March 2 at 12:33 PM
RICHMOND — Richard Stuart likes to hunt. Just not all dolled up in pink.
Which is why the Virginia state senator, a Republican from the Washington exurb of Stafford, sounded a little sheepish recently as he pitched a hunting bill on the floor of Richmond’s august upper chamber.
“Um,” he began. “This just authorizes some alternative fashions for deer hunters. They’re required to wear blaze orange now. But those that prefer could wear blaze pink.”
Hot pink, a color associated with Barbie Dreamhouses and pretty, pretty princesses, is poised to invade the traditionally macho world of deer hunting.
Already required to wear Day-Glo orange to decrease the odds they’ll be mistaken for Bambi, Virginia hunters would have the option of sporting fluorescent pink under a bill that cleared the General Assembly last week. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is expected to sign it into law.
The measure reflects the growing participation of women and girls in what has always been a male-dominated pastime. The number of female hunters has doubled over the past 15 years, a trend that may have been nudged along by high-profile female hunters such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and the fictional Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.”
Four states — Colorado, Louisiana, New York and Wisconsin — now allow hunters to wear fluorescent pink in addition to the traditional orange, said Jennifer Schultz, senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legislation is pending in Montana and Minnesota, though it failed in the latter state just last year. It also was rejected in Illinois and Maine in recent years. Michigan is studying whether “hunter pink” or any other colors would be effective and safe.
“I have a 13-year-old daughter who absolutely loves [hunting], probably as much as I do,” said Del. James E. Edmunds II (R-Halifax), who proposed the Virginia bill after hearing of similar legislation in other states. “I think my daughter was intrigued by the thought of blaze pink. It may help the hunting industry. Maybe the attention it’s drawing will, perhaps, recruit more females to the sport.”
His idea sparked a lengthy — and colorful — conversation among both male and female lawmakers in the General Assembly about whether the change was empowering to women, sexist or even dangerous.
Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) warned his Senate colleagues that people who are colorblind cannot see pink.
Arthur Shapiro, an American University psychology professor who specializes in visual perception and who has done research on camouflage, said the visibility question is not clear-cut. He said it depends upon the backdrop. For people with some forms of colorblindness, he said, orange would probably stand out better in some settings and pink in others.
“The pink material (or the orange, for that matter) might be hidden against green foliage, but not against brown,” Shapiro said in an email.
“This actually sounds like a really important question,” he said in a follow-up phone call. “And somebody should probably be working on it.”
Some hunters say it’s best to be on the lookout for just one safety color.
“You know, we’ve been using the orange blazers for years and years, and now somebody comes up with blaze pink. The next day somebody will come up with white with purple polka dots, and all that stuff,” said Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun). “And the one thing I know from hunting is, you train your eyes to look for certain patterns and colors. . . . And once you’re fixated on that color, it’s frozen in your mind if you spot it.
“And besides,” he added, “the idea of hunters dressed in pink just strikes me as flat-out silly.”
That sentiment was not limited to men.
“I just have a hard time picturing dudes in blaze pink,” said Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield).
Some feminists have embraced hot pink as a symbol of “girl power,” most recently during the Women’s March on Washington, where knitted pink “pussycat” hats were meant as a visible retort to President Trump’s boast about grabbing women’s genitals.
Yet the notion that women and girls might be drawn to the sport with prettier gear drew a different set of complaints.
“There are women who like to hunt, but it’s not about fashion,” said Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who voted against the measure. “It’s about being in the woods. And the purpose you wear a color is so somebody can see you and they don’t shoot in your direction. I mean, blaze pink — I just think it’s silly. I think it’s condescending to women.”
Caroline Edmunds, the 13-year-old daughter of the delegate who proposed the bill, said she would like to wear pink when she goes hunting with her dad and brother. But she doesn’t expect any of her non-hunting friends to take an interest in the sport because of the color.
“I think it’s a nice option, but I don’t think orange is really the reason that stops them,” she said.
Hunting remains a male-dominated sport, but women and girls are its fastest-growing demographic, according to the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The number of female hunters nearly doubled from 2001 to 2015, from 1.8 million to 3.4 million, while the number of male hunters shrank from nearly 16 million to 14.6 million over that period. Nineteen percent of hunters are female, up from about 10 percent in 2001.
“We don’t know for certain whether the introduction of blaze pink camo will encourage more women to take up hunting, but many people do, so let’s hope it’s true,” said Mike Bazinet, the foundation’s director of public affairs. “The broader trend of more clothing designed and tailored for women involved in the activity is definitely here, however. Go into a Cabela’s or Bass Pro or virtually any other outdoor retailer, and you will find a wide selection of hunting apparel for women. It’s not like 20 years ago, when women hunters would have to go to the rack and pick up a men’s small in a shirt or jacket.”
Colorado-based Próis makes hunting gear exclusively for women — none of it pink.
“I don’t think just by offering a safety color in neon pink that women who weren’t going to jump into it before are going to jump into it now,” said Kirstie Pike, who founded the company. “I guess whatever gets women into the outdoors is great. I would certainly never want to judge that. . . . I’m certain there are going to be some women who hate the blaze orange requirement and want to wear pink, and more power to them.”
At Green Top Hunting & Fishing in Ashland, sales associate Tim Rhodes said a good bit of the outdoor clothing he sells is already pink, though not the fluorescent hue that would meet the requirements under the bill.
“We do have pink camo,” he said. “That’s very big here in certain clothing. . . . A lot of the ladies who come in and buy it, they don’t even hunt.”
If the bill becomes law, he said, it would probably be good for business.
“It definitely can’t hurt,” he said. “People like something new.”