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A Case of the Human Condition: Feminine, Feminist Pink

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The Oakland Tribune, October 9, 1988

When this column first ran in the Trib, I was sure that spike heels and inch-long fingernails would be seriously passe by the turn of the millenium. But here it is, 2009, and fingernails and spike heels are as long and lethal as ever.  Pink, on the other hand — in the case of Christina anyway — has gone the way of  frothy tutus and My Little Pony.  “I look better in purple,” she says now, at age twenty-five.

Christina likes pink. Christina is five years old. Given a choice, Christina will take the pink balloon, the pink panties, the pink baseball bat.

Christina: Palette preferences  c 1988 B.F. Newhall

Christina: Palette preferences c 1988 B.F. Newhall

And Christina likes her pink pink. Cerise, rose, fuchsia – none of the variations on the color pink will do it for her. She wants the real thing, powder puff pink, little girl pink.

“Peter’s favorite color is orange,” she can tell you. “Mommy’s favorite color is red.” But red does not mean to me, nor orange to Peter, what pink means to Christina.

Christina’s choice of favorite colors is for her a creed, a confession of faith. Pink announces who she is.

And whenever she makes her confession, to family or strangers, I am tempted to apologize for her corny taste, her vulnerable little self.

I resolve to discuss with her the expressive possibilities of mauve, salmon, lavender.

“Toughen up, kid,” I want to say. “There is no need to bare your soul to the world every time you put on socks. Consider the southwest colors – sage brush, bone, mustard. How about something you can wear with a brief case – maize, teal blue, grayed burgundy?”

For some of us, pink is the ultimate expression of the yielding, feminine spirit. For others, frizzed hair, high heeled shoes, nylon stockings with seams, or long, jewelry box fingernails say it better.

You would think that spike heels, impossible as they are for engaging  in any of life’s truly worthwhile pursuits – shopping, dancing, disbudding the camellias – would have, by the late 20th century, gone the way of the bustle and the bound foot. Spikes pinch the toes, throw the pelvis out of whack and put extraordinary stress on the floors of airliners.

The same goes for the inch-long fingernail. Now that executive, as well as clerical, women are keyboarding, one would think that nails would be kept stylishly short.

But no. Two decades into the current feminist movement, spikes and fingernails are back with a vengeance, wobblier and glitzier, respectively, than ever, and – to my Midwestern eye – looking more than ever like weapons and less than ever like an invitation to dance or what have you.

Widows no longer immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres in India. And female circumcision is regarded as barbaric by most humans.

But here in the West, women continue to handicap themselves with stiletto heels and butter knife fingernails. Some persist in dressing themselves in pastels as giving as margarine on an Indian summer afternoon.

What’s more, even as certain progressive Eastbay mothers are declining to have their newborn boys circumcised, others are arranging for their newborn daughters to get their ears pierced.

But why?

“I feel confident enough now about my feminism to wear pink,” says Leah. “I used to think I couldn’t wear it without copping out.”

The same could be said for FloJo. With thighs as massive as Doric columns, and a 100-meter record less than a second slower than that of the fastest man on earth, FloJo can afford to acknowledge her femininity with Cleopatra fingernails.

But why does she bother?

We can outline a legal brief, drive a spaceship and run a marathon, but here we are, two hours before lift-off, plucking our eyebrows.

What gives?

I have my theories. But be forewarned, they tend to assume the innate superiority of women.

Let’s face it, all men are born with a monumental, if rarely noted, defect: they do not carry and give birth to their babies.

They have to find a woman they can trust to do that. And trust is essential. If he can’t trust her, how does he know the baby is his?

We women feel sorry for those men. To help them out, we wear pink and hobble our hands and feet with jewelry and tight shoes. By being pretty, we say, in so many words, I’m all yours and, don’t worry, so is the baby.

Also, right-brained as we are, we women are supremely sensitive to our surroundings. We decorate everything in sight – Levelors for the windows, antique roses for the garden path, Ficus benjaminas for the board room.

As soon as we have finished rearranging our surroundings, we start in on ourselves. Hair, bust, toenails, lips. Nothing is overlooked.

In short, we are artists. And just because we cannot take time out from our responsibilities as mothers, homemakers and, now, breadwinners to create a “Last Supper” or two, doesn’t mean we can’t find time to make sure the lipstick and the nail polish are the same color – pink.

© 1988 The Oakland Tribune

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  1. […] the Bears!” the demure, 5-year-old Christina was heard to exclaim on the afternoon of Jan. […]

  2. […] tulips at “A Cemetery Comes to Life — With Tulips.”  You might also enjoy, “A Case of the Human Condition: Feminine, Feminist Pink.” More about my new book at […]

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