Men In Pink

I have gender issues. Not with being a man (I’m smart enough to appreciate the good fortune my chromosomal composition has afforded me in America) but with the way our culture continues to define gender, and by reflex, the expectations of each gender. Specifically, what it is to be a “man”.

For instance, I wear pink shirts. I like pink shirts. Not as much as blue or white shirts, but enough that I’m glad to have the option to add that color to the palette of my life. That shouldn’t be worthy of note, any more than liking yellow shirts, yet at the office recently a woman said, “I like your shirt. It takes a confident man to wear a pink shirt.”

Actually, it doesn’t. If I could bottle self-doubt, I could make a fortune β€” though the product seems to be in plentiful supply, so I can’t imagine who would buy it. What it takes to wear a pink shirt is fatigue with blue and white and plaid and whatever other shirts a man has in his closet. It’s not just me β€” I work with other guys who wear pink shirts, and if you believe some people’s prevailing wisdom, we’re either a troupe of swaggering mavericks who boldly thumb our noses at conventional perceptions of manliness, or we’re a bunch of dandies. In fact, I DO thumb my nose at the archaic yet common conventions of masculinity in our society β€” but it has nothing to do with a pink shirt. Because a pink shirt is just a shirt that happens to be pink. I’m not making a statement, I’m simply aware that with ivory-colored khakis and a brown suit jacket, a pink shirt looks quite nice.

I was recently in a Facebook “conversation” (my euphemism for the exchange of opposing viewpoints that follow many posts) about women who ask their men to get tampons or hair dye at the store, and one female commenter stated that any man who would buy these things “doesn’t have a man card.” This strikes me as a juvenile approach to both menstrual cycles and grocery shopping. I have no problem buying tampons β€” I know the brand and box my wife prefers, and I don’t feel a need to disguise the product in a larger pile of groceries. That doesn’t make me less of a man, nor more of a man – it makes me a shopper. If tampons are on the list, it would be ridiculous for me to tell my wife she needs to make a special trip to the store after I’ve returned with all of the other groceries because I am honor-bound by my Y chromosome to avoid the feminine hygiene aisle.

It was that exchange that enlightened me to a flaw in my thinking: Historically, I have blamed the ongoing delineation of gender roles on men. I thought feminism was working to make women genuine equals, and it was vestiges of the old-boy network that perpetuated the narrow idea of “manly” behavior. This bias was based on my personal observation that many men remain very much hung up on being “manly” – choosing a manly drink at the bar (because what kind of pussy would order a drink with grenadine in it?) or driving a manly car (which explains why VW is trying to define their new Beetle as manly) or refusing to wear a pink shirt. I find these attitudes misguided, but they’re common, and I’ve come to begrudgingly accept it. My error was in thinking that I was taking the women’s side on this, because I’ve been noticing lately that women are just as likely to have a skewed gender perspective.

I remember my wife (before she was my wife) pointing out a “starter” toolkit at one of the big box stores, made for someone who wanted to have basic tools in their home: hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, saw, wire cutters, and an assortment of nails and screws. What made this set noteworthy? Every handle was pink, and they were all encased in a box labeled “Her Toolkit.” (In a flowing font that looked like it had been lifted from the front of a cheerleading outfit.) My wife laughed because she owned a black-handled, non-gender-specific hammer, because she never perceived a hammer as an outlet to express her femininity – she simply wanted something that could drive a nail into the drywall. The idea of someone marketing a pink-handled hammer to her was absurd. Of course, she only felt that way because it was absurd.

Another example: a woman called my friend’s hardware store and asked to talk with a deck specialist. They sent the call to the resident desk specialist, an experienced woman with a deep knowledge of materials, construction, and local zoning ordinances. The caller asked again to speak with a desk specialist. “That’s me,” the salesperson insisted, “how can I help?” In short order, it became clear that the caller didn’t want to speak to the smartest desk specialist in the store – she wanted to speak to a male deck specialist. Because men really know that kind of stuff, you know? Satisfying the caller meant transferring the line to a less-qualified male employee. Fortunately, they had such a person on staff.

I know that I’m not exposing some seedy, secret underbelly of American culture. This is par-for-the-course even in the 21st century, and that’s exactly why I’m speaking of it. These attitudes get reinforced every day, and too many people seem to shrug it off as “just the way things are.” We can blame marketers who create ad campaigns like Dr. Pepper 10’s inane “It’s not for women” or beer ads that contribute catchphrases like “man card” to the cultural dialogue; we can blame Hollywood for perpetuating gender stereotypes under the guise of “that’s what audiences respond to”; we can blame anyone and everyone, but there comes a time when we have to accept some responsibility ourselves. Yes, it’s the way things are, but it’s not the way things ought to be.

With all the negativity that life can throw at us – job insecurity, health scares, resource depletion, domestic violence, terrorism, poverty, natural disasters, insert your personal demons here – does it really matter what color shirt a man wears or who’s buying the tampons? Gentlemen, if you like vodka on the rocks, by all means, drink up – but don’t choke it down because your preferred Tequila Sunrise makes you “look” like a pansy; and ladies, recognize that a man who faithfully adheres to the testosterone playbook may only be showing his studiousness, not his strength. Rather than worrying about who’s wearing the proverbial pants, how about we all put on whatever we want to wear and get to work addressing the things that really matter.

12 response to "Men In Pink"

  1. By: Steph Posted: 01/10/2012

    Oh, man, I could write an entire essay in response to this post (agreeing with and supporting your points, mind you – not arguing them), but mostly it reminded me of a conversation I had with my mom and brother about a year ago, when I had especially little patience with traditional gender roles.

    He was talking about a male golfer who used pink golf balls, and Mum asked, “Is he gay?” And I jumped in, probably more aggressively than was strictly necessary, and said, “My favorite color is blue, does that make me gay?”

    She said that I had a point, then added, “But I wasn’t saying it was a *bad* thing.”

    And I said, “I realize that, and I appreciate that, but it’s problematic on a few different levels to attempt to infer someone’s sexuality solely based on their choice in colored golf balls.”

    Luckily, I have awesome, open-minded parents and she saw my point and didn’t argue with me.

    And while I agree that we can’t lay the blame for such things solely at the feet of Dr. Pepper’s “It’s not for women,” I also refuse to let them off the hook. To quote one of my favorite posts from one of my favorite blogs, I expect more.

  2. By: William Reagan Posted: 01/10/2012

    That link is right — I expect more, too. (And I agree about not letting Dr. Pepper off the hook. I addressed them in on my Focus Group of One blog. Asinine.)

    Thanks for the story, too. Sometimes our language and our intentions can be out of sync without us even noticing it. (At least that’s true for me sometimes.)

  3. By: Christine Posted: 01/10/2012

    I started buying my “baby” brother pink shirts when he was a teen-ager. He loved them. And he was very into fashion (late 70s/early 80s), and very picky about what he wore. He still wears pink, and lavendar shirts without blinking. He’s also 6’4, bearded, and fit. I don’t think anyone ever told him it wasn’t manly to wear pink. He’s a stay-at-home dad to two kids, now in high school. His wife is an OR nurse, and they’ve always had this arrangement, once the kids arrived. My niece and nephew still eat dinner as a family, they still tell them all about their days, they think drugs and drinking are for failures, they both have their first boy/girl friend, who both spend time at my brother’s house. I think they’ve done a truly terrific job of raising two very bright, very well-adjusted kids who don’t consider color or role to be gender related. My brother isn’t a saint, by any means, but his kids were raised without stereotypical biases,and that’s a very good thing. Probably the only way this world will ever lose those biases, probably.

  4. By: William Reagan Posted: 01/10/2012

    “Probably the only way this world will ever lose those biases” — I agree, Christine. The progress needs to be made one mind at a time, and I love hearing stories of how parents are helping to make that happen. (We have a lot of great parents at my daughters school. It’s nice to see that every day.)

  5. By: Christine Posted: 01/13/2012

    I do not have a problem with one being manly or womanly…after all some of us ARE men and some of us ARE women. What I have a problem with is when one cares more about how one appears to others when they should be caring about another. To put it more simply…I would do something for my husband simply because I love him so much and he would do the same for me. I would say that is equal.

  6. By: William Reagan Posted: 01/13/2012

    I need to get a “like” button installed for these comments…because I like them.

  7. By: ListentomeDoc Posted: 02/03/2012

    Steph – Was he gay? I play golf and this could explain a few things! πŸ˜‰

    And I’d be willing to bet you never really had blue balls. Maybe azure golf orbs, but no blue balls.

  8. By: Tim Posted: 02/03/2012

    “Listen to me Doc” is Tim

  9. By: Emma Posted: 03/06/2012

    I don’t know where to begin to support your thoughts and tell you as a society if we have more men and women’s thinking the way you do we would have a batter world with less of stress of gender and more productivity. I am tired of being categories. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. By: William Reagan Posted: 03/06/2012

    Thanks Emma. I like to believe there are a lot of folks out there who share the opinion (mostly because I have a lot of folks i my little circle who do.) But in case I’m wrong, I’m happy to be one voice on the topic — as all of the commenters here are as well.

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