In the Pink
A Lancaster University researcher says pink has become a post-feminist colour signifying fun, confidence and independence in women.
Dr Veronika Koller, from the Department of Linguistics and English Language, carried out a survey looking at how people interpret the colour pink and at how it is used in advertisements, magazines, packaging, websites and leaflets.
She said her interest in the subject had its roots in the culture shock she experienced when she moved to the UK from Austria.
She said: “I found myself faced with throngs of girls and women decked out in pink from head to toe, often combining the colour with frills and sequins in an almost theatrical display of femininity.”
Her survey revealed that over three quarters of people associate pink with femininity.
She said: “From the iconic Barbie dolls to girls’ clothing, flower bouquets for Mother’s Day and birthday cards for girls and women, consumer goods targeted at a female market are suffused with pink.”
Other associations of pink include vanity, sexuality and lust, so much so that in Japan “blue” movies are called “pink” movies and in the UK, a mobile phone company called a pink handset “porn star”.
But, says Dr Koller, before 1920 pink was the colour for little boys when it was seen as a lighter version of red, the “masculine” colour of blood and fighting. After the First World War, blue became popular with boys because of military uniforms and by default, pink became the colour for girls.
Dr Koller said pink is used by little girls as a marker of female identity which is why they are so resistant to any attempts by parents to introduce other colours into their wardrobe.
Because of its feminine connotations, pink was also used to signify homosexuality which is why the Nazis used a pink triangle to stigmatise gay male prisoners in the concentration camps.
She said: “Gay liberation after 1969 reclaimed not only terms of abuse such as “queer” but also the pink triangle for self-reference.”
Her survey revealed that gay men now see pink as signifying confidence and pride, as seen in the expressions “pink pound”, referring to spending power, and the gay newspaper “Pink Paper”.
The colour has also changed its meaning for women, with lesbians mostly associating it with stupidity and heterosexual women with hedonism and confidence.
“Pink is used to communicate fun and independence, financial and professional power without accommodating to masculine norms, as well as femininity and self-confidence.
“A prime example of the post-feminist woman is the pop singer Pink who uses this stage name to make scathing comments on contemporary gender politics and ideas of femininity.”
Dr Koller said that pink contains more meanings than any other colour.
“As the advertisement for the Smart card puts it, “Pink isn’t just a colour. It’s a state of mind”.”