[academic textabation] why all this pink? good question

post fishing expedition with my bro. 1971. Photo by Al Stirling, my dad

Not that anyone has yet to ask me “Why all the pink?” in the interdisciplinary project propaganda for the first encounters with one’s own femininity, yet I have been second guessing myself on the calls Barbie pink and swishy motif. I suppose I had a few Barbie dolls when I was a kid. The blonde was a bore and well behaved and hung out with the neutered Ken doll. My brunette Barbie had a life and was always running off with the fuzzy headed G.I. Joe action figure. She was a good bad girl. Funny that this is decades before Susan Douglas published Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media and I had yet to read her chapters on “She’s Got the Devil in Her Heart” or “Genies and Witches”.

Back to pink and Barbie or not–I really spent very little time with a Barbie in hand or imagining her story or watching I Dream of Genie and Bewitched, instead you would have found me with a ball in hand standing in the street playing four square, climbing a tree or building fort. These were more likely to be my adventures of the day.

I was and still am a tomboy, outdoorsy, residually athletic, sculptress and home renovator with a hint of the feminine. All these propensities were evident in my childhood except the pink.

But when did pink enter my vocabulary?

In 2008 I spent three weeks on the playa [Burning Man]. The first and last weeks were spent installing and deinstalling a large-scale art work. The middle week crowding was an introvert’s nightmare, but I experienced it like a social experiment in the malleability of identity as I watch people give themselves over to highly performative identities. I suppose this was my brunette good bad girl moment. In that middle week 50,000 extraverts, artists and bored upper middle class men gathered for _?_ in the desert. Most came in little tribal groups with a tribe theme and appropriate garb. I am not drawn to games or costuming, so I decided to go as something that at least rang true for me at a gut level. I decide to go as a girl, I decided to perform my engendered identity which I had kept in an alternate closet. I hit the thrift shops and picked up little summer frocks–skirts, girl tops and scarfs (to use as a dust mask). Did I think I wasn’t a girl prior to this? Not really and I am not a lesbian nor do I have penis envy. Yet I had not subscribed to the trappings of doing my gender. I am simply a tomboy and my historic wardrobe was composed of Levis, overalls and baggy t-shirts. Plus maintaining generally neutral gender behavior and trappings served my marriage.

What, where and when did my choice to do gender at Burning Man and swishy icons and Barbie pink arise? I hadn’t yet met the texts of Judith Butler but was overtly toying with her notions of performativity and unpacking the troubling that perhaps resulted in my implicit and explicit neutralizing of gender trappings and behavior.

Why 2008? And why this continuation of wearing my femininity versus gender neutrality? A short teleport back in time and perhaps I can dislodge possibilities.

momentary lapse in my tomboy identity as i hyper performed femininity in a game with my neighbor. 1972. Photo by Pat Stirling, my mom.

At the tail end of the baby boomers I road in the wake of the front edge of change the feminist movement was bringing. In elementary school, I began the first year girls were allowed to wear pants, though only in the form of “pant suits”. By primary’s end I was chasing light skinned Ronald Queen in my Sear’s Toughskin jeans. “Blue jeans” were not yet permitted, so mine were deep red with Xs sketched in white thread on the butt pockets and stiff ironed on patches preemptively lining the knees. In sixth grade “blue” jeans and two buttoned hip huggers were permitted. By high school’s end, I was donning sweatpants and our basketball game had converted to a full court game. In college, I wore whatever the hell I wanted to class, which usually entailed athletic shorts and bag t-shirts. Our basketball was reduced in diameter to better fit our hands, significantly accelerating our game.

Post bachelor’s degree in three job interviews that each landed me a long-term position; I declared that I would not be wearing dresses to work despite their dress codes. So why, where and when did feminine frocks show up in my wardrobe and pink in my design palette?

Hmmm. Was it at age forty-seven on a Utah playa of Black Rock City?

Prior to the playa but the same year, I preemptively began grieving the loss of my “femininity” as peri-menapause began to have its way with me. A deep visceral sense of my fading femininity cognitively hit me and spilled from my lips in route home from a mother’s day lunch at my former in-laws, I began voicing this sense of loss of femininity. The conversational unpacking of my struggle was short lived when my grief was countered with “WHAT! You mean my mom is not a woman?!!” Bam. The spousal understood biological sex but not engenderment as it linked with identity and could not grasp my bereavement.

But why the engendered distress at all? My identity had historically been tied to my tomboy motif and being a smart ass. Crap, I had only just begun discovering a sense of my own femininity. I had only just begun donning femininity in a way that felt comfortable, felt like my own skin. Now this isn’t to say I was unaware and not embedded in female gender conventions or performance, but minimization of these was my implicit and explicit practice. But frankly all this still doesn’t clearly spell out my growing inclination toward pink. It does not explain why pink has entered my recent vocabulary in a way that entertains me and doesn’t feel forced. Why?

Age? Childlessness?

first encounters with ones own femininityFlush cheeks, red lips are cues of sexual arousal and desire. We link these with youth, fertility and femininity. Am I walking around all crazy with arousal and desire? Nah. But I am watching the wrinkles form, feeling the ache of age and perimenapause still toys and teases me with her potential leave. Perhaps I am countering this leave and my aging with cultural cues of pink that link me to youth and feminine desirability.

I am not going to claim that I actually see myself clearly or objectively.  The threads of cultural citations that work themselves through me slowly weaving my identity, my understanding of me is hardly decipherable. Yet, pink does seem purely a compensatory gesture of engendering my identity. Sigh. I have grown fond of the color.

2015. Kathy Kelley


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