Among the world’s vast palette of colors, perhaps none carries as many connotations as pink. This seemingly innocuous hue communicates different things, from friendly and feminine to strong and defiant. Its history is also rife with contradictions, as pink has been used both to shame and deride individuals, as the Nazis did to identify Jews who were gay, and to empower and uplift communities, as seen in the breast cancer movement and the LGBTQ+ community's proud adoption of the color.
This summer, pink will pervade, with the July 21 release of the film Barbie, starring Margot Robbie as the blonde bombshell who drives a pink convertible and is clad in ever-changing shades of pink, from powder to fuschia.
Why, then, is pink such a fraught color? Its complex nature stems from its ability to elicit strong emotions, challenge societal norms, and be both a symbol of vulnerability and resilience. Pink’s journey through history serves as a vivid reminder that colors hold immense power and can shape narratives that reflect the triumphs and struggles of humanity.
Color, after all, is a universal language conveying emotions, messages, and cultural associations. Among the broad spectrum of colors, pink has a distinct presence and is often associated with various concepts such as innocence, cheerfulness, femininity, and even social movements. While pink has gained renewed attention due to the summer Barbie movie, its significance extends far beyond the world of dolls. In this blog, we’ll delve into the rich history of pink, its association with gender, and the evolving nature of stereotypes.
The Rise of Pink
The association of pink with femininity is a relatively recent phenomenon, originating in the early 20th century. Prior to this, pink was not necessarily considered a “girl” color. In fact, the reverse was true, as blue was often associated with femininity. It was only during the 1940s and 1950s that marketing and advertising campaigns began to popularize the notion of pink as a feminine color.
Stereotypes and Gender Norms
The connection between pink and femininity has been reinforced by societal norms and gender expectations. From baby clothes to toys, pink in modern decades has been assigned to girls, perpetuating the idea that it symbolizes fragility, nurturing, and passivity.
Fortunately, societal perceptions and gender norms have been gradually shifting, leading to the dismantling of many of the traditional stereotypes associated with pink. People are becoming more aware of the limitations imposed by such rigid categorizations, allowing individuals to embrace pink without conforming to predetermined roles or expectations.
Pink and Social Movements
Beyond its association with femininity, pink has also been adopted as a symbol of resilience, empowerment, and solidarity in various social movements. The breast cancer awareness movement, for instance, has utilized pink as a powerful symbol to generate support for those affected by the disease. The pink ribbon, an iconic emblem, has become synonymous with the fight against breast cancer, serving as a reminder of hope and strength.
Pink’s complex history includes a dark period during World War II when the Nazis used an inverted pink triangle to identify gay Jews, representing the lowest social status. However, the LGBTQ+ community later reclaimed the symbol, turning the triangle right-side up and transforming it into a symbol of gay pride and resilience. This powerful act showcases the ability of marginalized communities to reclaim and redefine symbols, challenging the negative associations imposed upon them.
The Ever-Changing Perception of Pink
As society continues to evolve, so does our perception of colors and the meanings we attach to them. Pink is no exception. Its associations with innocence, cheerfulness, femininity, and social movements remain relevant, but the understanding of these meanings is becoming more nuanced and inclusive. People are embracing pink regardless of their gender identity, recognizing the hue’s ability to convey a range of emotions and messages.
The color pink is a fascinating subject that communicates far more than meets the eye. While pink has been entangled with stereotypes and gender norms, these boundaries are slowly eroding as society progresses. The evolving perception of pink demonstrates our collective capacity to challenge and redefine the meanings attached to colors, ultimately fostering a more accepting — and interesting — world.
At Alphy, we look at communication from all angles and use our AI software to alert users to communication that is harmful and helpful. Here are a few sentences related to pink that we typed into our AI, and the responses given:
"Pink is only for girls."
"You look great in pink!"
"I love that he was wearing a pink suit."
"I admire that the LGBTQ+ community took something negative and made it positive with the pink triangle."
"Men should never wear pink or people will think they are gay."
Julian Guthrie is the CEO and founder of Alphy.
Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.