The Telegraph recently published an article about girls preferring pink from age two, which my twitter feed buzzed briefly about. This is the kind of thing I’m interested in, trying to bring my daughter up to be a well-rounded human being. Luckily for me a big chunk of my twitter feed is made up of people who are bothered by the gender delusion and pinkification too.
Part one, in which I witter on about pink things and shopping and Polly
Pink and blue as gender signifiers are enforced by society. I’ve lost count of the number of times strangers have commented on what a happy chappy my little boy is. Even wearing a yellow dress with flowers on, she’s clearly a male child – where’s the pink? The article says it’s usually possible to infer the sex of a child by looking in their nursery at the colour of decorations, toys, clothes, accessories. Well, duh. Almost every parent I know drowns their poor daughters in pink everything. Pink car seat, pink vest, pink clothes, pink toys, pink hairband on her hairless head. As it happens, Polly’s room has wallpaper with pink flowers on. Of course, if we’d ended up with a boy child instead, the same wallpaper would be on his wall too.
I think it’s different now than it was when I grew up. I had some pink clothes – I can see them in photographs. But I had plenty of other clothes too, they were mostly NOT pink, and mostly NOT dresses. Walking into Mothercare or similar baby/child stores these days you are confronted with a shop of two halves. One half of the store is pink, the other blue. There are some bits of red and green and brown dotting the blue half. Perhaps a couple of pastel hues amongst the pink. Looking for socks, for example, you have to walk across the whole store to peruse both the female socks and the male socks in the hope of finding some turquoise or green ones. Of course, they aren’t there.
It’s possible to buy fun coloured clothes though. I like Love It Love It Love It for fun colours and prints. I also don’t want to ban pink. It’s just a colour after all, I don’t want to respect the all-powerful girl-aura it’s been imbued with by a gender obsessed society and a trend compounding retail environment. Having banned friends and family from buying any of “that girly pink crap,” we’re then accused of hypocrisy when Polly turns up in a pink t-shirt, or, worse, a dress with pink flowers. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of pink while it’s under our control.
It’s toy selections that upset us as parents the most though. Everything appears to be divided into two again – the kids’ toys, and the girls’ toys. It’s heartbreaking. A world in which the Early Learning Centre sells this pink globe with mermaids shown swimming in the Atlantic ocean is not a world I recognise from my own childhood. Why on earth does this product exist? What is wrong with a perfectly normal globe, where the sea is blue and the land in gradients of green and brown and no fantasy creatures clutter up its surface? On the subject of toy stores and their enforcement of what is “boy” and what is “girl”, there are two excellent blog posts which can bring more to the subject than I am going to: Want to kill your daughter’s self worth? on a trip to the girl’s floor of a toy store, and part two focusing on the boy’s floor.
Part two, in which I wonder what it all means
I’m never quite sure what to make of this. What message are we giving our children? Is it that girls are special, they can enjoy all the toys but have this special selection of pink musical instruments and dolls that they can choose from as well? Or is it that girls are inferior and the normal toys have to be modified in colour and message and glitter content to enable the girls to understand them?
Or is this a continuation of society’s message to boys – you are not emotional, you are not a girl, you do not care, you are NOT a girl, you can’t look after babies or dolls, you must wear these clothes in these colours, you are not a girl, you must fit in, wipe those tears away, you are not a girl, you must not turn out gay. Quiet Riot Girl has something to say on this, in her blog post The Pink Menace which you should definitely read.
Part three, in which I discuss how adults relate to each other
Another article which lit up my twitter feed briefly was A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy” in which a man calls out other men for their belittling language used to dismiss women’s emotional responses as stupid, irrational and ridiculous. All very commendable, but my first thought was – why is this about men’s belittling of women in this way? I can think of so many examples where this occurs the other way around, though admittedly in similar proportions as the little boys I know of who wear pink, and the girls that don’t. Are such emotional outbursts beaten out of boys earlier in life, so they don’t get a chance to exhibit this behaviour as adults? Are they ridiculed and emasculated for it so much that they shy so far away from it that they later berate others (male or female) for their “indulgence” in such behaviours? Is all this misogyny (or misandry, whichever way you want to see the pink peril) a result of us forcing our children into the “boy” box when really the “child” box was perfectly adequate?
I’ve always thought of it as “children” and “girls” products. Perhaps it is “boys” and “not boys” instead. To highlight the “not boy”, girls have to be painted as girls in the extreme, hence the pink cribs and hair clips and shoes. Perhaps this explains the dismissiveness and amusement or ridicule we’ve experienced trying to bring our daughter up as a human child instead of some fluffy pink girl thing.
Great post and lots to think about.
It has definitely changed and the pink menace has taken over the shops and lots of parents’ minds too!
I will add that there is evidence girls are tending to do better at school these days, so the idea of girls being seen as ‘inferior’ in terms of toys (which includes learning materials like globes) seems a little unconvincing to me. I just don’t know the answers though!
Interesting thought. Though there is more to being “inferior” or “superior” or what have you than academic performance.
Making things pink in an attempt to appeal to girls (if we assume that is indeed what is going on) could be argued in some cases as an attempt to bring girls into a traditionally male set of interests. Pink tools, pink police helmet etc. – if that were the case would the pinkification continue or reverse when gender parity was approached?
This is a general question, but as possible the most sensible parent I know I thought I’d ask you. I hear parents (especially mothers) of baby girls say “so many people think she’s a boy” in a shocked way that I am afraid to guess whether a baby is male of female (I usually find out by asking the baby direct questions and listening for the he / she in the parent’s answers “So how old are you then?” “He’s 7 months”). I am rambling – what I mean to ask is, would you be offended if someone ASKED you “That’s a cute baby, is it a boy or a girl?”
I’d most definitely NOT be offended. I’d be glad that someone had decided not to assume default boy for a change!
That said, I’m usually not offended when someone assumes Polly is a boy. Except once. I bubbled with rage. This was a neat indicator that I was in a Bad Mood and needed to get some water and food in me, stat.
Good GCSE General Studies essay ;o)
Seriously, I do find all this very interesting and things have changed since the early 1980s. As a child I could pester my mum for a doll and the a la carte kitchen because, even though Mattell advertised them with girls, they were still accessible to me as a boy in the toyshop and in my general boy consciousness. I really worry about what this genderisation of childhood is going to mean in future, especially for little boys and girls like me.
I sometimes wonder how accurate our memories of our childhoods as far removed from this really are – given that we were both raised by feminists.
And yes, I worry too. I’m petrified of the day I have to send Polly to school, I dread to think what she’ll pick up.
I see what you mean impeus- that being raised by feminists meant we don’t know what non-feminist raised girls were experiencing. Hmm. That’s a tricky one. But I think consumerism has involved a pinkification of toys in recent years.
What’s especially weird to me is that generations ago, dressing a baby boy ‘like a girl’ would have been normal – christening frocks were or are very frilly affairs. I remember that my mum let me pick out my own clothes as early as possible and that i went through phases of hating dresses and loving dresses… I never much liked pink that I remember. Those weird pink headband things are so odd!
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I almost had a meltdown the other day when a woman came into the bookshop I work in, and spent several minutes agonising over the fact that her daughter wasn’t “normal” because she had no interest in “girly things”. She then proceeded to buy a princess sticker book “to try and convert her” (genuine quote). I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry! How have we got to the point where I could go into Toys R Us tomorrow with a marker pen and draw a line down the middle of the shop floor to illustrate the blatant gender divide?
I can’t get my head around why so many parents are desperate for their children to fit into these little coloured boxes!
The gender divide seems to me to be not only worse than when my children were young ie 70s and 80s but worse than when I was young (50s and 60s).
I suppose I must have had some pink clothes but I don’t recall any. trousers were not popular for small girls so generally I wore dresses but I would often have my brother’s hand me down shorts and polo shirts and if two articles were bought then we would have one each. I do remember having turquoise shorts with a duck on the pocket; my brother had the yellow ones. I had dolls while he had cars but we shared; it was his idea to make up my doll with our mam’ds cosmetics. We both had guns and bows and arrows; he also had a teddy that I was jealous about. We also played pretty much the same games (I was usually Tonto and Dan Dare) and were part of the same “gang” where ever we lived. My mother certainly wasn’t a feminist and was sometime worried about me being a tomboy; she was definitely unhappy about my brother and the duck shorts but generally had far more important things to worry about.
I am a feminist and brought my own children up in a similar way, (apart from the weapons), all my children had dolls and cars and Lego. That seemed to be pretty much the norm at a time when everyone was thinking of equality and the social pressure was to treat your children as equals.
Now the social pressure is the reverse; we must make the genders as different as possible. Reducing their choices in this way is a huge loss to both boys and girls; our children should be people not gender stereotypes.
Thanks for posting, I often wonder if the fact I didn’t notice such segregation growing up myself was because I was protected from it by my parents.
I’m guessing you are about the age of my older children. When they were growing up there was much less segregation.
the Early Learning Centre promoted it’self as not having boys/girls toys but children’s toys. It had a fantastic TV ad in which Barbie and Action Man try ro break into ELC and fail.
I don’t remember the ad, but I was surprised to see so much gendered product there based on my memories. I loved going into ELC as a kid!
I enjoyed your post (and am enjoying your site overall).
I’m a father of a three-year old girl (in Japan, where the situation is pretty much the same). I really dislike ‘girl’ as a product label, and question how much pink my wife and my mother bathe my daughter in. I really want her to be raised as gender-neutral as possible. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t share my feelings, and I can’t push it without being bossy, and really, there is nothing wrong with pink in itself.
Ultimately though, I want to raise a capable person and not a princess. We’ll see what happens.
Keep it up!
You are right that there is nothing wrong with pink as such, but there no longer really appears to be a choice. When you have to go to a “boys” section to find something you’d consider to be gender neutral, there’s clearly a problem! The worst is, I guess, when your choice is princess or guns. I think the lesser of two evils there is simply not to have either.
In terms of choosing toys for my children I am not that bothered if some shops go for the girl/boy divide. Ultimately it is down to me to decide whether that lovely knitting starter kit, is going to be for my son, or not. My decisions will depend on me being experimental, on trying to find out what makes my kids tick and on getting to know them as we try things out.
If anything, I see things in some toy shops that I am unsure of calling toys and I find very unappealling, artificial, boring… It is unfortunate, and makes one wonder what made anyone invest money and effort in producing such items, but I can walk past it and find something else that I like. If I don’t, I still can go to another toy shop and try my luck there.
Perhaps it is good to have some places that act as a source of irritation and that provoke some form of reflection, pushing us to make our minds about what we believe is best. However, this applies to many areas of life and society, from architechture to supermarket food, not only pink and blue, toys aisles, girls and boys. That’s why I think it would be good not to loose sight of that: whatever seems to be happening in some shops, it is part of a bigger story and one can perhaps understand it better by looking elsewhere too, making links.
Everyday one has opportunities to counteract the forces of girl=pink=fairies, or boys=blue/dark colours=weapons. I find it a pity to miss out on situations like the one described by Tabitha. Why not trying ‘converting’ the mother, droping a few words indicating that actually it is very normal not to be interested in girly things, but in all sorts of things, that is what children do best. Sometimes a sentence like that may be all it takes to send that mother into a new path of thinking and open-mindedness. The world out there is never going to be perfect, not every parent is, but we can all contribute by standing up for what we really think, instead of hesitating between laughing or crying in a somewhat paternalistic way.
Just an idea!
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