I recently read this seemingly innocuous article in The Economist about passport colors—how is color determined, meaning, etc—and the article ends with this statement:
Fun-coloured passports exist too. But they can sometimes seem a punishment: Sweden and the Netherlands issue emergency travel documents for nationals who have lost their passports. They are pink.
I re-read it several times trying to make some alternative meaning to what I think the statement is implying and I’m stumped. Essentially, the author is stating that the use of the color pink is sometimes seen as a punishment. And I cannot think of why the color pink would considered a punishment other than its association with femininity and/or possible communist or socialist leanings (pinko). Given that the Netherlands and Sweden are more socialistic nations, the negative connotation of pinko doesn’t seem to apply. So I took to Wikipedia to see if I’ve missed some other more international negative symbolism of the color pink. Other than the pink slip, there is little to associate pink with a negative or punishing meaning outside of its connection to femininity. A quick Google search highlights the use of pink as a punishing color to emasculate:
- Male inmates forced to wear pink underwear: “It also noted earlier in the ruling that it’s fair to infer that the selection of pink as the underwear color was meant to symbolize the loss of prisoners’ masculinity.”
- Pink triangle used in Nazi concentration camps to identify gay men.
Apparently innocuous things build up to create a society that perpetrates oppressive ideologies and practices. —Diary of a Feminist Lawyer
The use of pink to mean all things feminine is not new. From Legos to Tools, pink is used all of the time to market specifically to female identified people. The problem is that it’s not just a color. It’s not that pink tools or legos are inherently offensive or bad, it’s the historical and contextual meanings behind the use of pink to emasculate men and devalue femininity. In what should have been a rather inoffensive article on passport color, the author perpetuates systemic sexism in that pink is a punishment = feminine is wrong.