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When I say that I am the founder of a gender-neutral magazine for kids, and mention my objection to the ‘pinkification’of girls, there are generally two responses.
‘Oh, cool. I hate this obsession with pink for girls’.
‘What’s wrong with pink? My daughter likes princesses. Why should you tell me that it is wrong for my daughter to love pink?’
To clear up this misunderstanding, I would like to state publically –I don’t hate pink. I don’t think there is anything wrong with girls liking pink, or wanting to be a princess. When my daughter was younger, she was often clad in pink, from top to toe. She even had [gasp] a Disney Princess bedroom.
My daughter isn’t a fan of pink anymore, but she has more nail polish than I have! It doesn’t stop her climbing trees, playing football or doing anything that she wants to do.
I don’t want to ban pink, or stop girls wearing pink. I am for MORE choice, not less. Right now the choice for girls is not, ‘Which colour of shoes do you want?’, but ‘Which shade of pink shoes do you want?’
Why limit girls to pink and purple shades, when we have a whole rainbow of colours?
When we look at the range of toys available for boys and girls, and how to make them ‘gender neutral’, we often see a troubling thing happen –the disappearance of ‘girls’ toys’. German blogger Charlott Schönwetter makes this point in this excellent post Pretty In Pink (in German, but worth a read, even if you have to throw yourself on the mercy of Google Translate).
In the maths book series Mathestarts 4, two children, a boy and a girl, are shown buying toys. In the book released in 2005, Thomas buys a football goal and a Gameboy, while Tanja bought a doll and a toy horse. When the book was reissued at a later date, Thomas still bought a football goal, and swapped his Gameboy for a camera. Tanja now wanted a badminton set and a board game compendium. Thomas didn’t wish for a doll in this new edition; instead all ‘girl toys’ were removed completely.
What is the take-away from this kind of change? That boys’ toys have positive associations and girls’ toys are negative – or perhaps frivolous. We shouldn’t make girls feel bad about liking Barbie dolls, just as young women shouldn’t be made to feel they are betraying feminism by wearing lipstick or high heels.
The ‘pinkification’of girls is part of the trend to über-feminise women, and this is what I’d like to challenge. The pressure that young girls are under to be feminine, to be pretty. Girls are faced with ‘perfect’ images that they can never live up to.
How gender stereotyping affects boys
Boys don’t escape unscathed either. Not every boy wants to be an explorer or a scientist. Not every boy loves football, but if you were to look at products aimed at them, you would never know this. Where birthday cards for girls are a sea of pink and glitter, cards for boys are a raging river of testosterone and adventure. Have you ever tried to buy a birthday card for a boy who doesn’t like football, dinosaurs or action heroes?
How many boys have been told, ‘No, that is for girls’, when they started playing with a toy kitchen? And how do we expect boys to grow into men, who respect the rights of women, and work towards an equal society, when toy kitchens and household goods are in the Girls’ Department?
Kids mirror the behaviour they see at home, and they learn by playing. Giving them access to toys and games that present girls as their equal, means that boys will just assume that this is the way things are.
A recent study showed that girls whose fathers did their share of housework were more ambitious in their school and career choices, than girls who watched their mother do all the work.
Gender-neutral toys, games and product are good for boys and girls, because they don’t preinstall ideas into their head, about what men or women are good at, or should be doing. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and ban pink toys. Lets give kids the choice of all the colours, not just the ones that match gender stereotypes.
How can there be anything wrong with pink or blue, aren’t they just colours?
Yes they are, and they are also used as cultural signifiers; codes that mean ‘boy’ or ‘girl’, and are used to segregate children (and sometimes adults) into two distinct groups to be targeted in very different ways. Despite retailers moving away from explicit ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs in shops, while we still have pink aisles and blue aisles we still have toys segregated by gender… READ MORE
Pink has always been with us, though it was not always as gender-entrenched as it is today. Back in the 1700s, men and women wore pink. Curator Michelle Finamore says a painting in the exhibit gives early evidence.
“It’s a late 18th-century portrait of two children, who are both wearing dresses,” she explains. “One is a pink brocade satin dress, one is a yellow dress, and they have these pinafores over them, and you can’t tell if they’re boys or girls.”
People are always telling me what a “real boy” my middle child is. Little Man O is now 3¾ and likes cars and superheroes, toy knights and castles, dinosaurs and spacemen, climbing and kicking balls about. Random strangers are forever saying things like “oooh, he’s such a boy” to me.
And yes, he does enjoy all the activities we traditionally associate with boys.
Recently, however, Little Man has been wearing a silver star-shaped ring and a beaded necklace. A couple of times he’s ventured out with two clips in his hair. People we don’t know, and even people we do, keep commenting on it. “Are you wearing a necklace?” they’ll laugh. “They’re for girls.” Or they’ll ask him, “Why are you wearing your sister’s jewellery?”… READ MORE