Women's gear, up first
In case you weren’t aware of how oppressive bright orange is as a safety color, don’t worry. No one else was, either.
In 2015, two Wisconsin State legislators introduced a bill to legalize blaze pink as safety gear for hunters, along with the traditional blaze orange, in hope that it would bring more women to hunting. This was a great idea because everybody knows that if you make something pink, of course women will be attracted to it. And even though Wisconsin hunters, including women who previously hunted without pink safety gear, swiftly opposed the bill—and national women’s hunting groups called the bill misguided, insulting, and demeaning—the measure was passed into law.
Since then, well-meaning but seemingly clueless legislators have kept pushing pink in hunting; fluorescent pink debates have clogged up legislation in states including New York, Louisiana, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, and Montana—with some failing and some passing. The latest to consider the measure is Wyoming, where currently about 20 percent of hunters are women.
The recent Wyoming bill was introduced, with two co-sponsors, by Laramie County Senator Affie Ellis, who said the issue was brought to her by some constituents. Senator Ellis is not a hunter herself but said she was impressed by a study commissioned by the Wisconsin bill sponsors. The focus of the study, conducted by UW-Madison textile scientist Mahjid Sarmadi, was not whether pink drives female participation but color visibility. Sarmadi concluded that blaze pink is just as visible, and sometimes more visible, than blaze orange.
But my question is this: If pink really is safer than orange, why aren’t all hunters wearing it? Instead, this bill is paraded as a women’s choice and participation issue.
Oddly, I haven’t met any women who’ve said they’d go hunting if only the safety color wasn’t limited to that dreadful orange. Could it be that training, scouting, shooting practice, buying a tag, 4 a.m. wake-ups, crawling around inhospitable wilderness areas stalking wary prey, killing a living creature, field dressing, and laboriously packing hundreds of pounds of meat while covered in blood and dirt would be more broadly appealing with more feminine safety colors?
To take a step back, the original intent of blaze orange is so rifle hunters don’t mistake each other for deer and shoot at each other. (The question of why you would shoot at something you are not 100 percent sure is the animal named on your hunting tag, orange-clad or not, does seem like a valid question.) But whether orange looks good with your complexion or your outfit is not the point.
Rather than dealing with the laundry list of real problems facing states, lawmakers decided to create a new, heretofore unknown issue, and one that ultimately serves to make women in hunting look as frivolous as possible. Clearly, this is an optimal time for lawmakers to focus on what fashions in hunting are safe and pretty. It’s not like American public lands, natural wildlife habitat, and preservation measures are facing the most dire threats in a century right now, from extractive industrial greed, mismanagement, human population sprawl, and a Secretary of the Interior with his very own interpretation of land conservation.
The majority of the hunting industry itself has provided serious support without pursuing a patronizing, debasing color scheme. This bill takes a step back, erasing the recent progress women have made in hunting.
You can support companies that support women as hunters, not as a special handicapped group in need of color support. Hunting companies First Lite and Sitka make women’s camouflage clothing with no pink—not even an accent. It’s apparently very popular, and according to First Lite, women thank them for making hunting clothes in women’s sizes and leave it at that.
Sure, not every brand in the industry believes women should be on the hunt. (Note KUIU, whose founder stated in a 2017 Men’s Journal article he would not make clothing for women in order to keep the brand “aspirational.”) But as the fastest growing group in the industry, women are in fact in the field, demonstrating thorough knowledge of animal behavior, terrain, stalking, focus, and good aim. And pink isn’t helping them win those battles.