Commentary: The colors you wear

By Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public AffairsMarch 6, 2023

Courtesy Photo (Photo Credit: Libby Weiler) VIEW ORIGINAL

CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – According to color theory, colors emit different feelings and emotions in our everyday lives: white represents purity or cleanliness, red makes us think of danger or sacrifice, yellow makes us happy and green brings us back to nature and relaxes us.

For many people, the colors you wear often become a part of your personality and means of self-expression. But when was the last time you stopped to think about their meaning?

Symbolically, purple is a hue that has been used for centuries to represent wealth, nobility, luxury and power. It is also a color used throughout modern history to represent the fight for gender equality and International Women’s Day.

In the early 20th century, the women’s suffrage movement in Britain used three colors to represent their cause: purple, green and white. According to Kenneth Florey in his book, “Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study,” the color purple was thought of as a representation of “the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette.” Green represented hope and white, purity.

The colors and their meanings were soon adopted by similar movements around the world.

As the Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line, women in the U.S. were coming together to fight a different battle.

In 1908, hundreds of women in New York City demonstrated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to demand their own union and the right to vote. The protest took place on March 8, and resulted in the first permanent trade union for women workers in the U.S. a year later.

The news spread to Europe, and women were inspired to take action.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day during the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, stating,

“...women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully.”

Her proposal passed with unanimous agreement, and International Women’s Day was formed. The next year, on March 19, 1911, millions of people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland celebrated the first International Women’s Day.

The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day officially for the first time in 1975, after declaring 1975 International Women's Year.

In 1978, what is now Women’s History Month began in the United States as a local Santa Rosa, California, celebration of what was then Women’s History Week. Planned and executed by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, the week fell on March 8 in honor of International Women’s Day. The following year, other communities planned Women’s History Weeks and a tradition was formed.

President Jimmy Carter was the first to issue a Presidential proclamation establishing Women’s History Week during the week of March 8, 1980. National Women’s History Week continued to be proclaimed annually in March until 1987, when Congress passed a law establishing March as Women’s History Month.

Each year since then, U.S. Presidents have issued an annual proclamation designating March as Women’s History Month.

In President Barack Obama’s 2011 Women’s History Month proclamation, signed on the 100th anniversary of the first observance of International Women’s Day, he emphasized “the extraordinary accomplishments of women and honor their role in shaping the course of our Nation's history.”

In late 2017, marketing and media agencies took notice of the announcement of Pantone’s color for the year 2018 – Ultra Violet. According to Pantone, the color communicates, “originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking that points us towards the future.”

Following the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day and Ultra Violet being announced as the Color of the Year for 2018, purple saw its most popular resurgence and pull towards International Women’s Day. The Suffragettes may have started it, but the digital age really pushed purple into the international spotlight.

The most popular search engine in the world, Google, highlighted the 2018 Google Doodle for International Women’s Day with none other than Ultra Violet. They harnessed the power of purple at that time by using it to represent elements in their doodle for the world to see. They also subtly brought it into explanatory text describing the project.

Today, the color purple has a variety of meanings for different people groups. Whether talking about the Purple Heart, or the meaning of purple in the LGBTQ+ community, they all mean different things.

On this International Women’s Day, I encourage you all to take a deeper look into your closets and think about the colors you wear and what cultural connections they make. And if you dare, I encourage you to wear purple this International Women’s Day in solidarity with women around the world.

The U.S. Army is currently forming a Women’s Initiative Team projected to start in March 2023.

The Women’s Initiatives Team will bring together representatives from across the Department of the Army to recommend policy, program, and resource changes to create opportunities for success in women’s recruitment, retention, readiness, and advancement across the Total Army.

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