Pink stinks!

// 19 October 2009

Having visited Hamley’s for the first time this weekend and been confronted with separate, colour-coded floors for “boys'” and “girls'” toys – apparently boys don’t like arts and crafts or dressing up and nine-year-old girls need French manicures to look “fabulous” – I was delighted to come across the Pink Stinks website. I think we’ve linked to it before but thought it was worth highlighting again, particularly as the founders, Abi and Emma Moore, recently won the SMK ‘Women Creating Change Award’. From the site blurb:

PinkStinks is 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.

Research tells us that self-esteem amongst girls is at its lowest ever and we are asking WHY?

We believe that body image obsession, is starting younger and younger, and that the seeds are sown during the pink stage, as young girls are taught the boundaries within which they will grow up, as well as narrow and damaging messages about what it is to be a girl.

We will redress the balance by providing girls with positive female role models chosen because of their achievements, skills, accomplishments and successes.

On this website you will find our continually growing list of real role models. Let’s educate, inspire and motivate our girls.

It makes me so mad that both girls and boys are limited by the way their toys, activities and clothes are marketed, and I hope the founders of Pink Stinks and other like-minded parents can successfully fight back against what appears to be a growing trend.

You can join PinkStink’s facebook group here.

Image by jakerome.

Comments From You

gadgetgal // Posted 19 October 2009 at 8:14 pm

I don’t like the “boys” or “girls” toys either, but I tell you what I was totally unprepared for – I went to the pet shop last weekend and they had separate boys and girls FISH TANKS. I kid you not, they had pink tanks with castles and mermaids with pictures of girls on the box, and pirates and space aliens with pictures of boys on the box.

The world has finally gone mad.

Victoria // Posted 19 October 2009 at 9:23 pm

As the mother of two little boys, I really despair of how extreme the gendering of toys is today. Today we were in the children’s library and I came across a series called “Boys rule”, written “just for boys” (there’s a corresponding series called “Girls rock”, but “rule” is a bit too close to the bone as a choice of verb for males only). It’s so depressing, as I always thought things would be getting better, slowly, when I was growing up. For instance, at my junior school there used to be a rule that in sewing class boys made pencil cases and girls made samplers. I kicked up a fuss, as I wanted to make something that wasn’t just decorative, something that you could actually use, and the rule got changed. It was my first (but hopefully not only!) feminist triumph but I suspect now I’d get referred to “Raising Boys” and given a lecture on not encroaching on male space given boys’ “underachievement” at GCSE (the latter is another thing that drives me insane – if there’s a problem in education, it seems so blatantly down to extreme gendering yet the solution proposed is always to increase the divide).

At the moment my sons are two and five months, and things aren’t too bad, yet. My two-year-old currently likes playing with trains, his toy kitchen and toy cleaning utensils. When I arrived to pick him up from nursery today he was playing with a pink dolls’ house while wearing a fireman’s hat. I hope he grows up with the confidence to look beyond the pink/blue boundaries which people will start placing around him and his peers, but children today are really up against it.

Kez // Posted 20 October 2009 at 10:40 am

The gendering of toys (and clothes) is horrendous and I am sure it is far worse than it used to be. I certainly don’t remember it being as bad as this during my childhood (even if I did covet – but never got – a ballerina Sindy doll).

I find it bizarre because most people nowadays will at least pay lip service to women (and men) being able to follow “non-traditional” careers and interests – yet toys seem to be about pushing children back into those little boxes where only girls can play at housework and only boys can play with tool-kits; where only girls can be nurses and only boys can be firefighters.

And don’t even get me started on the children’s clothing issue…

Troon // Posted 20 October 2009 at 11:14 am

Over the last week I’ve observed three toddlers re-enacting Doctor Who, all boys, but two dressed up as girls (the Rose and Donna characters). I’ve watched another two choose clothes from a dressing up box, and the boy chose the queen costume whilst the girl chose the knight costume. Even in my own ludicrously gendered 1980s household childhood I (now a man) remember playing with my sister’s My Little Ponies, Care Bears and cuddly toys, and enjoying doing so.

Depressingly, none of these stories, for all the titters of adults, and intervention of my own parents, who seemed vaguely bothered by even this amount of transgression, were remotely transgressive of gender norms: the Dr Who game reinforced a rigid hierarchy of power where the eldest was the powerful male, then the younger two the female characters (the youngest was Donna because she was, let’s face it, rubbish); the elder boy chose to be the queen because “you have to do what I tell you then, I’m in charge”; and my own games involved imposing a rigid hierarchy on the My Little Pony court for when they went to war with the Care Bears, and dolls and cuddly toys split (and please remember this was the 1980s) into female toys caring for children after a nuclear holocaust (always a fun excuse to trash a room), while the male toys negotiated arms reduction and peace deals (yes, I was and am very sad indeed).

But what they do at least show is that, however depressingly gendered children’s worlds are, especially in terms of authority being male, from a kid’s perspective gender isn’t performed through stuff, there is no boy’s fishtank or girl’s doll, or even characters whose gender is key, there’s just raw material to work imaginatively with. But no, we have to have stuff clearly marked and sold, because then parents and kids know their roles early, and because then manufacturers can make product and consumption key. So we don’t look at our kids and appreciate their imagination and the strange ways they build gender norms, we just buy, grit our teeth and smile while Hasbro and Hamley’s reinforce a conservative status quo. Grrrr indeed.

gadgetgal // Posted 20 October 2009 at 12:03 pm

@Troon

What’s sad about post-apocalyptic play? It got me through the 80s too!

And I reckon gender isn’t as important in play as we think when they’re younger, it’s more about power – when we played cowboys I always got the actual toy rifle as opposed to the planks of wood because I was the biggest and most scary (I’m the shortest now but still pretty scary at times!). Of course in a more gendered society it’ll usually fall to the one in the position of power to take the lead (usually the oldest/biggest boy) but not always. It just seems that this whole blue/pink, boy/girl thing is just going to make it worse rather than better, separating kids completely really early on so they don’t even have a chance to counteract it themselves!

http://www.wisegeek.com/have-pink-and-blue-always-been-considered-gender-specific-colors.htm

Interesting reading the historical background, I’ve read a few other articles on it too, and it makes the whole colour obsession thing seem even weirder!

Troon // Posted 20 October 2009 at 2:28 pm

@gadgetgal

Thanks, although your post makes me worry I worry I was unclear. I agree with you that gender categories are much more fluid in children (a childhood friend of mine, for instance, when asked said there were three kinds of people Smilers, Daddies and Beards), and that hierarchies are differently determined, often by age and strength. What the anecdotes I cited were trying to suggest was, rather, that some basic assumptions and inequalities exist and are worryingly reinforced independently of who is playing with what and we should not be blinded to this fact (men have, and hence should have, more power, are interested in politics, women’s status is as domestic victims and sidekicks, you played cowBOYS, so men have fun and guns).

What I find most worrying, even implicitly about the Pink Stinks site, is the idea that children are or should be gendered, so that ‘female’ or ‘male’ role models are needed, as if children were wrestling with reconciling their gender and their play/toys, and that therefore girls need to be allowed access to role models and toys which recognises they can be female without making them ‘pink’ (subservient, vapid, dependent) and boys access to male models who don’t just kill and fight. This has become such a common place of the debate that it dominates even ‘liberal’ views, especially in schools. The anecdotes here suggest it ain’t the case, and perhaps a little less gendering all round might be more responsive to kids’ worldviews, as well as challenging the particular norms imposed on girls.

What’s really depressing is that the obsessive gendering of toys is getting worse, so that its become a marketing norm, which really forces children into roles. When I were a lad skipping ropes could be had which had black or no handles, which were great for playing at being a boxer. Now they have pink handles and are sold specifically for girls, so (I’m informed) no boys will touch them in the playground. And part of the problem is that toys are not always bought by this generation of parents, so such reinforcement happens independently of parental wishes (the classic case is ELC’s black-and-white range, great for babies but unsellable to wellwishers and grandparents who want pastels and blue/pink instead). So, we consume, define our genders and those of our kids in doing so, and status quo is unchallenged.

PS: I think what was sad about my childhood was not the apocalypse but the fact I held and recorded on tape SALT talks between a Panda and a frog (who had a worn patch on its head and was, inevitably, therefore called Mikhail Gorbafrog). And I was, what, 6. Although, come to think of it, the extinction of large numbers of people, if not Care Bears (Cheer always was an annoyingly chirpy prig and the first to die) is moderately tragic.

Amy Clare // Posted 20 October 2009 at 5:10 pm

Pink Stinks is a great site. I do have a teeny issue with their ‘role models’ section though, namely the ‘music’ page. The first artist mentioned is Kellilicious, a DJ, who has a collective called ‘SheJay’, and the site mentions how ‘SheJay’ is now a popular term used by promoters and the media etc to describe female DJs. They say this like it is a good thing. It is NOT a good thing!

I was a DJ for several years. I would’ve hated to have been labelled a ‘SheJay’. Female DJs are DJs, just like male DJs are DJs. Every individual DJ has their own individual style and taste, and to lump female DJs together under their own special term is just reinforcing the myth that male is default and female is ‘other’ (would it make sense to say ‘hejay’?). When I was trying to get gigs I lost count of the amount of times I was treated like my femaleness was my niche, rather than, say, the style of music I played.

Anyway, sorry for the slight derail. I’m just slightly disappointed that Pink Stinks are so uncritical of that term, and even praising it in fact, seeing as they seem to be a feminist site in every other way. It spoiled the site for me, a bit.

SLM // Posted 20 October 2009 at 7:44 pm

Found this article about school students in Sweden reporting Toys ‘R’ us to the authorities on the grounds of gender discrimination; ‘active’ toys for the boys and ‘passive’ toys for the girls. Some of the post-article comments are outrageous of course.http://www.thelocal.se/22504/20091006/

Worth a read I think.

gadgetgal // Posted 20 October 2009 at 8:04 pm

@Troon

I have to do it – LOL!! Especially Mikhail Gorbafrog and Smilers, Daddies and Beards. Oh, god, freakish childhood memories pouring back to me now (usually involving me in a spaceship with a barbie I’d given a mohican)!

I absolutely agree – it’s worrying that so much is being cut off from children because of these overly emphasised gender roles in their toys. I was lucky because we were able to play with whatever we wanted, and because the place I spent a good portion of my childhood was very mixed with lots of kids (different ages, genders and races) it seemed a little less like we were forced into any kind of roles. I feel a little sad sometimes when my friends tell me stories of their children, stories that are meant to be cute, but always seem to end up with “she’s a proper little girl!” or “he’s one of the lads, alright!”

Victoria // Posted 20 October 2009 at 9:19 pm

I’ve just seen an advert for Asda Christmas presents, which said something along the lines of “We’ve got garages for the boys, dolls houses for the girls …”. Can’t work out whether it’d be worth complaining to the ASA about this. Sexism is never their major concern, but an advert like this is really damaging.

Sarah Wilson // Posted 21 October 2009 at 8:04 pm

Couple of things (and I hope my speed-reading of the other comments didn’t miss out someone else making these points)

Firstly, as I understand it, the association of girlishness and pink is recent and arbitrary. My old school, an all-male institution (I am trans) wore pink ties until Prince Albert died, for example, as does Westminster School. And Leander Club (a member of which I have heard muttering about the monstrous presence of women in rowing) wear nothing but pink. Perhaps we can convince people that pink is the new black, beige, olive drab or whatever colour a real man would wear.

Secondly, I brought my daughter up with a Feral Cheryl doll (Australian, dreadlocked, tattooed and woman-shaped with body hair, sadly no longer available) and showed the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates who was at the time marketing director of Barbie. “How hideous!” she cried, “How unnatural.” “Like Barbie isn’t?” was just too easy a reply…

Daniel // Posted 21 October 2009 at 11:31 pm

@Amy Clare – Yeah, I was thinking that too! But, thankfully, it seems to exist mostly on the dance scene (is that what you played?). I’m a DJ on the ‘alternative/indie’ scene (both terms I hate, by the way!) and used to do an occasional duel set with my (female) mate. We were talking about this one day and she said ‘oddly enough, I’ve hardly ever had my gender taken into account’. I hope she wasn’t an exception.

aimee // Posted 22 October 2009 at 11:27 am

I saw the Asda advert too… “garages for the boys and dolls houses for the girls”…. Or “This is what you are, this is what you like, don’t deviate from it”… how am I supposed to educate my child to believe he is an individual and not goverened by his gender if he’s constantly subject to this crap! Aghrr!

The ASA won’t do anything about it, but if we all complain anyway, they might get some kind of message?

Troon // Posted 22 October 2009 at 4:21 pm

I visited the Pink Stinks site after my first exchanges here, partly to see how bad things might be (Scrabble for girls?-presumably with extra pink letters because they ‘talk more’ and without points because they’re not competitive?), partly because I thought it might be of use to future endeavours not to fail as a parent, but mainly because I was seeking an appropriate name for a new cuddly toy I’d just bought my youngest son on the sly-a grumpy but determined ladybird (its actual name will undoubtedly be given by my eldest and be ‘lay-bir’, but I had to try).

Given I’d been referred to it from here, I was quite unprepared for its seeming belief that the only possible audience for a list of inspiring women might be young girls and their parents (I could find one, parenthetical, mention of boys, but several very explicit statements about it being to promote role models “to” girls and as being for “parents and daughters”). I was also quite shocked by its acceptance that the ‘areas of influence’ it grouped its role models into excluded politics (activists are included, but not women who actually wield or wielded some for of executive power, that is who ‘ruled’) and reduced some of the old sexist bores ‘why are there no great women Xs’ fields to unstated subcategories (so no list of present literary greats, but one women novelist in the Arts section, alongside a TV presenter). Neither was I quite happy at the way valid assumptions about the nasty ways WAGs or ‘pink’ are held up as confining models to all women drifted into statistics and quotes which could only make sense if you assume these examples to be intrinsically bad or subservient, something very close to some misogynist sports and celebrity writing in particular.

Now I realise I was probably being over critical simply because I expected something different and found the site to be almost deliberately turning the parents of boys away. So I’ve gone away and had a calming coffee and written some very boring prose indeed on twelfth-century Salerno, and I can see why the site is held in such high esteem, in that it provides a ready made resource base to help parents who see their daughters pushed into certain roles which are destructive both for them and society. And I can sort of see why it might steer clear of politicians, in that the ‘success’ of many politicians is not defined simply by rising to the top, and requires all sorts of other judgements to be brought in, which might exclude some readers. And I can even see why a site which identifies glorification of WAGs as a key problem for girls might suspect that its target audience has a greater susceptibility to respond well to sports stars and TV presenters than Toni Morrison or Sappho, and that (realistically) some girls and boys may well have tightly defined enough gender roles to be unable to draw inspiration from adults of the opposite gender.

But really, as some of the comments above show, this certainly isn’t true of young children, who have incredibly fluid gender norms and certainly don’t make gender and future profession (two particularly adult and English ways of defining oneself) key to their self worth. And, even if it were, it shouldn’t be, and should be challenged, by accepting new categories for success which deviate from traditional ones, by demanding that children and famous individuals are not considered primarily as male or female, and by recognising that for gender norms to shift decisively to really challenge girls’ low self-esteem boys have to change too (where’s the Blue Poos site?).

Sorry, I can genuinely see why this site is brilliant for some, why the stories inspire, and why Amy’s comment classes it as feminist, but it doesn’t to me seem to want to abolish separate floors in Hamley’s, or to suggest girls go to the boys floor, it just wants a repaint and partial restock of the girls’ floor, and I don’t find this as cheery as did Laura did in the OP.

Any suggestions as to where I should send my boys to look in a few years?

PS: I did at least get to name Lada Lovelace, named after Ada Lovelace, a nineteenth-century mathematician and programmer.

Abi Moore // Posted 4 November 2009 at 9:07 pm

Dear troon,

Your comments have been noted!

I just wanted to respond in some way though, firstly by letting you know that I too am a mother of boys… the site came about partly as a result of my worries about the imagery, messages and stereotypes they were and are bombarded with each and every day. About what it is to be a girl and a woman…

We have never claimed to be a feminist site, although I am a feminist as is my sister (co-founder and mother of girls) and we are more than happy to be labelled as such. it’s up to you whether you think it is or not, clearly you think not, that’s fine.

Our intention has never been to be a high-brow site, but to react in an accessible way to the horrors we see around us. It’s been very successful, as there is not much else going on to combat all this guff.

We would love more time and money to do this in the way we envisage it, but unfortunately we both work full time and have two kids each, so it’s a spare time thing, and we have paid for most of it ourselves, because we believe in it. We have a lot of plans, and a lot of helpers, so hopefully we can address some of the issues in the future.

If I could personally destroy the girls and boys floors of Hamley’s I would. So I’m baffled at what ever it is that makes you think we want to merely dress them up as something else. In fact I’m mortified. We’re called PinkStinks for gods sake!

We’ll have to agree to disagree on that!

Above all else, everything we do is from the heart, cheesy I know, but I agree we need better role models for boys, however, this whole thing started after the blanket news coverage that Paris Hilton received upon leaving jail… and I’d just been filming with a woman nobel prize winning chemist making a new cure for cancer, so I got off my arse and decided to do something about it.

As for politicians, we left them out, because we refused to put Margaret Thatcher in there, ridiculous I know… but activists seemed easier to swallow! The list is only a taster really of what we could, should, will, hope to put on…. so if it doesn’t cover everyone and everything… sorry… but rest assured, we’re working on it.

Thanks again and stay tuned, if you can bear to

Abi

co-founder of PinkStinks.

Troon // Posted 9 November 2009 at 11:47 pm

Abi (if I may)

First, apologies for the tone of the first post. I really shouldn’t move from aggressive academic prose to blog responses as part of my frustration at my own inabilities to write said prose well. What I should have said was:

I love the Pink Stinks site for highlighting the ludicrous, and sadly recent, development of pink toys and the models of femininity that go with them (the shame section is brilliant). I think the thought and sense that went into selecting the role models is superb (and I hope I got some of the reasoning right). And it is brilliant that someone does something other than sit watching Thomas and fuming at Emily/Flora/Rosie and actually does something to change the world. Your site is hugely popular, and clearly doing much to make the world better when nothing else is. And I would, even though I can’t really see the point of arguing over definitions and have no right to classify anything as such, happily view it as feminist.

Where I have small reservations, it is in the slippage in language between role models ‘of’ women to role models ‘for’ and ‘to’ girls specifically. Basically, I wish you’d drop the ‘for girls’ angle and just go for ‘of women’, leaving gender of inspired child unspecified. By stating that here are some notable figures, and that girls specifically (or only) will draw inspiration from them, you’re suggesting that girls and boys are, basically, different in outlook (hence my separate floors, but more overlap and more mixed stuff comment). You suggest that re-educating boys with acceptable images of femininity (I wasn’t writing of giving them different male role models) is not critical to changing the world; and (and you may be more accurate here-I simply don’t have kids old enough to tell) that young girls are principally struggling to reconcile their femininity with other aspirations. But I’m also sure that accepting gender as key and working to change attitudes to what precisely that means for girls (at least older girls) is the most practical solution, which means I shouldn’t post unless willing to think up alternatives.

If you want any more helpers let me know how I can get involved, if you can bear to have me.

Abi Moore // Posted 27 November 2009 at 11:12 am

Hi Troon,

thanks so much for your reply. We’re working on our first campaign which launches on Monday, so very busy, somewhat stresses and a bit excited too.

Again, your comments are noted, we must be correct in the language we use, that is certainly becoming clear to us, and I agree with your point for and to girls… I’d like my sons to think these women could be his role model too…

stay tuned

Abi

MARJORIE // Posted 13 December 2009 at 6:37 pm

In my experience as a grandmother little girls make their own minds up and certainly do not need people “campaigning” on their behalf. I am sure there are much more needy causes seeking help that they could spend their spare time on. Nobody is brainwashing children it has always been pink for a girl blue for a boy and this has not given us all hangups about our gender. Words now fail me.

Laura // Posted 13 December 2009 at 8:34 pm

Hi Marjorie,

Actually, the pink for girls, blue for boys thing is a fairly recent tradition. This article explains that it used to be the other way round:

Towards the end of the great war, in June 1918, America’s most authoritative women’s magazine, the Ladies’ Home Journal (it still exists), had a few wise words of advice forfretting mothers. “There has been a great diversity of debate on the subject,” it wrote, “but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

A few years earlier, the Sunday Sentinel had been of the same opinion: “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl,” it said in March 1914, “if you are a follower of convention.” So accepted, in fact, was this convention that as late as 1927 Time magazine was observing, on the obviously disappointing birth to Princess Astrid of Belgium of a daughter rather than the infinitely preferable son, that the cradle had been “optimistically decorated in pink, the colour for boys”.

It goes on to discuss how the pink/blue colour-coding of children’s toys is essentially just a way for manufacturers to make more money. Well worth a read!

Abi Moore // Posted 13 December 2009 at 8:43 pm

We are constantly being told by people that disagree with us, that children make up their own minds. I don’t doubt that they do have thoughts of their own, but the power of marketing and the media shouldn’t be underestimated. We are asking WHY girls choose pink. And we suspect it’s because since the moment they are born it’s what big business wants and requires them to desire, in order to fit in and conform. My point is, if advertising and marketing didn’t work, and the power of suggestion didn’t work, then big business wouldn’t do it. But it does work. Whether you like it or not, and that, is what we are questioning.

As far as needy causes go, working to expose this seems like a very worthy cause to me, in a world where self esteem is so low amongst girls, in a world where imagry, media and advertising causes such body obsession that 65% of 18 year olds want plastic surgery, in a world where 38% of girls recently sited Paris Hilton as their role model. No, not all this can be blamed on pink, but it’s symptomatic of a culture that has commercialised childhood, and where profit is at the heart of what motivates most manufacturers and retailers.

If that in your opinion is not worth fighting for… then words too, fail me.

Abi

gadgetgal // Posted 14 December 2009 at 7:58 am

I just wanted to say I support the Pinkstinks campaign – it’s good to question the commercialisation of youth and I’ve always found it perplexing that anyone would want to defend it! People (adults included) don’t make “choices” any more – everything we buy, everything we want, all of it has been manufactured by advertising companies. I find it ridiculous that people seem to want to argue that children aren’t being brainwashed when we as adults so clearly are on a daily basis!

Kez // Posted 14 December 2009 at 10:44 am

My little girl has just turned 3, and we had a party for her where she was lucky enough to receive lots of presents. I was fascinated, and more than a little perturbed, to note that while in previous years presents and cards have been fairly gender-neutral, this year it has been overwhelmingly pink and princessy. It’s as if three marks some kind of turning point where she has suddenly officially become a Girl rather than a baby/young toddler.

To be fair, she does like this stuff (and I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, as it is lovely that people have given her presents at all), though she equally likes the doctor’s outfit and dinosaur set which she also received.

I think the best I can do is strive to provide a balance and convey the message that while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with pink, fairies and princesses per se (lots of little girls do seem to be attracted to this stuff, regardless of parental opinion – so do some boys, for that matter, although of course that does have a tendency to be discouraged), this is not all there is to being a girl. What concerns me is not the existence of pink sparkliness but the prescriptive nature of it – that if you are a girl, this is what you will like, and this is all that you will like.

Kez // Posted 14 December 2009 at 11:28 am

Oh yes, some more (sporting) role model suggestions: Chrissie Wellington, Charlotte Purdue, Jess Ennis, Kelly Holmes, Hope Powell, Paula Radcliffe, Lizzy Hawker.

yazzmyne // Posted 14 December 2009 at 9:21 pm

is this about the pink ribbon culture or about the colour pink (being associated with stereotypical ‘girly’ stuff) ?

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