Can Pinkification Be Subversive?

I found myself staring at this picture for a good solid five minutes, because I can’t fully make up my mind about it.

My rambling is after the jump.

It hits all of the pinkification red (pink?) flags. The woman doing science is literally pink, she’s wearing high heels, and her lab coat has become a somewhat frilly dress.  But I find myself (I think) liking this picture, primarily because of the very serious, badass expression on the woman’s face.  She is pink, and pretty, and frilly, AND she is doing science like a boss.  The picture is a weird mix of sexual objectification and assertion of dominance.   …For instance, I’m pretty sure she’s doing a power pose.

Maybe another reason I like this picture is because the pinkification isn’t infantilization here. It’s not a soft pink but a bold pink.  Furthermore, this was originally posted with the tagline,

“i was just 16 when i realize i have love for science,”

It’s not showing women as girls. It’s showing a girl as a woman.  Even with the dress and high heels–they’re pretty functional looking. I could actually imagine someone doing science in this getup; she has her goggles on and her sleeves are rolled up. (Disclosure: I’ve never worked in a lab so for all I know exposed legs or long, loose hair is a safety no-no.)  I’ll amend that statement: Her outfit looks more functional than the artist could have easily made it.

Definitely, there is still an element of pink-science-lady-as-sexy-object-of-desire, but I don’t think that aspect is as strong as the implication here that pink is not the color of passivity.  Perhaps it would also help if I throw in this biographical tidbit: I have been pretty anti-pink my whole life. Age 9 or 10 rolled around and I would have nothing to do with the color. In fact, it’s taken a lot of willpower to incorporate anything between the shades of deep purple and dark red into my wardrobe.

But lately I’ve been trying to embrace pink more.  A lot of people (girls and women are people, too) strongly identify with the color pink, so having everyone denounce pink is not the way to go.  Yes, women shouldn’t have to like or wear pink; but those people that do, they shouldn’t be shamed for it.  There’s nothing bad or despicable about  liking or identifying with pink, because there’s nothing bad, weak, or pathetic about identifying with the feminine.

Along that line, this picture doesn’t strike me as “This is what everyone woman looks like when she does science.” It comes across as, “This is a stylized portrayal of a girl who loves pink things and science things at the same time.  Boo-ya!”  (Technically, it’s a rip off a character who’s a princess, for what that’s worth.)

I don’t know if I’m just late to this bandwagon of realization, but I’m just struck by how this picture is messing with my associations of science, pink, and feminine.

Does anyone know a good way to compare a picture like this to the discussion we had here on that notorious video “Science: It’s a Girl Thing”? , especially considering I’ve seen a few articles on why the “pinkification” of science is overall not a good thing. 

(Also, am I misusing the term “pinkification” here?)

20 thoughts on “Can Pinkification Be Subversive?

  1. This picture is fan art of the character “Princess Bubblegum” from the Cartoon Network show “Adventure Time.” On the show, Princess Bubblegum is consistently portrayed as interested in science and math, unlike Finn the titular adventurer.

  2. Princess Bubblegum is absolutely a scientist! She creates candy people and is highly intelligent. In fact, she often chooses science and ruling her kingdom over romance and girly things. She’s pink and loves pink things, but it doesn’t define her as a woman.

    I’m not okay with making science a pink thing or girls won’t do it. But I really am not sure if that’s what’s going on with that fan picture. Honestly PB is not so womanly in the cartoon, she’s a bit more girlish, even though she’s 18. Though she is a bit more… I’d say matronly if anything compared to most of the other characters.

    My daughter loves her, she loves that whole show. And I like it because it’s unique and gives various views. There are all kinds of men and women and ungendered characters in that show. It’s pretty great.

  3. I don’t know if it helps clarify what to do about pinkification, but the picture sort of reminds me of the way in which children in play will happily mix roles that society’s stereotypes keep distinct. I had a cousin who, when she was young, used to dress up as a princess and run around the house with a toy He-Man sword shouting, “He-Man! By the power of Grayskull!”; and some old family friends had a young boy who would dress up as a cowboy, then vacuum the house with a toy vacuum and use his sisters’ old Easy-Bake Oven. They were playing characters that are usually gender stereotypes, but there was no sense of being boxed in by the stereotypes, in any way at all; after all, in reality, why wouldn’t a cowboy vacuum the house and bake brownies if he enjoyed doing so? There’s no actual inconsistency there. So perhaps there’s a sense in which it conveys the idea that liking pink princesses doesn’t close down any options, the big difference, as you say, between “If you like pink princesses, you can also like science” and “If you like science it needs to be a pink-princess version of science”. I suspect it helps that the pink princess here is using ordinary scientific equipment — goggles, test tube; admittedly the lab coat’s a bit modified, but as you say, less than it might be — and there’s no sense that a woman doing science would have to have specially “feminine” scientific equipment.

  4. Ah, I’d only ever seen one episode of Adventure Time, and it hadn’t revealed Princess Bubblegum’s scientific hobbies. Also, I didn’t recognize her until I started trying to figure out what that thing on her head was.

    I’m interested to hear more about the idea, “She’s pink and loves pink things, but it doesn’t define her as a woman.” I mean, she’s literally pink. How does that not define her in some important sense? (Or is that going off the schema where pink and science-loving are mutually exclusive?)

  5. Framing the difference between subversive and oppressive as: “”If you like pink princesses, you can also like science” and “If you like science it needs to be a pink-princess version of science” is a good way of putting it.
    Although that makes the lab coat very interesting; it is a feminine lab coat, but it’s still a functional lab coat (as far as I can tell). So maybe the issue is that presenting feminine equipment that serve no purpose other than identifying their users as feminine = problematic. Having a lab coat dress is cool b/c it functions as a lab coat and serves the purpose of being a piece of fashion?
    (But then does that mean what makes something problematically pink is taste?)

  6. I wonder if part of it is that (whatever might actually need to be the case with lab coats) there’s no general expectation of what a lab coat has to look like, beyond the practical function of being worn over other clothes and the convention of its being white, so it can just be treated like other clothes as long as it fits those basics. That is, all one respects of a lab coat can be summed up in the sentence, “These are clothes, but are for wearing in a lab.” Whereas the obviously problematic pinkification usually seems more obviously arbitrary (here’s a test-tube holder for a lab, but it’s pink so it’s the one for the girls), and therefore more easily read as an attempt to say ‘this is just like science, but the girl version’.

    I was thinking in this context of something like the Wild! chemistry sets (Warning: that’s a lot of pink!). We do have something like ‘the girl version of science’ in the fact that, for instance, it can’t just be a soap-making kit but has to be a ‘Beauty Spa’ kit, and there are some pink parts beyond the blindingly pink boxes, but the kits themselves are pretty standard 10+ chemistry kits, and exactly what you’d expect in chemistry kits with boys on the box. I’m not sure if I can point to anything definitely problematic about it. At the same time — perhaps it’s just the sheer quantity of pink — it seems a little silly to me that a chemistry kit box has to be that stereotypically “girly and pink” to be marketed to girls, in a way that it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that a pink candy princess would have a dress-like labcoat. So I don’t know if my sense of these things is entirely coherent.

  7. Not having time to think through all the issues, let megister for now that I completely applaud reappropiation. Let’s take back pink!!!

    BUT that pink?? I suspect there’s a significant question, which I raise actually not in jest. Do we need to have such an aggressive pink? Why not the pink of yesteryear’s fashions? I doubt even twiggy wore that pink.

  8. Another thing to note, perhaps, is that looking feminine or sexy is not as such bad. It’s only bad when these are tied to weakness or passivity or somesuch. In this picture, I don’t think that’s so. (It’s unproblematic, correspondingly, for males to look masculine and sexy so long as these attributes aren’t tied to, say, oppression or passivity or whatever.) You might even think that her attractiveness is a strength in her case, because it gives her power over men. That’s only arguably a good sort of power, but it somehow seems to me good. Maybe because her attractiveness comes from her intelligence and hard-ass-ness, or because it comes from the very self-chosen dress.

    And yet another thing: the focus of the image is her eyes, rather than her legs or breasts or whatever. So it is really focusing on her qua subject or hard-ass scientist or however you put it.

    When I first saw this I was also a bit uncertain what to make of it. Now I’m more inclined to think that it’s brilliantly pro-woman.

  9. Pink isn’t the point. My daughter – 4 – wears pink, dresses as a princess, then climbs trees and jumps in muddy puddles. She is also fascinated by “Adventure Girls” like Amelia Earhart. Really, it’s not either/or. She doesn’t feel the need to choose and nor should anybody try to choose for her.

  10. I like it, a lot. I agree with Stacey that the pose is powerful, rather than diminutive. Also, those aren’t high heels: from what I can see, they’ve barely got a heel at all. I also agree with James that the focus is on her eyes, and our attention is drawn to her focus on, and confidence and determination in her work.

    I see it as “badass science chick” in an empowering sense. The feminine dress doesn’t objectify, it’s an expression of femininity, and since when is that bad?

    Being a feminist philosophy blog, and knowing some of the fashion norms in our discipline, I think that we inappropriately frown upon our colleagues who want to express their femininity through dress and gender presentation. Such colleagues are viewed by men *and women* alike as less serious philosophers. But this is an absurd bias, and it bothers me to no end that it’s coming from the group who should know better: we study (and teach!) biases and critical thinking, after all.

    I had a conversation once with a female philosopher colleague of mine about a mutual social psychology friend (of course, I met the latter through the former). She has a lovely feminine presentation, and I could easily imagine a chemistry/biology version of her rocking the manner of dress in the picture. My colleague related a story she had with this friend about what the latter wears. In philosophy, she’d be eaten alive and viewed as a less serious colleague. But that’s *our* mixed up culture: in psychology, no such norm exists. Women can be feminine, with no cost to their credibility or career.

    I wish philosophy were more like that. I think too many of us are afraid of our femininity, because we’ve given into some backwards gender norms regarding the expression of femininity in our field.

  11. Female scientist, here. My philosophy grad student husband pointed me to this post, because Princess Bubblegum is — seriously — one of my role models. The most recent episode (“Lady & Peebles”) is probably the best girl-power cartoon story I’ve ever seen. The male adventurer and his sidekick are out cold for the whole thing; PB is saving *them*; it turns out that the villain is a sexual predator who is trying to force PB to agree to become his wife. She “agrees,” as long as he can beat her in a fight, and proceeds to rip his arm and leg off, then mocks him for his shoddy science & engineering work. (It turns out to be really hard to explain Adventure Time episodes — the sexual predator’s body is just a heart, but he’s grafted candy arms and legs onto himself, in order to win over Bubblegum.) She then spends two days dragging the adventurers back to Candy Kingdom, then invents an antidote to save their lives.

    She’s a really popular character for lots of reasons, but the reason she’s my hero is because she absolutely subverts the character archetype that one might worry about young girls being exposed to. I mean, a princess who is totally pink and lives in Candy Kingdom? It’s so saccharine and cloying. But Bubblegum is pink because she is literally _made_ of bubblegum; she has a degree in glycomics and has hand-crafted most of the citizens of her kingdom. She’s a fully fleshed out character, with flaws and everything, so I’m glad that this picture made you see her as “a badass woman scientist” because that’s exactly what she is.

  12. I don’t parse as finely as several others here, but my feeling is positive. She’s both seriously femme and seriously sciencey. That’s a test tube, not a beauty creme.
    This is a show-don’t-tell that there’s no conflict between being girly and being brainy.

  13. I can’t really say much about the pink, sorry (although my uninformed gut-reaction is that science shouldn’t have to be pink for girls to like it).

    But I just wanted to point out that the same blog has some other art on adventure time, including this picture of a feminised Jake (the male, main character explorer):

    Which I thought was pretty cool. (ties back to the point about the artist seeing herself as a scientist when she’s older.) The aspirations here make me happy.

  14. Uhh, my bad (re: previous comment). It’s Finn, not Jake. And taking off his hat to reveal his long hair is actually something that happened in an episode, rather than something the artist dreamt up. So further kudos to the creators of the programme, then.

  15. That’s pretty cool.

    I had thought the association with “pink” and feminine/girly was mostly a western thing. Is it mere happenstance that their saris are pink, or did they pick that color to highlight their womanhood?

Comments are closed.