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The Globe and Mail

What women don't want: pink beer, pink cars, a new pink ghetto

Beer is brown. Apparently, this is a problem for me. It turns out that, as a woman, I require my beverages in a less threatening hue – like pink, which is the colour of a new "crisp rose beer" launching this fall in Britain. Animée is aimed at women, and also comes in white (clear filtered) and yellow (zesty lemon), because those are the colours of spring flowers, and ladies like flowers. It's also less bloating, because ladies like skinny.

A rep for parent company Molson Coors said: "Women are an essential part of future growth for the beer industry and can no longer be ignored. We need to repair the reputation of beer among women by launching products that meet their needs."

It's true that women may be feeling a little alienated after decades of beer ads that present us as extras in Van Halen's Hot for Teacher video or fun-crushing shrews who get between a good man and his brew. But our needs may not be met by alcoholic Kool-Aid in a soda bottle.

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The rose beer is part of the pinkification of womanly consumption. It's now possible to buy pink versions of everything from guitars to the Ford Fiesta. When I went to replace my cellphone, the salesperson led me to a pink BlackBerry and made a Vanna White gesture that said: "Voilà! A phone for the gentler, less technically savvy sex!" Oh, Best Buy clerk, please help me: Which orifice do I hold it up to again?

All of these items would probably please my six-year-old – or my inner six-year-old. But fairly or unfairly, pink – demure, unthreatening, feminine – is not really the colour of a strong, wise adulthood.

And yet it's become the signature colour of breast cancer, which is about as adult a situation as a woman can confront. Now this bitter slice of mortality arrives wrapped in childish pink ribbon. "I think the pink ribbon softens what's really not a soft disease," says a doctor in Pink Ribbons Inc., a fearless new National Film Board documentary based on the book by Samantha King and premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in a few weeks. The film, by Canadian director Léa Pool, unpacks how corporate involvement in breast-cancer fundraising (fried chicken, handguns and toilet paper have all gone pink) and a sanitized, up-with-people culture of cheerfulness confuse the bigger issues, like where millions of raised dollars are actually going (hint: rarely to prevention or the examination of environmental causes). The film exposes alarming incidents of "pinkwashing," which is when a company aligns itself with breast-cancer fundraising but manufactures products that may be linked to the disease.

In her book Bright-Sided, Barbara Ehrenreich describes her own bout with breast cancer and how she felt infantilized by the pink stuffies and go-girl platitudes that diminished the seriousness of the experience. She wrote: "I didn't mind dying, but the idea that I should do so while clutching a teddy and with a sweet little smile on my face – well, no amount of philosophy had prepared me for that."

Of course Ehrenreich, like most of us, would not dispute that the intention is mostly good: Awareness is a boon to a disease that still takes the lives of 59,000 women in North America each year. For many women, walking and running for a cure is an empowering reprisal against an illness that leeches so much agency of its host.

But how effective is pinking? A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research showed that gendered ads about breast cancer, aimed at raising awareness (pink font, female faces), might in fact lower a woman's perception of her risk compared to neutral, pink-free ads. Researchers speculated that when a woman is presented with a threat to her identity – i.e., as a woman – a defence mechanism kicks in that prevents her from clearly processing what's communicated.

Here's a thought: Perhaps the reason women aren't coerced by vital health-care information delivered in pink is because pink is the colour of the trivial. Paris Hilton wears pink.

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This isn't pink's fault. As recently as 1918, an American trade publication called Earnshaw's Infants' Department advised new parents that "the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." In the forties, the preference flip-flopped. But it wasn't until the rise of prenatal testing in the 1980s that parents began to shop by gender, pre-planning the perfect blue or pink wardrobe. The dye was cast.

But I no longer live in a pink nursery, and I don't want to be outside the guys' beer tent with my pink brew, separate but equal. Let us taste the intense beer, and the intense truths. We ladies can handle the full spectrum.

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