Today I’m wearing…red – for those ‘in the red’.
Yesterday was ‘Equal Pay Day’ in the States – the day that symbolises how far into 2011 women have to work to earn what men earned by the end of 2010. Here in the UK it is in November, highlighting the fact that, because of the pay gap, women are in effect not paid for the last two months of the year. And people claim there is no longer a need for feminism…
It’s common on both sides of the pond to ‘wear red for those in the red’, as well as in other parts of the world (see New Zealand, above). Of course, red has also been used to raise awareness of heart disease, AIDS, and more recently the events in Japan, but personally, I’m quite pleased that a colour so significant for women – and one so sexually loaded – is worn to highlight the pay gap.
The media happily tells us that ‘men prefer women in red‘ because of its associations with sex, even a signal of some basic biological impulse. On Valentine’s Day shops are awash with red, from cute cards to raunchy underwear. That aside, red has always been one of my favourite colours to wear. As a child, many people told me I couldn’t wear it because of my red hair, an rule I happily ignored. I love its associations with glamour and power, boldness and dynamism.
Red as liberation?
A few months ago I read an article called Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth. In it Dr Elaine Webster (aka ‘Dr Frock’) interviewed numerous people, discovering that many linked red shoes with sin, prostitution and illicit sex, as you’d expect. Some also associated red shoes with dance, perhaps symbolising freedom …or even just as a means of injecting a ‘bit of colour’, which she suggests, is a “metaphor for an enriched life”. Appealing, no? Red in this sense is a vital colour, suggesting choice, sexuality and a strong identity. And let’s not forget the Ruby Slippers, shoes that enable the wearer to both escape and return home…
Red as a restriction…
By contrast, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, women are denied their sexuality and an escape route. Women who have been chosen for childbearing are dressed entirely in red, with a white headdress which literally and metaphorically limits their vision. In one section, Offred, the main character contrasts the old and new connotations of the red clothing that form part of her imposed ‘uniform’ – once associated with dancing, red clothing has been easily transformed into symbols of women’s function:
Gilda pulls the gloves off, Offred pulls em on.
Red has many other interpretations, of course: it’s a warning, a sign of courage, virility, vitality and anger. But in this case, it signifies debt. It ain’t all about the clothes! If you’re a UK citizen, go to the Fawcett Society website to find out how you can do your bit to help close the pay gap. US citizens, try the Pay Equity site. We need to keep fighting this.
What does red mean to you?
Did you wear red for those in the red?
Atwood, Margaret, (1996) The Handmaid’s Tale, Vintage Classics: London
Webster, Elaine. “Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth.” Textile 7.2 (2009): 164-77. Art Full Text. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.
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