by Holly Lawley
Is your bookshelf tickled pink by feminist literature? For feminism, pink is more than just a phase. Described as a “spectacular contradiction” by Alice Bucknell, pink paradoxically empowers and trivialises women. From breast cancer awareness to Barbie, female voters to calmness and appetite suppressants, pink’s meaning seems ambiguous although typically feminine.
This hasn’t always been the case. At the beginning of the 20th century, the colour was widely associated with boys as a “warlike” pale red before the post-war years saw pink resold to young girls as part of a hyper-feminine ideal. Bucknell declares pink is “rarely found in nature”, and quotes artist Signe Pierce, who argues women’s identification with this unnatural colour is “a testament towards the patriarchal hierarchies” which suppress women everyday. Second-wave feminism also considered pink as ‘childish’, alluring women and young girls with its infantilising charm. But the publishing industry, and fourth-wave feminism, is reclaiming pink from its sexist connotations (think pussyhats) to empower the modern feminist; pink is growing out of femininity into feminism.
The collage of feminist texts above provides only a snapshot of the ‘pink genre’. Elsewhere in the bookselling business, A.N. Devers’ pink branding for The Second Shelf feminist bookshop is a resolute design choice and continues to be a major feature of Devers’ brand and a key part of their identity.
It’s not just modern feminist books and brands that are blushing pink. Even Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 feminist classic The Second Sex got the pink makeover, arguably to realign and redefine itself within the modern feminist setting. Pink cannot be appreciated without both embracing and rejecting the historical connotations it holds, which is perhaps why feminist texts choose to reclaim the colour in order to stand out and be seen on the bookshelf. The effective role of pink in book design and branding has come to defy its history and define the genre of feminist literature as we know it.
Scarlett Curtis’ myth-busting collection Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) tackles reductive associations of pink (and feminism) head-on. However, Curtis has more recently tackled green: Sir Philip Green. Green faced an enormous backlash after axing a pop-up shop in Topshop Oxford Street dedicated to Curtis’ book and the charity, Girl Up. Of course Green’s problem may be more with feminism than with the colour pink but the colour has remained prominent, staining the aftermath with the creation of the hashtag, #pinknotgreen. And #pinknotgreen looks set to take on even more significance now Green has been named as the businessman at the centre of Britain’s #MeToo scandal. Pink never strays far from the problem of the patriarchy.
It’s almost poetic that a PhD student has recently discovered bright pink is actually one of the “world’s oldest colours”, putting a new perspective on pink’s dated and prejudiced connotations. Contrary to Bucknell, once you know where to look, you can see pink exists all around us.