Pink Hats, Pink Guns and Fake Sports Girls (And How Little I Know About All Of The Above)

OKAY, so I liked the pink guns. I have become everything I despise.
Publish date:
June 4, 2013
sexism, issues, guns, pink

It's sort of a running joke with my dad, that every time he spots a woman doing something notable in a male-dominated field, he'll point her out to me. "Hey, Lesley, look, a woman!" It's funny because it's feminism on its most rudimentary level: "Hey Lesley, cheer up, ladies do things sometimes!"

I'm on a sort-of vacation at present -- I say "sort of" both because I seem to be working right now nevertheless, and also because I am visiting family, which is not quite 100% vacation in my mind. Maybe like 70% vacation. Or perhaps 80%, in my particular case, since my particular family lives in south Florida.

Yesterday's outing took us to a Fort Lauderdale attraction called the International Game Fish Hall of Fame, which houses a museum all about fish, fishing, and world record-holding fisherpersons. It offered a few opportunities to point out noteworthy women in fishing, of which there have been quite a few, going back further in history than I had expected. Like Dame Juliana Berners, a 14th-century English nun who wrote on hunting and heraldry and who also authored the first known book about fishing written by a woman.

Connected to this monument to sportfishing is a massive and startling Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, where my recently retired dad likes to buy moisture wicking shirts to play golf in.

My husband, on the other hand, beelined for the gun section, its very existence a palpable weirdness to anyone who has spent most of their life in places with more stringent gun laws. It's even become weird to ME now, this year being the landmark one in which I have now lived in the Boston area for as long as I ever lived in South Florida.

The broad span of rifles and handguns on display is bizarre to me now. I suppose people could be buying them to hunt in South Florida, although I have no idea where they might go to do so, as there is literally no wilderness between the ocean on the eastern coast and the protected Everglades stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the middle of the state on the west, and I'm not sure about the legality of heading into that massive grassy swamp to shoot at gators and the like.

Maybe they just shoot at targets. It's not for me to judge anyway.

A few of the guns were pink, which I knew intellectually was a thing that happens, but it's still sort of weird to see a row of menacing black rifles interrupted by a baby pink one, or a mind-boggling array of handguns in which one stands out with bright fuschia trim.

Pink guns, I thought. I'd probably like a pink gun. It's a gross thing to admit.

Pink is a primary cultural signifier of femininity, in the US at least, an association that began to really evolve in earnest in the 1950s according to fashion historians who cover this stuff. Before that, colors as associated with gender were a little more changeable -- while pink would have been associated with baby girls according to the changing trends, one 1927 survey found that pink was more strongly preferred for boys at the time. However, since midcentury pink has become inextricably tied with femininity such that pretty much anything that is pink these days is probably being marketed specifically to women.

Pink is still just a color, and there's nothing inherently ladyish about it aside from the associations we've created. Looking at the pink guns, I wondered how popular they really are. I wondered about the sense of humor of any woman who would buy one; I also wondered about the women who wouldn't go NEAR them because choosing a pink gun is probably like wearing a sign down at the gun range telling all the dudes not to take you seriously. Because your gun is pink, and therefore you cannot possibly know what you're doing. I mean even if I was in the market for a gun? I doubt I'd have it in me to deal with the possible smirks I'd get for asking about the pink ones.

Then, last night I found myself watching both a hockey game and a basketball game and reading Twitter about same. A search for #bruins uncovered a critical mass of Boston fans complaining about people suddenly rooting for their team because they were winning, and all but demanding that people stop supporting hockey.

(As an aside, while I know that bandwagon/fair-weather fans are a thing that piss off many hardcore sports fans, I don't understand why. I mean, if you're ACTUALLY ON THE TEAM IN QUESTION I could see feeling a little grumpy that people are only choosing to recognize your hard work now that you've made the playoffs? Because you were probably busting your ass all season long without all that cheering. But fans are not players. They're invested, for sure, but in the end all they're doing is watching. I'm sure some of y'all will explain this to me.)

Within these complaints were several more specific beefs with women ("girls") who were allegedly "pretending" to care about hockey for male attention. When I asked whether "fake sports girls" are a thing, my long-sufferring Twitter followers informed me, with more patience than I probably deserve, that yes, they've been a thing for like EVER, LESLEY, AND GO GOOGLE "PINK HATS" OR SOMETHING. (Sure enough, Urban Dictionary defines "pink hatter" specifically as a bandwagon Red Sox fan. Also, Boston, you are such lovable curmudgeonly assholes, never change.)

This was eye-opening for sure. Do women really need special pink stuff to participate in certain interests? Somebody thinks so. This is the real issue for me, the idea that for women to engage in masculine-dominated pastimes, they must have special equipment in colors meant to specially include them -- or at least not to intimidate them.

Also, that women who express a new interest in sports or hunting or anything not traditionally coded as FOR THEM must naturally be doing so as a ploy for male attention. It's the same mechanism that the concept of "fake geek girls" operates on, the one that assumes that geekery and video games are for men unless specified otherwise, and therefore the motives of women who claim a place within it must be questioned -- sometimes, even quizzed.

I'm not really much of a sports fan, but that doesn't mean I don't know things about sports. I literally grew up going to football games (both college University of Miami games and Dolphins games) so maybe I could claim some merit as a football fan? If I was one, which I'm mostly not. Baseball will always be safe from my attentions, as I find it coma-inducing. And I guess my recent (as in, the past couple years) interest in hockey is suspect because I like the playoffs best.

I also have a pink Xbox 360 controller. I think it's funny. That fact alone probably makes me a fake geek girl in some people's eyes.

But pink isn't really the problem. (Nor, for that matter, is more casual fandom, which some women may well stick with because they don't feel like being constantly interrogated should they purport to know more than dude fans think they should.) Just because pink stuff distinguishes "women (or girl) fans" doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with enjoying pink -- pink is still just a color.

The problem is the chain of association that aligns pink with femininity and femininity with weakness and ignorance and a desire for male "attention" and therefore pink with all these things as well. But I'm pretty sure not every woman in a pink hat or a pink jersey is weak, stupid, or feigning interest to appeal to dudes, any more than a pink gun is somehow less likely to strike a target (or kill something, for that matter). The problem is masculine-focused cultures that seem to spend a weird amount of time and energy in trying to keep women out.

What is UP with that? What is so threatening? Is it really about trying to keep the fandom some definition of "authentic" and "pure," or is it more about fearing that sports (or geek) culture that openly includes women will somehow be blighted by it, because girls are icky? Because sexism. Because misogyny. Because PINK.

We wind up with this curious entitlement on the part of some fans, to police the fandom of others and serve as gatekeepers to who "counts" as a sports fan or a gun enthusiast or a geek. It's just gross and unnecessary -- even if they are newcomers, even if they have are still learning, and even if they are women, even women who like pink. Dudes, why not be pleased that more people are discovering and enjoying the thing you love so much? Women aren't going to ruin it by paying attention, and they're not only watching and commenting because they're trying to distract you into having sex with them.

I mean this last is the most hilarious of all. Like it's difficult to draw a guy's sexual attention. But sure, keep believing it, dudes. I'm gonna keep watching your hockey. And making fun of you. Possibly while wearing a pink jersey.