Pink. En/Gendering a Color

Dr. Dominique Grisard

Habilitationsprojekt (2nd book project)
gefördert vom Forschungsfonds der Universität Basel und dem Schweizerischen Nationalfonds, fortgeschrittene Forschende

This project weaves a history of femininity, sexuality and whiteness through and around the color pink. My thesis is that color is a principal apparatus (Foucault 1979) where bourgeois culture defines and defends its gender order since the mid ninetheenth century. I thus argue that the sexualized and gendered practice of color coding carries significant insights into the workings of modern European gender order. More specifically, gendering and sexualizing the color pink may reveal to be a key practice in marrying capitalist, patriarchal and white interests. It is therefore this project’s larger objective to reassess the relationship between femininity, (homo)sexuality and whiteness in Central European modernity.

Insofar as hegemonic orders are by definition sites of contestation, negotiation and struggle, this study will equally pay attention to the role of pink counter-discourses (Laclau/Mouffe 2001). In the tradition of feminist and queer re-appropriation strategies, pink’s sexual and gendered connotations have been parodied, critiqued and subverted by feminists, queer activists and many others. Most notably, pink codes have been “resignified” (Butler 1990, 1993) to point to society’s ambivalent relationship to femininity. Barbie serves as a good example here: Not only has Mattel produced a pink doll that has shaped girls’ leisure activities for over fifty years now (Peers 2004). Barbie has also been co-opted by queer culture and revamped by activists (Rand 1995). The doll qualifies as one of the most contested toys in twentieth century history (Ducille 1994).

Four basic questions direct my research: When is pink associated with femininity, effeminacy, (homo)sexuality, and whiteness? When does this connection appear to be hegemonic? When and where is the connection of pink with sexuality, gender and/or whiteness debated and challenged?

More generally: What does pink do and why does it seem to have a gender, a sexuality, a race, and an age? These questions beg for the close examination of bourgeois culture’s relationship to gender, sexuality, childhood, fashion, and color.

Keywords: Modernity, genealogy, color science, consumer history, colonial history, gender, sexuality, race