Monday, 9 July 2012


Hello, my lovelies! Tuesday again, and today I'm sharing with you a slightly different kind of RetroTuesday post - not something from the archive, but a post that I wrote for my publisher's UNDERCOVER blog back a couple of months ago. At the time I linked the post into the Queen of Teen Award, but I thought it would be nice to bring it back here for anyone who didn't see it then and just let it stand on its own. I present to you:

Shhhh. *Looks around furtively* I need to tell you a secret, OK?

It's really embarrassing. You won't tell anyone, right? This is just between you and me?

Here goes.

I really... kind of... love... pink.

When I was a little girl and my mum tried to put me in a pair of jeans, I threw an epic tantrum and wouldn't leave the house, even though said jeans had been specially bought because they had pink embroidered flowers all over them. When my cousin didn't invite me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding I cried for hours because I swear to you, I wanted that big pink puffy meringue dress more than I wanted to live. One of my favourite toys for years was a troll doll with hot-pink hair in a full ballerina's outfit including hot-pink tutu and toe shoes. It never left my sight.

I know, right!? Me! Me, with my martial arts and Feminism and fantasy/sci-fi nerdery. Me, with all the big talk about sexism and diversity and trying to write the change you want to see in the world. Me, with my powerful heroines that go around fighting and casting spells and rescuing the heroes and freeing nations.

I feel so ashamed of myself! I'm letting the side down! Right? Right?

Or how about: OH HECK NO.

This is the dilemma many of us ladies (and in fact, gentlemen) face in our day to day lives. We want to be fierce, strong, independent people, fighting back against stereotypes of what femininity can and cannot be. We want respect and we are prepared to kick butt and take names until we get it.

But we also really, really, really want that pair of pink suede kitten heel slingbacks we saw on sale last week...

Humans have a problem, and it is this: we like to put things in boxes. We like to be able to put Hairy Chested Manly Things in one box, and Fragrant Pink Girly things in another. Girls may sometimes, and with a large application of effort, be allowed to play in the Hairy Chested Manly Things box and borrow some stuff (like, you know, wearing trousers, voting, owning property). But we're not allowed to have everything we might want, and we're often under threat of someone coming along and taking those things back from us. 

And if we like the stuff out of the boys box too much (equal rights and pay at work, equal sexual freedom, absolute and unquestioned dominion of our own bodies) we'll probably have some very unkind names thrown at us and may even be physically attacked. 

Men are not even allowed to glance at the Fragrant Pink Girly Box. Everything in there - everything which is supposed to be natural to and desirable for girls - is supposed to be inherantly inferior and lesser for them. A man who likes that stuff is letting down all men. He's unfit to be a man. He can't play in the box without getting sneered at, threatened, deprived of rights and possibly beaten up by others, some of whom might even be women.

And ladies - many ladies - including me! - have seen this and have been known to say: 'I shall not play in the Fragrant Pink Girly Box! If it is not good enough for men then it is not good enough for me either! I shall not be forced into certain roles and choices in life! I shall partake only of the Hairy Chested Manly things - like being tough and strong, and not caring about personal hygiene - AND THAT WILL JUST SHOW YOU!'

Ladies. Comrades. Sisters in arms and sisters in pink suede kitten heel slingbacks. I am here to tell you that you do not have to chose.

Many, many of the things our society has put in the Hairy Chested Manly Box, like wearing trousers, and kicking butts, and being strong, are awesome. And many, many things society has put in the Fragrant Pink Girly Box, like falling in love, and caring about relationships, are also awesome.

The thing that is very not awesome? Is the label there on the box that says 'Manly' or 'Girly'.

Because this makes those of us who like stuff from both boxes feel bad. It makes us scared. It makes us feel that things we like and care about and enjoy are wrong, merely because of the private parts assigned to us by fate. That is not awesome at all. It's so far from awesome that I'd quite like to catch it and put it in a box all of its very own. And then hit the box with a stick. And then drop the box off a very high cliff.

It's 2012, and all of us, boys and girls, should feel free to play in both boxes and take what we like out of both of them and then construct our own, personal idea of what it is to be a man or a woman. Pink is not essentially girly, no matter what those box loving people think (in fact, until around a hundred years ago, pink was traditionally a boy's colour, did you know that?). And being hairy is just as much a girly thing as a man thing - anyone who has seen a woman's collection of hair removing products cannot doubt this. 

We do not live as hunter-gatherers anymore. The natural order of things is the way that feels natural to each of us as individuals.

When I see people making disparaging comments or retching noises over displays of pink, that makes me feel sad. Because there is nothing inherantly wrong with pink. The only reason pink is so despised is that it is considered something 'for girls' - and this has caused it to be labeled inferior, sickening, lesser. So those people are, in fact, making their disparaging comments not just about the colour - but about the value of things liked by girls. When I hear a boy being teased by being called a 'girl', that makes me feel incredibly sad. He's being told that the worst thing he can do is to act in any way that the world considers traditionally feminine - that in fact, doing anything badly is to do it 'girlishly'.

People try to play this off like it isn't important. People - both men and women - will tell you that worrying about the use of the word 'girl' as an insult, or how wearing a pink shirt to school is unthinkable for a boy, is foolish. Or over-reacting. But it isn't. Of course it isn't. Think about it for a minute and think about what this actually says about our society and our attitude to women and girls. It's scary. 

So this is a plea to you. All of you boys and girls who love pink and sparkly things. And all of you boys and girls who love sword fights and magic. And all of you boys and girls who love both. The world may not want you to have strength and independence AND pink - but I think you can. I think we can.

Don't let other people tell you who you are. Just BE who you are.

Pink is not the enemy. Prejudice, narrow-mindedness and bigotry are. 

Appropriate personal photo-no-jutsu!


EC_L said...

I so relate to this! I'm an engineer, but I still like frocks and flower fairies. I'm used to comments like 'you're an engineer, were you a tomboy then?', and most often 'you don't look like an engineer'. I expect if I dressed in cargo pants and a rugby shirt, people would think I look like their idea of a woman engineer.

Zoë Marriott said...

EC_L: Basically what they're saying there is 'Engineering is manly! You are not manly! DOES NOT COMPUTE.' I mean, it's like male nurses being told 'You don't look like a nurse' - what they really mean is, 'You don't look like a woman, which is what nurses are supposed to be'. Eh? Oh, the illogicality!

Rachel Balcombe said...

This is one of my favourite blog posts ever. The whole world needs to read this. Every so often I'll do something in public that's especially 'girly' like wear skirts or whatever and someone I know will turn around and look at me like I've turned green and sprouted wings and a tail and go 'You're such a girl', and my response is '...Yeah?" Because you can want women and men to be equal and not be butch. These things are not the same thing. They're opposites, actually. You should be able to act and wear and be whatever you want without people trying to put you in boxes. Unless you want to be a cannibal or something.

Zoë Marriott said...

Rachel: Or sometimes someone will turn around to me and say 'You're such a BOY!' because I love Lord of the Rings and that sort of thing. WHY? Clearly I am female. If I like LotR that means LotR is a thing that some females like - what's the problem? Argh.

Anne M Leone said...

Lovely post, and so true. Have you ever heard that Dar Williams' song, When I Was a Boy? All about girls who act like boys, and boys who act like girls, and how meaningless those categories are.

Zoë Marriott said...

Anne: I hadn't - but I love Dar Williams! Thank you :)

HWPetty said...

I think you can still love what is feminine and despise the color pink. And I don't think it's a rejection of the hotly box for me. It's more about growing up in the 80s/90s and being force fed the stereotype. Call it over saturation and negative association. But even when I was small, my favorite colors were forest green and wine-ish red.

What you say here is important, but I don't think a girl's negative reaction to the color pink should make you sad. It's not always for why you think.

Zoë Marriott said...

Heather: But why despise it? I can understand not *liking* it (I don't like mustard yellow or khaki!) but despising it implies a value judgement - and it's just a colour. It's one thing to dislike that pink stereotype and feel that girls should be free to wear whatever colours they like, say and do whatever feels right, and dress however they want - I'm totally on board with that. But I feel this sense that pink is inferior, lesser, feeble and disgusting is basically judging anyone who happens to LIKE the colour, or whose traits might fit a traditionally feminine stereotype (boy or girl!). Let's just let pink off the hook!

Lori M. Lee said...

I love pink! I used to own a pink cell phone, and when I upgraded to an iPhone, I was so sad it didn't come in pink. But when I told my then-friend this, she gave me that condescending tilt of her brow and said, "Don't be one of THOSE girls." Which boggled me b/c she was such an intelligent person, and yet she couldn't understand why I'd like pink b/c only "THOSE" girls liked pink (which, btw, I still don't understand what she meant by 'THOSE' girls).

Then again, she also told me to make my gay character straight because only slash-obsessed fangirls write gay characters and teens are not that accepting, duh. Not surprisingly, we're no longer friends.

Thank you for this post. It's everything I've always wanted to say, but didn't quite know how to.

Zoë Marriott said...

Lori: She doesn't sound all that intelligent to be honest - it sounds more like she thought she was pretty darn clever without actually ever having used her brain. I could maybe (maybe!) live with the pink remark, but the comment on gay characters is mind boggling! I'm glad you no longer have to put up with this person in your day to day life!

HWPetty said...

I guess it's kind of like a song that's overplayed on the radio. After a while, it's so annoying, even the opening bars set your teeth on edge. I was showered in pink (and lace and tulle) when I was a kid by a grandmother who had three boys and always wanted a girl. (I was also the first grandchild on that side.) I loved silky and velvety clothes and feminine cuts, but I just preferred darker colors. Also, lace is just itchy and gross. ;)

I don't judge other people who love The Pink (though I do have an ongoing joke with a friend who owns pink luggage). My own daughter thinks pink is the best color ever.

I find it irritating. And yes, this is probably an internal backlash against that which was forced upon me my whole life. Also the word "despise" has more to do with my tendency toward hyperbole and my love-it-or-hate-it nature than any kind of value judgment.

Do I wish my daughter was more into Monster High and Ruby Gloom than My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop? Sure. But I still buy what she likes. I will say one of my favorite of her character traits right now is that she likes what she likes, and doesn't let what I like or don't like interfere with that. I hope she hangs on to that. I'll do my part to foster it.

(And I think that's what you're trying to say here too, right? We should like what we like without letting society or judgment dictate? I just think that should be true of disliking something--even to the point of despising it.)

Zoë Marriott said...

Heather: Yep. That's absolutely it - we should all be able to like what we like without being shamed or judged or made to feel small. I see what you're saying about your own reaction to pink and that's clearly a deeply personal reaction which is nothing to do with the value of pink, just your own history with it. Which has to be OK, because if it's OK to love pink then it's OK to hate it too (just not for 'Oooh, GIRL COOTIES' reasons). Sorry to have misunderstood.

I loved My Little Pony and Cindy (UK equivalent of Barbie) and Pound Puppies with unholy love when I was a kid. And look at me. I couldn't be anymore Feminist if you'd shot me up with Feminist Cooties. I'm sure your little girl will be too, with you as a mum :)

Frances Hardinge said...

Excellent post.

I've never really been a pink-lover (even when I was four I had a little black party dress I loved).

Later mild dislike graduated to loathing. If I am totally honest with myself then, yes, I think this was because in my mind pink was linked to a stereotypical girliness that felt quite alien to me. The colour seemed to be the uniform for an identity that wasn't me, so I avoided it like the plague.

You are completely right, of course. Everybody has the right to like what they like, without lazy assumptions being made about them. Down with the boxes!

Zoë Marriott said...

Frances: I used to have quite a hard time with my sister and my mum because both of them hate pink (and make-up and high heels and pretty much everything 'girly') and they couldn't understand why I loved it so much. The mockery was crazy. But the more they mocked, the more stubborn I got - instead of growing out of pink like most little girls I grew *into* it. So for me, in a way, it's a symbol of strength.

But I also understand the horror of the stereotype. The t-shirts for little girls that say things like 'Future WAG' and 'I'm Too Pretty To Do Homework!' are nearly always pink and frankly they make me want to rend someone limb from limb. I just wish that we could detach actual femininity - of whatever form, whatever type girls and women want to embrace - from the damaging and inaccurate stereotype of femininity. Gah.

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

Great post :)

I really don't like pink much, but I do like purple and cute little animals and flowers and chick lit. I also like sword fights and fantasy and comedy and.. Honestly. Whatever. I am who I am and I'm not ashamed of that.

Lesley said...

Well, you know when I was in high school, a few guys work pink t-shirts that said "Real Men Wear Pink." I think the guys want their pink back.

Zoë Marriott said...

Hannah and Lesley: Much awesomeness. Especially the guys in pink. I take slight issue with the idea of 'Real Men' but I still think I might be tempted to grab any guy wearing such a t-shirt and kiss him on the mouth.

Laura Mary said...

Three months late to the party, but I had to chime in...
One of my pet peeves is being told I am a 'walking contradiction' because of the things I like.
I love floaty dresses and own more high heeled shoes than is sensible, I also happen to have quite a few tattoos on my arms/chest/leg. The weirdest question I was ever asked was ‘why do you wear girlie dresses when you have tattoos?’ admittedly this was from a very drunk man at a bar, but it still made no sense to me!
My response was that I would be naked otherwise!

I actually have a whole lot more I could say about this but I think I will take it to my own blog as I fear I will be wandering off topic!

Zoë Marriott said...

Laura: That IS annoying. Still trying to shove you into a box, and still not realising how fruitless and *hurtful* that is. Blergh.

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