Thoughts on Pink

// 25 August 2009

Nice tablecloths

Following on from the evolutionary psychology debate, I wanted to mention this blog post I enjoyed from Vagina Dentata, a really great feminist / science blog in which she discusses the frankly stupid claim that girls liking pink is somehow ‘natural’ or ‘genetic’, or down to ‘evolution’, or whathaveyou:

“But,” I can hear you cry, “my daughter/niece/friend’s kid loves pink and her parents have not forced it on her at all.” My first reaction would be really? Really have they not bought her pink things, not accepted gifts from friends and family that were universally pink? Did they not when she was under 1 year old and therefore indistinguishable from any other baby male or female, dress her in pink clothes and put a bow in her hair so that strangers wouldn’t say “Oh, what a lovely little boy”. Did they really? Really? Really, did they?

If that gets you nodding with agreement, you might want to check out Pink Stinks,

a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls’ lives.

This site is for parents, and aims to gather support, promote discussion and ultimately to mobilize that support to influence marketeers and the media about the importance of promoting positive gender roles to girls.

Look, if you are female and you do like pink, that’s fine! But please don’t pretend that it’s in your genes or something, or somehow makes her more womanly because she likes it or him less of a man if he likes it. What’s wrong with just liking it, huh, huh?

The Pink Stinks name, I believe, is tongue in cheek. It isn’t anti-pink, the colour. It’s what it represents. It’s anti-pink-as-the-only-choice for girls. It’s anti pink=girls=soft=weak=fluffy. It’s anti pink=girls=sugar&spice&allthingsnice. It’s anti-suffocating in pinkpinkpinkPINKPINKPINK EVERYTHING that girls have to grow up in.

If anything, it’s pro: pro-diversity, pro-colour, pro-actual freedom and choice for kids. And I say yay to that.

Photo by me, used with my permission!

[Post edited to remove problematic quote from source blog. Apologies for any offence. See comments – CR]

Comments From You

Kez // Posted 25 August 2009 at 12:58 pm

“Little cretin”?


sianmarie // Posted 25 August 2009 at 1:46 pm

i read the other day adn i can’t remember where that in the twenties, blue was a “girl” colour as it was associated with the virgin mary, and read was a “boy” colour because it was like red, another “boy” colour. which puts pay to the idea that pink is evolutionary a feminine thing.

i was really shocked by some forward thinking friends of mine who said that most of the clothes they were given for their baby boy were pink and therefore for girls – i felt like yelling “babies don’t care if pink is for girls and blue is for boys! babies are babies!”

it’s so ingrained isn;t it. so very odd.

RadFemHedonist // Posted 25 August 2009 at 2:17 pm

Agreeing with Kez (I think you were being sarcastic…), using ageist terminology is not a good way to combat sexism. I also don’t think referring to girls who do get forced into this as fluffy pink Shirley Temples is very fair, they are real individuals, finally babies are not indistinguishable from one another, they are individuals too and they don’t all look the same.

Rhiannon Lassiter // Posted 25 August 2009 at 2:24 pm

“Cretin” really stuck out for me too. Why use such a pejorative and offensive term? The subject matter of this article is interesting but the language choice doesn’t impress me.

For little girls who don’t like pink I recommend the excellent French children’s book “Marre du Rose” by Nathalie Hense, illustrated by Ilya Green. It is published in English as “Sick of Pink”.

JenniferRuth // Posted 25 August 2009 at 2:45 pm

Cretin – I don’t think it was ageist as much as it is a slur towards the mentally disabled.

On the topic of pink, this article is spot on. You only have to walk into Toys R Us to see that girls really don’t have much choice in other colours.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with the colour pink (currently I am wearing some hot pink trainers – how stylish!). However, when you can’t provide any alternatives to young girls because everything is pink, we have a problem. Especially with the attached ideas about gender and what a young girl “should” be/behave like.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 25 August 2009 at 3:00 pm

Hello lovely readers

I’ve edited out that sentence from the post above as I can see that word may be offensive. Apologies.

The paragraph I’ve left in was the one that got me laughing and pounding the table in agreement.

Thanks for your comments.

Sam // Posted 25 August 2009 at 3:37 pm

Maybe a good way to help change the colour discrimination would be to explain that *only real men*, very secure in their sexuality, can afford wearing pink, lavender, or purple or any other colour associated with femininity. I can speak from my own experience here – I started wearing those colours when I could tell that to myself. Pink made me feel more secure in my manhodd… the amazing twists and turns the human mind is capable of ;)

Ruairidh // Posted 25 August 2009 at 3:51 pm

This article enabled me (for once) to feel all progressive because my toddler daughter’s favourite colour is yellow and the number of pink & girly toys are easily outnumbered by the rest.

On a more serious note I’m stunned to hear that people out there claim that the pink=girl meme is genetic. What nonsense, of course its cultural and the Victorian thinking Sianmarie references perfectly illustrates this. I’m fairly sure from memory that women have better colour resolution in their eyesight (larger cone to rod ration) but I cannot see how that would impact preference.

eleanargh // Posted 25 August 2009 at 4:09 pm

Gah, I had no idea of the etymology of cretin before, cheers for educating me commentors above.

I can’t wait until pink is no longer associated with a stereotype of femininity so I can get on with enjoying it. It’s SUCH a good colour, in its many variations (especially keen on a good salmon pink), and I love it, but that has nothing to do with my lady-identity.

Kez // Posted 25 August 2009 at 4:33 pm

I do agree with much of what it says, but I’m afraid the use of such an offensive word to describe my or anyone else’s daughter (or anybody, for that matter) thoroughly put me off the whole thing and certainly prevented me from “pounding the table in agreement”.

Sorry to harp on it, but I’m still shocked that anybody thought that an appropriate word to use!

Sarah // Posted 25 August 2009 at 5:13 pm

It is weird how parents enforce these norms (and then claim they did no such thing). At work recently someone was trying to sell a (very expensive) baby car seat/buggy/carrycot combination they’d bought for their first baby, as it was ‘unsuitable’ for their expected second child. Second child will be a boy. If they can’t sell it, they’re going to buy new (blue) stuff anyway. I was astounded, especially as this stuff is only good for the first six months anyway. Surely a six-month-old baby isn’t capable of knowing or caring about such things! It’s just madness, especially given these things are not cheap and the parents concerned are not wealthy by any means.

Other friends have a 3 year old girl and were clear from the start that they didn’t want pink-frilly-girlyness pushed on her. They wanted her to be in practical, comfortable outfits she could crawl/run around and play in. Didn’t stop an absolute flood of pink frilly dresses flooding in from relatives. Literally more than the poor child could ever hope to wear, more than would fit in her little closet. Her mum feels a fair amount of pressure from said relatives (all the gifts of pink dresses and associated girly accessories feel like a reprimand to her), and she feels she has to put her in a pretty dress for family occasions, so relatives can fuss over what a pretty little princess she is, and make gushing comments about how different boys and girls are. There’s a fair amount of policing of parents as well.

I remember my mum telling me that strangers would mistake me for a boy when I was a small baby (because I was sometimes in the blue baby clothes she’d originally bought for my older brother) and then sometimes be quite shocked and hostile when they found out their mistake.

It’s amazing how upset people get about this, and how much they feel the need to enforce the correct colour-coding of other people’s children. It’s baffling really. Thinking about it, it’s hard to really blame the parents who do decide to conform. After all there’s so much pressure, especially for mothers, to be the perfect parent, and so many people ready to attack and criticise – why give them more ammunition.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 25 August 2009 at 5:20 pm

One of the best books I’ve ever read about this is There’s a Good Girl by Marianne Grabrucker.

It’s a diary of her trying raise her child in a non-sexist way in Germany in the 80s in a liberal, middle-class community (which makes it more interesting because all her friends consider themselves feminists and non-sexist). It documents every little instance of sexism she encounters like the ones you describe, and because of this it’s fascinating – and a really powerful example of socialisation at work. One instance she describes that stuck in my memory is when she and her friends and their kids go for a walk in the park and the boys run around freely while and the girls trudge along, pushing toy prams, looking at the floor. So powerful. I really recommend it.

Ruth Moss // Posted 25 August 2009 at 7:07 pm

My toddler loves pink. And thinks “baby kittens” are “so cute” and every time we walk past the bridal shop remarks on the “pwincess dwesses!” in the window.

Yeah, it’s evolution all right. In the same way it’s also evolution he likes trucks, diggers and wants to watch “lots and lots of firetrucks” over and over on youtube until I think my eyes are going to bleed.

But as for “little cretin”? Wow, ablism and attempted ageism in the same breath! Nice to see the author linked to is yet another feminist who hates children (whilst allegedly campaigning on their behalf… with allies like those, eh?)

Glad to see it was removed.

cycleboy // Posted 25 August 2009 at 10:15 pm

Catherine: you beat me to it. I too was thinking about “There’s a Good Girl”.

I was recently talking with my niece about this book, having sent her a copy when she was expecting her second child. Unfortunately, it appeared to have got lost in the post, so I’ve sent her another copy.

The problem was, I find it very difficult to discuss this with someone who has children when I do not. The obvious retort they use is that they too thought like I do, until they had their own children. In other words; shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about. I’m curious to know what my niece will say about the book and I can heartily recommend it to others.

If any reputable evolutionary psychologist were to try to argue that pink is a girl’s colour, they would simply be shooting themselves in the foot. Given that it used to be a boy’s colour, it simply cannot be both. I suppose they might try to argue that the Victorians who thought it a boy’s colour were going against the grain of evolution. That implies that, the year 2009 is when we have got it right (in their eyes) and there is little more to add. Such hubris is so breathtaking it is way off my scale.

Kath // Posted 25 August 2009 at 11:35 pm

Glad you removed the offensive word but think people should be giving the author the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t until I looked it up just now.

Also it got me wondering why the term idiot/idiotic is not considered offensive as it also used to be a term for mental illness. Sometimes it’s right to accept a change in usage.

Kez // Posted 26 August 2009 at 8:22 am

Kath – I’m not sure why idiot would be much less offensive, when used as a general throwaway term to describe a very young child who has little choice over what her parents choose to dress her in. Both words show contempt on the part of the author.

Anyway, while I certainly agree that toys and clothes for young children are marketed in a ridiculously gender-stereotypical way (I always remember going into Woolworths when my first child was small and being appalled by the aisles of pink sparkly toys and the aisles of dull khaki toys) but I’m not convinced that either parents or children necessarily swallow this quite as whole-heartedly as is suggested. My daughter attends nursery – none of the little girls are “pink fluffy Shirley Temples”. Some wear dresses, some wear trousers. Some wear pink, some wear other colours. My daughter goes through phases of wanting to wear only dresses and phases of wanting to wear only jeans. She likes pink; she also likes green, yellow and red. In terms of toys, she loves playing with dolls and also loves racing around outdoors with a football. She’s still very young, of course; it hasn’t yet occurred to her that one may be more “acceptable” than the other. I hope it doesn’t. Nobody at home or, to the best of my knowledge, at nursery has yet suggested to her that it might. She isn’t, yet, being corralled or forced into liking anything, though I certainly don’t underestimate the insidious power of the media, advertising etc.

Anyway, whatever my young child or anyone else’s wears or plays with or is influenced by, I strongly dispute that it makes her (or me) either an idiot or a cretin.

RadFemHedonist // Posted 26 August 2009 at 10:54 am

I was also unaware of the ablist meaning of cretin until this post, I wouldn’t use the word even if it didn’t have an ablist meaning on the basis of not using words that call somebody stupid as I think that suggests that ignorance is a genetic trait, which I do not believe.

Milly // Posted 26 August 2009 at 1:45 pm

Yesterday my neighbour’s lovely five months old baby girl was wearing pink shoes, pink trousers, a pink top and a stained pink bib with ‘Gorgeous’ across it in sparkly letters. All gifts from friends and rellies. As her Mum says though, the baby don’t care and she’s only going to dribble/mess/do sicky bits over all that pink anyway! But it is incredible that people get so bothered about the pink for a girl blue for the boy thing. Says most about them.

I myself am a bit bothered by Ruth Moss’s comment “…yet another feminist who hates children…”. I’d say there’s an ‘ism’ in there somewhere.

Karen // Posted 26 August 2009 at 11:53 pm

Hi, I thought Milly’s comments were great, especially the sicky bits on pink bibs (yeah, I know, lowbrow but it was still funny!) I personally want to throw up every time I go to anywhere that sells toys, kids clothes etc, looking for nieces/nephews presents and get greeted by the dolls/toy ironing boards/toy household chores shite aisle and generally it emenates pink like a cross between Barbie’s boudoir and a nuclear disaster. It glows pink!Definitely one to avoid! I think it is an interesting point that many kids have colour schemes enforced on them by their nearest and dearest, like football team colours worn by 1 year olds that dont know yet what an aston villa is. Often the young girls I see wearing the pink skirts are dressed in the latest trendy gear in miniature with a mum with a playboy sticker or “powered by fairy dust” written on her car. Fine, if thats what they like, great, but do they honestly ask their little girls “do you want the pink one” or “would you prefer the pink one, the purple one or the British Racing Green one?” as there is a subtle difference here with the extra options voiced for the child to choose from.

Meg // Posted 27 August 2009 at 4:55 am

The big reason that pink = girl and blue = boy is because of the paintings “Pinkie” and “The Blue Boy”. They weren’t even painted by the same artists, but in the 1920’s, someone started selling prints of them as a pair. Dressing girls in pink and boys in blue became modern and fashionable, and it just never really went away.

Sacha // Posted 22 November 2009 at 8:16 pm

The Early Learning Centre have brought out a pink globe… how mad is that!

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