As soon as I caught the ball in my sights, I knew it was going places.

Before long I was on second base, having knocked in the go-ahead run for my team. It would be one of two run-scoring hits I'd have that day, my best as a member of the local Babe Ruth Little League that I was the first girl to ever play in. My mother would later recall how she'd overheard several parents complaining that I was trying to show up their sons, that I was embarrassing them, that I didn't belong there. They wondered, a little too loudly for my mom's taste, what I was trying to prove.

Thing is, I wasn't trying to prove anything; I just wanted to play baseball. And I might never have had the opportunity to help my team that day had it not been for a woman named Sylvia Pressler, who died on Monday at the age of 75.

I was but a glimmer in my parents' eyes back in 1973, but that year a 12-year-old girl named Maria Pepe pitched three games for her Little League team in Hoboken, New Jersey. Unfortunately, while women had participated in our national pastime since the very birth of the game in the mid-1800s, and had even boasted their own professional baseball league during the 1940s and 50s, girls growing up in the 60s and 70s were generally not welcome in the game of baseball. So when the national Little League Baseball organization heard about Pepe, they threatened to revoke the charter of her local league. In response, the National Organization for Women stepped in and filed a lawsuit on Pepe's behalf.

The case was heard by New York City native Sylvia Pressler, who in 1973 was a lawyer for New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, the state body set up to hear such cases at the time. A legal trailblazer, Pressler had earned a law degree from Rutgers School of Law thirteen years earlier at a time when female lawyers were virtually unheard of.

In her decision on the Little League case, Pressler ruled in favor of Pepe and the National Organization for Women, arguing that Little League's no-girls policy violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws. "The institution of Little League is as American as the hot dog and apple pie," she stated in her opinion. "There is no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls."

After losing an appeal, Little League Baseball amended its rules the following year and in fact decided to create an entire program for girls. Sadly, though, the girls' program was not for baseball but for softball—which, as anyone who's ever played the two knows all too well, is a very different game. Today, although it's still illegal to disallow girls from playing on Little League baseball teams, the reality is that most girls don't even consider baseball as an option anymore. This has been a bitter twist of fate for someone who thought for sure progress would have spun in the other direction—more girls playing baseball—in the 18 years since her last season of Little League!

Pressler made national headlines following the Little League decision but would go on to hear much more challenging cases after she became a judge. Four years after her landmark ruling, she became only the second woman appointed to judge on the Appellate Division for the state of New Jersey. And in 1997, she was the first woman to be named as the division's presiding judge, a position she held until her retirement in 2004.

In case you were wondering, we won the game that spring afternoon in '92. And in his victory speech to the team, our coach presented me with the game ball for my achievements at the plate and in the field. It was one of my proudest baseball moments, and I still cherish that worn-out ball—as well as the shiny blue trophy I earned after our team went on to win the league championship that season. Baseball has always been in my blood, but thanks to Sylvia Pressler, I've known what it's like to play the most American of sports. I thank her for that. ∞