Pink Shirt Day waters down the purpose of the cause

a hand holding an iPad with a picture of a folded pink collared shirt and the words “Pink Shirt Day” pixneo (manipulated by kate thiessen)

What do Halloween, Bell Let’s Talk, and Pink Shirt Day have in common?

Pink Shirt Day has made me resent the term “bullying”. There, I said it. Why do I hate this term? Well, it sanitizes situations. It waters them down until it is on such a broad spectrum that the actual issue is unidentifiable.

Pink Shirt Day’s original purpose was to recognize homophobia but was re-branded to taking a stand against bullying. When you look up the origins of Pink Shirt Day, no mentions of homophobia are present. It has all just been absorbed into the term “bullying”. Here are some of the reasons I think the campaign is problematic:

First and most obvious, the 2SLGBTQ+ community is being silenced once again. The irony of removing the advocation against homophobia and broadening it into bullying strips the meaning out the significance of the day. Pink Shirt Day’s re-branding demonstrates that they made it something appealing for people who are homophobic to participate in.

Second, if they are going to advocate for anti-bullying, every day needs to be prioritized as a day that contributes to the end of bullying. Much like other campaigns (cough* Bell Let’s Talk cough*), we should not solely focus on one day each year to end bullying. Pink Shirt Day is the perfect time to pretend like you care, then resume your usual shitty habits the next day. Uniting individuals and students for one day is too short-term; long-term effects should be implemented to make a difference. Furthermore, I know schools are already attempting to do this, but their policies to stop bullying are inefficient. Putting a kid in detention to teach them a lesson will not work. There needs to be some initiative through social programming in schools to help combat these issues.

Third, the campaign heavily focuses on gender contracts through the significance of the pink shirt. The emergence of pink shirts proclaiming “proud to wear pink” and “don’t laugh, it’s your girlfriend’s shirt” perpetuate how wearing pink is something that girls and “sissy men” wear. Moreover, the campaign still emphasizes that pink is something that men only wear one time a year before returning it to the back of their closet. It is masculine and acceptable to wear once a year, then it is returned to a symbol of femininity. The pink shirt represents a type of rhetoric that it is okay to wear pink for one day before returning to the stereotypical blue for boys and pink for girls. Wearing a pink shirt is comparable to dressing up for Halloween on October 31 – it doesn’t change how people conduct themselves daily.

I have difficulty seeing what the campaign is truly accomplishing in ending bullying. The campaign could be doing so much more by advocating for 2SLGBTQ+ rights across Canada and the world. It could be a day about learning and recognizing homophobic and transphobic behaviors and supporting policy change against conversion therapy. Speaking of policy change, there could be an emphasis on questioning why there is little representation of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in government. Furthermore, the campaign could involve guest speakers who uplift and encourage youth to embrace their sexuality. All these things can contribute to gender equality, should be taken notice of, and should not be watered down. 

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