“It’s big, pink and you can use it alone or with me” was the cheeky clue my boyfriend had given me as to what my Christmas present was that year. So it was with great anticipation – and a little trepidation – that I tore open the wrapping paper of my gift on that festive morning. It was a pair of boxing gloves! The perfect present for me so I would never again have to use the smelly ones at the gym. The only issue? They were bright pink. Just what you need when you are trying to look tough rather than self-conscious as you beat the punching bag in the middle of the gym, surrounded by men.
Delighted as I was with the gloves’ functionality, I started to question why I had such a negative association with the colour pink. Pink undoubtedly has connotations of girly-ness. Even when men wear the colour, the look is described as metrosexual (or even gay) as though it indicates some sort of dalliance into feminine territory.
So why was pink the only colour option available in the women’s boxing section of the store that my boyfriend visited? And why do manufacturers make products pink for women and another colour for men, when the product is otherwise identical?
I wondered naively whether the free market was merely meeting an insatiable demand for pink on behalf of women. Alas, one study showed that both males and females prefer the colour blue (notwithstanding that females significantly prefer the redder hues of blue) so that would seem to be the safest colour option in terms of mass production at low cost. What appears to be happening instead is this: brands are marketing pink products as better meeting women’s needs, whilst retailers display them away from the male section so that women do not notice that they are paying a premium for pink products. After all, according to this analysis by The Times, women are charged on average 37% more for clothes, beauty products and toys than men are for equivalent products.
Fortunately the tide appears to be turning. Just this month, Tesco reduced the price of its female twin razorblades to match that of the equivalent male razors following campaigns against ‘sexist pricing’. Prior to this, women were being charged twice as much for female twin razorblades as men were for the same product.
Historian Jo Paoletti – who has written a book exploring the meaning of children’s clothing over the last 30 years – says that the custom of pink for girl (and blue for boys) is a fad that can change if enough consumers defy it. “One thing I can say now is that I’m not real keen on the gender binary—the idea that you have very masculine and very feminine things,” she says. “The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think more about. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too.”
Whilst I don’t side with Julia Hartley-Brewer who said that “if you’re dumb enough to think that a razor that’s pink will be better at shaving your underarms or legs than a blue one, then you deserve to pay more,” I will certainly be looking out for the so-called ‘pink premium’. By continuing to notice and question how a gendered society permeates even our most mundane or involved purchases, we can slowly encourage manufacturers and retailers to break the tradition of charging women more than men for the same products.