Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Real Astrophysicists Wear Pink*

Methinks that Peggy Orenstein should lighten up a bit about the pink princess thing. As the mother of a girl that has emerged on the other side of the princess phase, and who went through her own two-year phase of wearing only pink and purple (in HS!), I can say that it does no lasting harm.

In fact, pink is very becoming. We sleep on pink sheets. Our bed faces a wardrobe covered in pink curtains. Besides being very flattering to the complexion, pink accentuates the greenness of bad dad's eyes.

Linda Wertheimer, made a comment during the interviewer about how girls might emerge out of it as an astrophysicist sporting a pink scarf. That brought back a flood of memories from my time as a graduate student at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).

The department used to have an office supply closet where we could take binders. By the time I got there, the gray and blue ones had been snapped up. I took a bunch of rose pink ones back to my office. I still have them in my office at work--a wall of pink with labels such as "Quantum Mechanics", "Statistical Mechanics" and "E&M" (no, not S&M!).

Lands' End had a huge sale on pink lambswool sweaters and I bought a cardigan that I kept in my office, draped over my chair.

One day, I found the JILA Unix sysadmin and numerical analysis consultant standing by my open office door. I looked up from my homework and asked her if she wanted to speak to me.

She replied, "No, I just love to look at all the pink in your office."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it reminds me how far we've come, for you to be confident enough to wear pink here."

She had earned a mathematics degree from UC Berkeley the year I was born. It was not a friendly place for women then--it still wasn't when I was a mathematics major in that department 18 years later, as I wrote about here. But a friend who attended grad school there a decade later said that things were much improved.

Every department and university is different. They also evolve over time, for better and worse. JILA is not Berkeley. And that woman did not have the opportunity to earn a PhD in physics as her husband did. Nor did she have his research career. But she had what she considered a good life, and sends pictures of her retirement life. (She knows the Dalai Lama personally!)

I just made a pink skirt last month for my spring wardrobe using Vogue 9789. It's 240 degrees or a 2/3 circle skirt. Yes, I got out a protractor to measure it.

I lifted the pattern pictures from this seller. This pattern was printed in 1986, exactly 25 years ago. It qualifies as vintage!?!

I think I made this skirt 6 times: view A x3, view B x2, view C x1. Each time, I got a little bit better at selecting the right view/fullness for my fabric. I made the outer skirt using a 26" version of view C and a lightweight cotton stripe. I lined it with view B, cut at 24", using a hot pink washed rayon.
I also substituted a grosgrain waist finish for the waistband that came with the pattern. My pattern is size 8-12 and my waist has expanded over the last 25 years. I cut the skirt pieces with 1" seam allowances, trimmed the skirt length to fit the 2 yard remnants in my stash fabric collection, pin basted the outer skirt to my dress dummy, and let it hang for a week. (I mainly sew on weekends anyway.)
I really like the way the yellow in this thrifted silk blouse intensifies the pink in the skirt and the cardigan.

*Actually, I am not a real astrophysicist, even though I earned a PhD from the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics (before it was renamed simply JILA). One of the JILA professors was so horrified to discover that I had not taken a single astronomy class in my entire undergraduate or graduate career, he made me promise to read an introductory astronomy textbook within a year of graduation. He said that they couldn't let a PhD with their imprimatur out in the wild without some rudimentary understanding of astronomy. Otherwise, I would reflect badly on them.

He's safe. I can keep up with cocktail party chatter about the Hubble constant now. ;-)


  1. I haven't read the princess book yet, but I plan to soon. What gets to me about the pink/princess phase isn't the pink- I'm a fairly feminine type and always have been. I don't wear much pink, but that's just because it isn't a color that flatters me.

    What bothers me about this phase is the insidious all-pervasive nature of those Disney princesses. My daughter knows all of those princesses names, even though she's only seen the Cinderella movie- and that one only recently. I caved and bought it because she was so into the princesses and I felt bad that she'd never seen any of the shows. But she's scared by most movies, so most of the princess movies wouldn't work for her. I settled on Cinderella as the least scary. And she loves it.

    You may wonder where she learned about the princesses if we didn't have the movies and have never been to Disney land. The answer is day care. All of her little friends are into the princesses. It seems unfair of me to expect a 3 year old to be able to stand up against that sort of peer pressure, so I've bought her some princess things.

    I think the phrase "princess industrial complex" that Orenstein coined is apt- those princesses are everywhere, and they are targeted at girls at just the time that they are entering their most girly phase (kids get really into gender differences at 3-4 years old). I know that the phase will pass, and I don't mind the sudden interest in all things feminine... but I object to the way that those stupid Disney movies (and associated branded crap) are unavoidable, and I object to the messages inherent in those stories. So I read her The Paper Bag Princess often, to try to counteract the damsel in distress waiting for a rescue nonsense, and I don't worry about it too much. But it still annoys me.

  2. Don't forget the way that the Disney "cast members" are trained to call all little girls princesses to complete the effect.

    You control the purse strings. You don't have to buy the crap. I made her dresses in her princess colors (even dyeing the fabric to match). She also received a bunch of gifts and hand be downs.

    I pointed out news stories about how Disney merchandise was discovered to have been made by child labor or slaves locked into factories so they couldn't escape. She never bothered me to buy that crap after that.

  3. I dislike the marketing of the princess phase, but I think pink has undeservedly taken a hard rap. Remember that the idea that pink is "girly" did not really become mainstream until the mid 20th century. During Victorian times, and I believe well into the 1930s, pink was considered a masculine color as it was a form of red, with strong masculine overtones. Blue was considered dainty and appropriate to girls. For a girl to wear pink would have been rather scandalous.

    My husband looks very good in pink shirts.

  4. @Mardel
    Did you read that in Color, a natural history of the paintbox? I think that is where I read that about the relative masculinity of blue and pink for babies and children.

    Like many things, it's a social construct and mutable.

  5. I control the purse strings, but only in my family. I feel like I need to walk a line between not buying things I hate and having my daughter be excluded from what all of her friends are talking about.

    So she gets Princess bandaids and underwear (because really, were the Hello Kitty ones any better?) but her princess dress is home made, courtesy of my mother. She has the one movie, and we'll check storybooks with the other stories out from the library if she wants them.

    Do you know that Disney has brought out a Tinkerbell movie now, in which Tinkerbell is something of an engineer fairy? I have no idea what to think about that, although the phrase "engineer fairy" amuses me. Some of the little girls in my daughter's class are more into the fairies than the princesses, and some of the parents think it is better. Either way, Disney is making a killing off of these little girls. I'm surprised that they haven't figured out how to do the same for the little boys yet, but they are all into a wider range of superheros and cars and things.

  6. If princess underpants motivate my daughter to use the potty, bring on the princesses!

    Also, I learned long ago to buy really frilly pink floral lab notebooks, since if someone finds them around the lab it is immediately clear to whom they should be returned.

  7. I like pink but for me it's the fact that it's assumed that all girls want pink and that all toys geared towards girls are pink.
    I made most of my daughter's clothes when she was young and very few were pink. Periodically I have a look through the girls range of clothes often inappropriate.


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