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Not Everybody Was On Board With The Pink Line 10 Years Ago

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 1, 2016 6:13PM

Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority

The Chicago Transit Authority on Tuesday celebrated 10 years of Pink Line service with what appeared to be a festive little shindig.

CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr. joined CTA officials held a small ceremony at the Clinton Station. Elena Vrettos, the former student who, as a seventh-grader, beat out hundreds of entrants to win the "Name the Line" contest and pick the color, was also present. Then a lovely, pink-wrapped train transported the party around the Loop for a ceremonial ride. A happy birthday, indeed.

"Ten years ago we launched Pink Line service with the goal of providing more access to rail service to customers on the city’s West Side," CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr. said in a statement. "Since then, the Pink Line has provided 50 million rides and we are proud of the important role it has served in connecting people, jobs and communities."

But the Pink Line wasn't always so celebrated.

Ten years ago, the mere idea of a Pink Line was once anathema to some in Chicago. The issue wasn't the project itself, which expanded much-needed service to parts of the Southwest Side. The problem, of course, was the name—that soft, girly color that only belonged in hardscrabble Chicago if we're talking about the pink pig that awaits the Hog Butcher of the World.

In April, 2016, the Economist channeled plenty of those stereotypes when they questioned whether "colour of baby girls and Barbie dolls" could possibly match our "gritty, no-nonsense, sausage-eating mid-western town."

The lede is hilariously silly: "Are the flush cheeks on Chicagoans' faces the result of a stiff wind off Lake Michigan—or are they just embarrassed by the shade of their latest commuter line?"

No surprise, the brief article contains a roll call of hoary Chicago signifiers for people who don't actually live in the city: the White Sox, Blackhawks, Al Capone, the 1893 World's Fair, and the Blues Brothers—all, in some way or another, emblematic of anti-pink manly-man Chicago grit.

(It concedes that the city has partially moved beyond its fictive caricature. We see "more green spaces" and the Boystown streets "lined with rainbow-coloured towers that serve as beacons of tolerance.")

Another Chicago cliche (corrupt politics) comes in for belaboring before the final zinger: "At least the chairman of the Chicago Transit Board comes under no suspicion: her name is Brown."

But there were lamentable reactions right here in Chicago. In fact, we were surprised to discover this very site among the worst offenders with an article titled "CTA to Include All Colors of the Gay Rainbow (Minus the Brown)." Author Alicia Dorr first takes issue with the essay-contest idea then criticizes the aging infrastructure and the CTA's financial woes.

But the pink panic emerges near the end:

All we can say is it must've been one hell of an essay that sold the wizards at the CTA on the idea for the Pink Line when there were several other, less foppish primary colors available. In order to make the Pink Line seem tougher, we've decided to make fun of it in the raunchiest way possible instead of going for the easy jokes about little girls being commissioned to paint rainbows and unicorns on the cars. Among these disgusting jokes will be the phrase, "some pink in the wink that stinks," the really gross pop star Pink (and all of her Lady Marmalade counterparts that look like they'd be sticky if we touched them) and much, much more.

Bottom line (sorry)? If the "Poop" Brown and "Pantywaist" Purple Lines were people, they would be wiping the sweat off their brows in relief because they won't be the most embarrassing lines in the city anymore.

Of course, it's easy to grimace in ten years' hindsight, but thankfully there were people criticizing that "WTF pink?" knee jerk in 2006, also. Our favorite is a March, 31 post from that year by Kate Harding (Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere, Asking for It) in which she calls out Chicagoist and the Tribune for such "hostility toward the whole fucking concept of a pink line":

Much like the word “shrill,” the color pink simply can’t be separated from femininity in this culture. (Hence my being so enraged at Pottery Barn for selling pink washing machines as toys.) And you know, I would be totally fine with that, if the association with “girliness” didn’t also automatically conflate the color with weakness and frivolity. People’s reactions to the idea of a pink line say so much about how we still see women. Feminine things are embarrassing, period. Ditka, deep dish and beer, of course, are good, strong Chicago values-organized sports and empty calories are the farthest thing from frivolous! But a pink-trimmed train? Ludicrous!

Harding finished with a rousing broadside against the larger forces of sexism that motivate such squeamishness:

The reason people find this weird and embarrassing is that they find women weird and embarrassing. Really, I’m not making a huge fucking leap here. The quickest way to take a man down a notch, to metaphorically strip him of power, status and confidence, is still to call him a goddamn woman. To dress him in pink.

Doesn't anyone find that more outrageous than the idea of a pink train?

Good words of advice for next time the city feels its creaky, masculine mythology threatened. And we'll leave you with the CTA's video of the 2006 opening below, which focuses on the neighborhoods the line serves and the winning student: