Pink, Gender, and Automobile . Marketing and political uses of pink in the automobile

Bideaux Kévin, Guillaume Lebègue – France, LEGS (UMR 8238), Université Paris 8

The automobile is a modern myth [Barthes, 1957] which, in its use and representations, serves as a vector for an ideology of the difference between the sexes: the relation to the car is thought of as “specifically masculine” [Blum, 2004], and women’s access to the driving license is limited in the first part of the twentieth century [Demoli, 2014]. The women were initially used to valorize cars in elegance contests [Blum, 2004] and later as muses of brands. The few women pilots will only confirm that “this is the exception” [Blum, 2004], women still being perceived as bad drivers [Chateignier et al., 2011]. The car as an appanage of the masculine will lead to the development of cars for women in the late 1920’s, and the creation of “the generally urban and second class driver” figure [Blum, 2004].

By crossing gender studies, history of colors and cultural studies around figures of sales of vehicles and multiple commercial, popular or artistic representations of the automobile, we want to highlight the uses of the pink color in the automotive context. Indeed, the colour of cars plays a leading role, acting as a “marketing action variable” [Kacha, 2004] and as a “gender technology” [De Lauretis, 2007]. Thus, while the majority of cars sold in Europe are black, white or gray, the use of bright colors seem to be reserved for particular categories of cars, such as sports [Perrin, 2015; Rouaud, 2017]. Pink seems absent, even though it is part of the official color charts of Renault, Jaguar or Porsche. It is because pink and its recent feminine symbolism [Paoletti, 2012] is inadequate with the masculine automobile object. The manufacturers therefore choose diverted appellations for the shades of pink (“Magenta”, “Dusty Orange”, etc.) in order to limit their association with the feminine [Bideaux, 2018]. The pink car bodies still seem to be reserved for cars in special or limited editions (“Type-E” by Jaguar and Esthée Lauder, “New Beettle Barbie Pink” by Volkswagen, etc.), or models designed to attract female customers (“Peugeot 208” in 2012) [Lebègue, 2019].

Pink cars are also used in stereotypical female representations, or seemingly subversive masculine images. They thus appear as a form of dandyism when they are exhibited by men belonging to a class elite distinct from the dominated aggregates [Lorenzi-Cioldi, 2002], like the American black boxer Ray Sugar Robinson famous for his expansive lifestyle [Steele, 2018: 52], or rock star Elvis Presley and his famous “Pink Cadillac” (1955). Associated with women, pink cars refer either to a reinforced form of sexism through a gender marketing that uses pink to seduce women [Bartow, 2008], a reification of women in advertising images for a male readership (“Pink Playmate” are cars offered to Playboy magazine’s muses from 1964 to 1975), or to a form of feminist claims (the American pilot Donna Mae Mims, “The Pink Lady”, or the German artists EVA & ADELE and her pink motorhome).