Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pink Technology is a Dumb Idea

For my 65th blog post, I choose to reflect upon my mixed relationship with the color pink.

Pink Ribbons
I like pink ribbons. Not to wear, per se, although these are fine for baby people or animals. My affinity for pink ribbons comes from the connection with breast cancer and research. My mom, an aunt, a good friend, a doctoral student -- fortunately, I know women who have had this dreaded cancer who have survived. Still, my aunt died of breast cancer at the age of 42. To me, a pink ribbon symbolizes a woman's triumph over breast cancer, or her death from it -- pink ribbons bring to mind both hope and remembrance. At the same time, I am troubled by the feeling that I am a pawn in a much larger, more crass marketing pitch when I buy my pink daytimer and pens, and see rows of pink ribbon candies, &candles, &t-shirts, &slippers, &pyjamas, &coffee mugs, &bbq lighters, &kleenex, &key chains, &gardening tools at the store. So, while I am touched by the symbolism of pink ribbons, I can also appreciate Samantha King's important critique of 'pink ribbon politics' in her book, "Pink Ribbons, Inc".

On wearing pink
For most of my adult life, I cheerfully avoided pink - perhaps this is an unexamined, and deeply buried throwback to my mother's despair over the many, many holes in my white leotards as a girl. Eventually, she stopped putting me in dresses. In the past 7 years, though, I have gradually added more pink items to my wardrobe. Rather than expressing a particular affinity for the color itself, I believe I have gravitated towards pink because of the increased number of boys in my family. Allow me to explain...

I am a tomboy. Lucky for me, I had a father who nurtured my interests and believed girls could and should do anything. I learned to ice skate before I started school, and received a leather ball glove for my 7th birthday. While I was growing up, my father taught me how to use the tools in his well stocked, carpenter's garage. Since before kindergarten, I have sawed wood, hammered nails, turned screws and glued bits of wood together for fun. I took automotives in high school, and for a time I believed I would become a mechanic. Dad gave me a Craftsman Toolchest when I got accepted into the auto mechanics program at the local technology institute. It was a significant milestone to be trusted to back the crew cab into the garage - I still love backing up using my side mirrors, though now I drive a mini-van. Even though my path did not end up in mechanics, I still have that rolling, red toolchest in my garage, and it is full of tools. I still feel a familiar and certain satisfaction when working with tools and materials, building things, fixing things, hanging up Christmas lights, painting fences, and so on. Dad praised me plucking feathers from the ducks he shot; I enjoyed helping him eat the ducks while my sister and mom cringed. I had an N-scale train, and set up a tiny track inside of the H-scale train that my dad built. While I had long, blond ponytails and attended brownies and girl guides with dozens of female friends, I also loved playing soccer and kick-the-can with the boys at recess and after school. Snapshots from my tomboy childhood are in black and grey, but definitely not pink. Baseball uniforms, snow pants and sturdy clothes suitable for crawling around in the garage and the garden are on the darker end of the spectrum. My mother dressed me in colors that were easy to clean.

Long after working in hospitality, going to university, becoming a teacher, completing graduate school in educational technology, and several years after becoming a professor, the tomboy became a mother to two boys. While I was pregnant, I wore my first pink since babyhood - it was a maternity blouse I inherited from my sister. Once my first son was born, I gradually started to react to the higher levels of testosterone in my home. After my second son was born, I was clearly outnumbered. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the testosterone, I like to joke that I started to wear pink as a defense mechanism! As the boys grow and do more boy-like things, and become more shaped by the gender discourse on the playground, I feel the need to remind all three of my boys that girls can do anything, and they can sometimes do it better. And, I am not joking. Both of my children play stick sports on ice, and both are on mixed teams, and have a mixed set of coaches - still, it is an uphill battle to counter-act the stereotypes that exist on the bench and in the change room.

Pink Technology is Dumb
As part of my exploration of pink, the tomboy in me takes issue with the "pink technology" marketing ploys targeted at women (and children, come on... what is with a Barbie computer??). Pink DS, Pink CD players, Pink iPhones are just plain dumb and devoid of any reference to relevant research, a sampling of which can be found here (1998) and here (2009). Read this neat "anti-pink-tech" post by Belinda Palmer: Technology: Is it different for girls? My favorite quote, "Technology brands must put an end to these clumsy marketing strategies and put money and time behind understanding how real women in the real world engage with technology. Women are no longer the second sex. We are the more profitable sex."

I rely on technology as part of my professional and academic life: a cell phone, an iPod, a laptop for travel, a work desktop and a home desktop and wireless network. At home, four people share three computers, six gaming systems, multiple sound systems and DVD players, and three televisions. Although I have ovaries, and have recently enjoyed wearing more pink, I would NEVER buy or carry around a pink computer. The companies that Belinda Palmer refers to will never get a dollar from me. I suspect that many professional women, who have money to spend on technology, have earned their salaries by competing with men; a good number of these accomplished women are not going to be wooed by pink when they buy their tools of the trade - they will look for function over form.

I am a female academic working on a campus with a 65 to 35 male to female ratio in the professoriate. While I have chosen a pink theme for my blog, and enjoy throwing on a pink scarf from time to time, I would never open a pink laptop in a meeting with my education, engineering or medicine colleagues. It would simply feel ODD. Part of me would wonder whether the male professors perceived the "pink computer" as a sign of female superficiality, or weakness (hapless female who needs protection); Worse, pink might convey a lack of academic and research rigor, a lack of seriousness or commitment, a frivolousness not welcome in the hallowed halls of academia. Nope, the tomboy in me thinks tools -- function over form -- and I believe it is much better to stick with straight-forward stainless steel, macbook white, dell-black. My one concession to form is the green case on my mac laptop (meant to convey my higher consciousness about the state of our ecosystem... Not! It is just my favorite color).

Pink History / Herstory
I am not a gender scholar, feminine theorist or history researcher. However, as a final inquiry into pink, I hunted around a bit and found this interesting little tidbit in google answers: it appears that the feminine association with pink, that has been a heretofore unacknowledged and deeply buried theme in this tomboy's life, is in fact a multi-layered and has an interesting history, part of which is that pink used to be for boys and blue for girls. So, even with pink, there are many shades of grey.


D'Arcy Norman said...

the problem with pink tech isn't the marketing toward girls - if it gets girls playing with tech, that may be a good thing.

the problem is that when there are pink and non-pink alternatives of the same item, say a microscope, the pink one is lamer and crippled compared to the "real" one (for boys). pink telescope? lame. manly black telescope? awesome. pink "laptop" toy? lame. manly black "laptop" toy? souped up and ready to rock.

by marketing lame and crippled pink stuff to girls, we're setting them up to see themselves as unable to use the "real" versions. we're ghettoizing girls through the power of pink marketing.

GirlProf said...

I agree - pushing dumbed down, less powerful technology at girls or boys is a bad idea. So, I cringe at the Cars laptop AND the Barbie Laptop. Get them a Mac and an internet connection. Or, get them an iPhone. Get them the real stuff, not the dumbed down version. When we give kids dumbed down technology, or dumbed down lessons in schools, we are telling them that they are less capable users and thinkers.

I am of the "as long as they are reading" club, too -- so, if kids want to read comic books [Yay!], video game instructions and websites on video games, cereal boxes and contests, hockey statistics, Captain Underpants, My Pink Pony, then at least they are reading. I am the last person to push "the classics" as the only pure literature [classics to WHO?]. That said, As Kids Develop the Habit of Reading and Enjoy Reading, we continue to expose them to a greater range and diversity of great books.

Adelante4 said...

I disagree, i think pink technology is brilliant. Why should we constantly have to look at silver or black units and lose the will to live? I'd rather much look at something bright and stylish like a pink laptop and smile.