Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I love pink. It looks like health, spring, rosebuds and the cheeks of babies. Of all the decorative items in my apartment, I would approximate that forty percent are pink. Pink tapestry on the wall, pink glass votive holders, dusty pink velvet upholstering my dining chairs, pink stripes and spots on the leaves of my houseplants.

I have enough pink clothing to assemble an entire fuchsia outfit, hat-to-shoes. I did it one time in order to try to get excused from a jury. It didn’t work, so I sat at the day-long trial dressed like punk Barbie. The defendant, accused of assault with a deadly weapon, gave me a big smile as he entered the courtroom.

If he wanted his own pink outfit, he was out of luck, because in America, men don’t wear pink. That’s the only rule we have for colors. Everyone else can wear any color they please, but for half the population, sorry, no pink.

You might argue that there are other rules for wearing colors. You can’t wear a white dress to a wedding if you’re not the bride, and if you live in a neighborhood with gangs, your high school won’t permit you to come to class in red or blue. You can’t dress your baby girl in blue—unless it is a blue flowered dress with ruffles, in which case you can. A few limited rules…but when the guest leaves the wedding, or the student leaves the neighborhood, or the girl gets past the age of about two years old, then they are all free to wear any color without earning any concerned glances or snide comments.

Baby boys, on the other hand, are never dressed in pink clothes. There are plenty of flowery blue baby dresses, but there are no rugged boyish pink baseball jerseys covered in pink dinosaurs or pink fire trucks, because boys just don’t wear pink, period.

We all know the rule is arbitrary. At the beginning of the century, pink was the color for boys, a variation of aggressive red, while tranquil blue was appropriate for girls.

Still, like all our bizarre cultural mores, it seems only natural that pink is not for boys. A recent study tried to demonstrate the naturalness of this association, claiming that women have a greater innate preference for pink than men do, all the better for performing primitive women’s duties like finding ripe berries and determining if a child has a fever.

The methodology of this study was widely considered unsound, but it’s easy to see where they got their hypothesis. Little girls seem to love pink as soon as they love anything, just like all my friends’ sons have been obsessed with trains and garbage trucks since they were old enough to point and squeal. Pink was one of my favorite colors (second to red) when I was little, until mid-elementary school, when I decided that green better represented the non-frivolous person I wanted to be. But pink worked itself back into heavy rotation in my clothing during graduate school, when I didn’t care whether I was frivolous anymore.

For the first two years that I studied martial arts, I avoided wearing anything pink to class. I was often offered pink gear: We have pink boxing gloves made especially for women!

I didn’t want any part of it. I had seen women who wore pink boxing gloves, and there were two types of them. The first type were martial arts newbies who wanted to show that they were still cute and feminine, even thought they were learning to fight. That type made up approximately ninety-five percent of the pink-gloved girls. The other five percent—meaning maybe two women I knew of—were straight up badasses who could easily take out a man twice their size. They wore pink as war paint, a challenge to anyone who dared to view them as cute.

I knew I wasn’t that second type of woman, and I didn’t want to be the first type, so I avoided all pink. Not just in my equipment, but also in any clothing I wore to my martial arts schools, including my training clothes and my street clothes. I didn’t want my male training partners to think of me as female, so like a baby boy, I wore blue, grey, orange, red, anything but pink.

Eventually I got so used to avoiding the pink shoes and t-shirts that make up a good percentage of my wardrobe that I forgot I was doing it. One day, a male classmate made a comment about pink being my favorite color. How did he know, I wondered?

“It’s a joke,” he explained. “You’re not the kind of girl who wears pink.”

“I’m not?” I asked, surprised. Why would he think that? Then I remembered: because I never wore it to class. Like the self-monitoring prisoners in Foucault’s panopticon, I had enforced the masculine no-pink rule upon myself.

After that, I started wearing pink all the time. I would wear my pink motorcycle boots to and from class, and pink t-shirts when I trained. I wasn’t scary enough to become a type-two pink-gloves girl, but I was secure enough to stop pretending I was a boy.

Lately, though, the boys at one of my kickboxing schools have taken to wearing pink. It started with some bright pink kickboxing shorts that the school was selling. They only came in sizes so tiny that none of the women could fit our curvy hips into them. They sat unpurchased in the display case until the very small, but decidedly male, Thai teacher started wearing a pair.

Of course, being a non-American, he probably didn’t believe that pink was a girls’ color. In Thailand, pink is traditionally associated with Tuesday and recently has been worn to show support for ailing king Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Whatever his own associations with the color were, leading class in his pink shorts, he was like the type-two pink-gloves girls, a tiny badass fighter daring you to look askance at his shorts so he’d have a reason to kick your head off. Soon he began adding more pink to his outfit: pink t-shirt, pink hand wraps, pink ankle supports.

Then all the boys at the school started wearing pink. The school purchased multiple shipments of pink handwraps to keep up with the demand. I suppose they are using the color to show that they are type-two scary men like their teacher. Or maybe they just think it's pretty.

Coke Chunhawat


brain said...

For me it's a cross between being ironic and being inspired by yakuza-flavored fatalism - pink being the color of cherry blossoms and therefore symbolic of transitory life/imminent death. Also being intentionally garish.

I now have a lot of things that are pink.

Unrelated: my slippers are pink; I inherited them from Alice, and even though they have holes in them it's going to be hard to get rid of them.

Karin Spirn said...

Well, according to Wikipedia:

"In Japan the color cherry blossom pink is associated with the vagina, and therefore, in Japan, softcore pornographic films are called pink movies."

Guess it's that whole eros/thanatos thing.

Your slipper comment seems entirely related, btw(inherited slippers and transitory life...)

matt lucas said...

yeah pink doesn't have the same connotations in thai society as it does in western ones. Plus at the major stadiums you can only wear blue or red trunks with certain limiting factors to them as well, no black, certain lines etc. So wearing pink is a personality thing. Plus gender is different in thailand than in America.

Karin Spirn said...

And you're going to fight at Lumpinee, right? That is so fucking exciting! I think "That's Not My Name" is the best fight song ever. Especially since gender is different in Thailand.