Growing up in a pink bedroom and advocating for women’s rights

February 13, 2020

In the late 1980s, my family moved to a newly built home in a subdivision in suburban Cleveland. The thing I remember most about that process? Picking the paint and carpeting for my own room. There were so many options; a range of shades and textures laid out in samples on the kitchen table. 

 

My choice without hesitation: Pink. Dark pink carpeting and light pink walls. That room would be my Pepto-Bismol haven until I started college several years later. 

 

What’s funny about this story is that I don’t think many people who know me now would have guessed me to be a “pink bedroom” kind of girl. I am, after all, someone who very proudly calls herself a feminist and I am passionate about drawing attention to -- and having conversations about -- difficult topics, including gender inequality in the workplace.

 

As a young woman who scoffed at suggestions like, “You should let your grandmother teach you to sew!” and, “A cooking class might be fun,” there’s no way I could have been incubated in a pink bedroom complete with a floral comforter, right? 

 

But what I’m just starting to realize now, as a 40-something woman in 2020, is that “the rules” about what kind of person likes certain things are made to be broken. It is possible for someone to like pink and promote gender equality. And it is conceivable that men, and women, can enjoy cooking a meal of food after a day at the office. 

 

Maybe my this-or-that mindset is a product of my Gen X childhood that didn’t feature many working women who also enjoyed parenthood. Only in the past few years did I start to realize that, every once in a while, it is possible to enjoy both the bread winning and bread making. 

 

While I absolutely have plenty of days when I don’t want to do a single thing (I’m looking at you, soul-sucking Wisconsin winter), I also have days when I like working in an office and then coordinating meals and transport services at home. 

 

This relatively new “maybe both” mindset got a boost from some unexpected places in recent weeks, including: 

Taylor Swift. The new Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana,” about Swift’s journey as a singer, songwriter and cultural phenomenon, provided some surprising “Get it girl!” moments, including near the end when you hear her say, “I want to love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics. I don’t think those things have to cancel each other out.”

 

For so long, like much of my life, I thought these things canceled each other out. So maybe you can be a feminist and, at the same time, not want to let your hair go gray?

Jennifer Lopez. That Super Bowl Halftime Show tho. While there has been plenty of hand wringing and pearl clutching over her barely there bodysuit, the pure physicality of what 50-year-old triple threat JLo brought to the stage -- for the world to see -- is nothing short of incredible. The singing, the (pole) dancing … whew! They take quite a bit of talent and a whole lot of bravery. 

 

Plenty of commentary has followed two women singing, dancing and playing drums during halftime of the Super Bowl, but among my favorites? This one from author Jennifer Weiner in the New York Times mostly because of this take: 

 

“Women watch a 15-minute show featuring elite entertainers and, in some cases, end up feeling bad about ourselves.

 

Men, meanwhile, watch a three-hour game, played by elite athletes with single-digit body fat, and most won’t feel a single twinge of self-doubt, or miss a single chip from the nacho platter.

 

Women see inspiration or goals we’ve failed to attain or a pretty stick to beat ourselves up with. We hear a voice (sponsored by Weight Watchers and Revlon and Planet Fitness and Jenny Craig) whispering This can be yours, if you just work hard enough. Men see entertainment, athletes who exist on a different plane than mere mortals. Their inner voice whispers, Are there any more nachos? I don’t even think it would occur to them to feel bad, or try to emulate what they saw.”

And then there are the new revelations about working at and working for Victoria’s Secret. Turns out that the women’s intimate apparel company was selling femininity as defined by some old white dude and his pack of bros. All the while, these men were harassing and degrading the women who wore their products in studios and on runways. 

 

This month’s report is just the latest about the company’s long-running bad boy behavior that goes back years. These stories feel different though. They feel impactful. Maybe that’s because they come as women are rubbing their eyes, looking around and saying, “Wait a minute. ‘Real women’ don’t have to buy expensive, ill-fitting, uncomfortable bras to feel like ‘a real woman.’” The perfect storm of pressure from the outside, along with a dumpster fire on the inside of this company, is affecting its bottom line. And I am here for it.

 

Across the board, I think, we’re starting to see the lines blur from perception to reality. We always knew perfection wasn’t attainable, but now it feels like it’s okay to say it. We’re starting to understand that honesty is what can bring people together. And because honesty is complex, maybe there is room for a diversity of life experiences and preferences, including pink carpeting.

Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd named Max. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, publishes periodically. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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