Pink Boys

// 18 February 2010

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Laura posted a while ago about the Pink Stinks campaign, looking at the importance of girls having real role models. Amongst other things, they look at the widening chasm between girls’ things and boys’ things nowadays, like toys and clothes.

In any toy shop or kids’ clothing shop, everything is so very, very gendered, particularly with regards to blueness and pinkness.

In the comments to Laura’s post, some really ridiculous examples came out. Gadgetgal talked about seeing different fish tanks for girls and boys, and Troon about scrabble for girls. There are also pink Pritt Sticks because a girl, presumably, couldn’t possibly use a neutrally coloured one.

These things reinforce, right from the beginning, that girls and boys are somehow entirely different species, and that the two can not cross over in any way. So I was heartened to be pointed to this blog post from Mistress Mom, entitled Why Is Your Son Wearing Pink?.

There are a series of clever, funny and insightful potential responses to that question, two of my favourites being,

“Because we’re raising him to not care about the opinions of people who are so ignorant and short-sighted that they’d make fun of a five-month old boy for wearing a pink shirt.”


“Because even if pink is for girls, what’s wrong with being (like) a girl?”

Head over there and check them out, especially if you know young boys who like things that society declares to be ‘girlie’.

Comments From You

Hannah // Posted 18 February 2010 at 2:28 pm

I know a few home educated kids and it’s interesting to compare their responses to gender stereotypes with those of children who went to school. As you might expect, they were more open to doing activities or wearing colours that tend to be seen as reserved for the opposite gender. My ex boyfriend and his brother were home educated, and both of them were able to knit and were interested in sewing. The expectations of other kids and parents play such a huge role in gender socialisation so it’s cool that mistress mom has come up with a list of ways to tell interfering people to get lost. I particularly liked ‘girls don’t own pink’ in one of the comments, I can imagine that being quite effective if said to a child. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!

Horry // Posted 18 February 2010 at 8:01 pm

Thanks for posting about this, it’s really important to keep this issue alive, however trivial it might seem to some.

My baby son wears a pink bib. His older brother used to wear it and love it until his cousin told him he ought to be wearing blue (the latter’s parents are classic defenders of pink/blue paradigms, always saying said cousin’s older sister, who’s very protective, is “such a little mother”. My elder son acts the same with his little brother, but then he’s being “such a protective little man”). With my baby son, he’s told he’s a “real little boy” (he’s very strong for his age), the bib comes out, and suddenly people comment on what a pretty little girl he is.

Incidentally (because I really want to mention this somewhere), two weeks ago I was in Sainsbury’s and saw the TU range has nurse’s outfits for girls. I thought, quite fancifully, “wouldn’t it be awful if they had doctor’s outfits for boys?”. But they did! I was actually genuinely surprised, as I thought things were not quite this blatant. While I don’t think being a nurse is any worse than being a doctor (apart from in pay and status…), given that most children won’t grown up to be healthcare professionals anyhow, and don’t care about valuing people’s roles in any nuanced sense, it seems to me this is all about encouraging roleplay in which girls imitate positions of lower status which they’ve seen women occupy on TV etc. I guess I should be laughing, as both my children are boys, but it doesn’t seem funny to me.

Josie // Posted 18 February 2010 at 9:37 pm

Oh God, it’s just pathetic isn’t it? There is literally no end to the gendering of tiny children. There is something of a baby fever in my workplace at the moment – 2 colleagues have just had babies and 3 more are due in the next few months. Another colleague (who also happens to be the homophobe I referred to in a previous post – coincidence??? hmm…..) said to me in all seriousness the other day:

‘I knew that A was going to have a girl coz she’s very feminine and very girly herself, and I think that B will have a girl too coz she’s really girly and likes clothes and stuff, I could see her with a girl, but I think C will have a boy…..’ etc etc etc, vomit vomit…. Could not really believe what I was hearing. When I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to respond as best I could, but really just wanted to give her a mouthful about how totally full of shit she is and maybe it’s time she got a life. Sorry for the rant, this issue REALLY bugs me as you can probably tell, and I cannot believe these crazy ideas are still so widely-held…. Deep breath….

Horry // Posted 18 February 2010 at 10:09 pm

One other thing I saw recently – WHSmiths stock a glow-in-the-dark pink globe. Forget doing it bit by bit – let’s make the entire world for girls pink in one fell swoop!

Julie K // Posted 19 February 2010 at 11:51 am

@ Horry, my (female) child has one of those Sainsbury’s doctor’s outfits, I’m not sure why you think they are only for boys?

Gayle // Posted 19 February 2010 at 12:12 pm

It’s amazing how ingrained the idea of separating certain toys etc along gender lines has become – even in parents. Last Christmas I bought presents for my neighbour’s children (girl of 4 and boy of 18 months) and I asked lots of parents for ideas on what to buy children of those ages. I was saddened but not surprised by the answers, particularly for the girl (anything pink/sparkly/princess/make-up??? etc). I decided to deliberately buy presents that were not aimed at a particular gender and a few weeks later when I saw my neighbour, she told me that my presents were the ones that the children had played with the most. Result!

neil h // Posted 19 February 2010 at 12:30 pm

Apparently from the 1920s to the 1940s pink was considered a “stronger colour” and was used for boys whereas blue was associated with Mary and hence suitable for girls. Nobody really knows why the fashion was inverted after that, but it just shows how transient and meaningless it is.

Gender stereotyping is something that needs to be challenged by everybody, particularly parents.

sianmarie // Posted 19 February 2010 at 12:52 pm

neil h – i saw that on QI and i read somewhere before that blue was female gendered because of the virgin mary.

there’s some great stuff on this subject in Living Dolls. it amazes me how completely entrenched this blue pink nonsense has become. and although it is crap that pink is for girls,i feel it is just as bad for boys, who are simply not allowed to like pink or ‘girly’ things such as ‘dancing’ and ‘dolls’ (in inverted commas for obvious reasons). it’s so restrictive, it makes me so depressed! girls can be tomboys, but there’s no ‘accepted’ gender difference for boys.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 19 February 2010 at 12:55 pm

Sianmarie, I hadn’t even thought of that – that girls have a ‘boyish’ option of being a tomboy, but boys really don’t.

Neil – yes, it’s interesting stuff. It seems so arbitrary, and yet so powerful and invasive within attitudes.

Redclaire // Posted 19 February 2010 at 1:29 pm

Agree with all the above and wondered how many people had also seen this (this is a blog entry on the topic) – Toys R Us in the US selling pink microscopes that are less powerful than the black and grey version! Oh dear…

A J // Posted 19 February 2010 at 3:33 pm

@ sianmarie – that’s actually a great point. Though of course it does, I guess, become harder for girls to be ‘tomboys’ as they hit their teens, or at least be accepted in that. For boys its pretty hard to be ‘girlish’ at almost *any* point in childhood, which is, of course the cause of a lot of misery for many boys, unfortunately.

One observation I would make on the core topic though, is that for young men, pink is actually quite a popular colour – its not at all unusual to see even relatively ‘macho’ guys wearing pink shirts, t-shirts and jumpers. It’s perhaps rather interesting that parents seem to be rather more concerned about following gender stereotypes than boys are once they are making their own choices!

sianmarie // Posted 19 February 2010 at 4:33 pm

AJ – yes definitely, as girls get older they certainly lose the freedom to be a tomboy and are more pressured into conforming to feminine gender roles.

i nearly cried readin about this boy in Living Dolls who’s dad was so angry that he wanted to play with dolls. why do believe this crap!

i know it’s a bit silly, but the beginning of madonna’s ‘what it feels like for a girl’ kinda sums it up for me, when this woman is speaking and says ‘girls can wear jeans and things. because it’s cool to be a boy. but for a boy to wear skirts is degrading coz you think being a girl is degrading.’

i also think it is very mixed in with homophobia, that for boys to be seen as into ‘girly’ things makes them look effeminate and not ‘manly’. whereas, when little girls want to play with trucks, we don’t see that in the same way.

i guess perhaps the opposite effect is true as boys and girls get older, AJ as you say pink is a fashionable colour for young men, but girls have to lose their tomboy-ishness and conform to a new femininity.

(i am talking in generalisations here – not all girls, not all men etc etc)

Horry // Posted 19 February 2010 at 9:22 pm

Julie K

I would never have assumed the doctors outfits were for boys – I was genuinely shocked that they because they stated so on the hanger and the sign above! And I find this blatancy truly amazing! (Perhaps it was just my local shop … I’d find it hard to believe, though, as these places are so uniform, but anyhow..). I am glad your little girl has the outfit anyhow and hope she enjoys it – of course we don’t have to do what clothing labels tell us to, but they just shouldn’t be telling us in the first place.

Julie K // Posted 20 February 2010 at 8:44 pm

You’re right Horry, I checked when I was in Sainsburys today and it does say Boy on the price tag for the doctor’s outfit. Weirdly though, I think this has changed recently, as I’m sure it didn’t say that when I bought it a few months ago (not that it would have stopped me buying it).

Am going to write to Sainsbury’s to complain, I think.

Julie K // Posted 21 February 2010 at 4:58 pm

Well, I’ve e-mailed Sainsburys to complain about the ” for boys” doctor’s outfit. Will let you know if I get a reply!

Rose // Posted 21 February 2010 at 9:07 pm

My little cousin (male) was bullied as a child for playing with Barbies, even though he cut all their hair off and made them fight, (much like many girls I know). Off course, the bullying stopped when he took that interest further… and became a professional wrestler.

As a child myself, my room was pink… until I could speak loud enough to get it changed to blue. I hated pink. Looking back, my dislike for that colour prob. originates from having two older brothers – and always being aware that I was expected to be weaker, less intelligent, achieve less, be ‘worth less’, and have a less interesting life in general.

I was given a lesser role in life, and it’s name was pink.

Needless to say, any IT saleman that leads me to the ‘pink section’ gets a whole load of venom.

Troon // Posted 22 February 2010 at 4:55 pm

I’ve just seen two water squirters on sale. One is a blue one and features boys in combat gear running about, the other is pink and has girls in dresses spraying paint on the floor in some glorious creative exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather people didn’t play mock war, but they are the same toy!

There was an interesting post on gender-neutral parenting by Joanna Brooke Rodrigues on how these problems are faced practically by parents, and on the limitations of the brave ‘domestic, in my family’ approach we all try to adopt. Demonstrates clearly just why writing to sainsbury’s is such a worthwhile thing to do, so thank you to Julie K and others:

Julie K // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:58 pm

A reply from Sainsburys!

“Thanks for your email about the packaging of our doctors outfit. We take great care when designing our packaging as we want everything we sell to be convenient, safe and easy to use and I’m sorry that has not been your experience. I can completely understand your distress at the issue and would agree it seems completely unnecessary to label the sets “boys” and “girls”.

I have passed the details you have provided to our packaging team. They will consider your comments carefully and we will review the product packaging.

I’m grateful to you for taking the time to contact us as your feedback helps us to improve our products. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Kind regards

Ciaran McGilp

Customer Manager”

Philippa Willitts // Posted 23 February 2010 at 6:31 pm

Ooh, nice work Julie K!

Alice // Posted 24 February 2010 at 1:54 am

That is an excellent list. It stuns me how much effort goes into reducing children to a colour. Children are people, and they have personalities beyond liking blue or pink.

When I was a kid, I played with Barbies, and with my motherload of Legos. I read girly babysitter-club type books, devoured several series of 50’s boys’ adventure novels, went through a lengthy horror phase and loved historical novels.

My favourite item of clothing as a toddler was a green sweater with a saxophone on it, which I wanted to wear nearly every day. A few years later I went through a phase where I only wanted to wear dresses. This period coincided with the time I also wanted to wear my dad’s baseball cap every day. And my room was blue and red, because they were my favourite colours. My hobbies were many and varied, and they changed around a lot. And I’m sure as hell happy that my parents never seem to have thought ‘well, we’ve got a girl on our hands, better make sure we COVER HER IN PINK RIBBONS’.

I wonder, has the boy/girl, blue/pink binary gotten worse since the early 90s? From my own experiences, and those of my friends, it would almost appear that way.

Julie K // Posted 24 February 2010 at 7:57 am

Alice – yes, I think it has got worse, definitely. I certainly do not remember this overwhelming pinkness from my own childhood. I’m sure there could be some interesting theories about why this has occurred.

Elmo // Posted 24 February 2010 at 8:31 am

I dont know alice, but i was a child in the early 90’s too, and I hated pink. My favourite thing was duplo-did anyone have that? Way better than lego, in my opinion, because it wasnt so fiddly. I loved climbing trees too, but i always wanted to do it in pretty dresses, for some reason. I think in all honesty i was just really vain. I remember disney’s pocohantus had come out on video at that time, and i wanted to be just like her. I think the videos you watched when you were very younger can have a really big influence, and Im really glad I wasnt little when cinderella or sleeping beauty came out.

The books are important too-i had a childrens encyclopedia, which i read cover to cover, and lots of adventure/history books. I dont think i actually ever read any specifically girly books, because I always thought they were kind of badly written.

I loved barbie dolls, but i do remember getting bored that they all looked the same, so id cut their hair and make different clothes and give them tatoos. Companies treat children like idiots, but they arnt, their just inexpeirenced, and I think most girls did get bored of the blonde, thin white barbie doll.

Im trying to think of the kind of films really little children (girls esp.) watch now-those barbie movies, for example, they cant be good role models-and they are VERY pink

Joy S // Posted 24 February 2010 at 8:36 pm

Love, love, love this thread! As a mother of both a boy and a girl, I have been told, “You’re going to damage his psyche by dressing him in pink,” and have to make both kids the clothes they want – bright colors with butterflies and trucks for the boy, blue with bulldozers and puppies for the girl.

Why are clothes and toys so hyper-gendered? Partly as a marketing ploy – to ensure you can’t reuse one set of toys/clothing with your second child if s/he is a different gender than the first.

I think it’s very important to realize that this system is not trivial as people will try to tell you when you complain about lack of clothing selection or others’ comments. It doesn’t just hurt our girls with its underlying misogyny, but also trains boys that they can’t appreciate beauty or tenderness, can’t be whimsical or creative, and are only allowed to own the emotions of competition (athletic wear) and anger/violence (camoflage/guns).

I am working right now to start a site for children’s clothing in the US that challenges and pushes back against these pink/blue conventions – wish me luck!

Horry // Posted 24 February 2010 at 9:55 pm

Julie K

That’s brilliant work! I feel so ashamed for mentioning the Sainsbury’s thing and doing absolutely nothing about it myself! I’ve resolved to write in myself now as I imagine the more complaints they hear the better.

julie k // Posted 25 February 2010 at 11:37 am

Let us know what reply you get, Horry, you’ll probably get the exact same e-mail from Ciaran McGilp! It will be interesting to see if they ever do change it. I suppose it would take quite a long time to filter through though, even if they did.

I looked again the other day and interestingly enough the fireman’s outfit did not say Boy on the label although the doctor’s one did, and most clothes are not labelled by gender. So they are not even consistent. And there seems even less reason for the doctor one to be labelled, when most things aren’t. I really can’t understand why they have done it at all.

I think I may embark on a new career of complaining to shops about ridiculous gender stereotyping…

May Bee // Posted 7 March 2010 at 1:49 pm

Sianmarie – that Madonna song was really inspirational to me back when I was an impressionable teenager with little access to feminist material, so I can still remember the introduction by heart:

“Girls can wear boots and jeans, and cut their hair short because it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to dress like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading”

My 3 year old niece wanted a red scarf for Christmas. After searching every shop in Tunbridge Wells, Bluewater and Lakeside, I sadly and reluctantly had to buy her a pink one (her second favourite colour). Not a single red scarf anywhere. Pink, characters (very expensive!), or very occasional yellow for girls. Blue, green and even black and grey for little boys (how appropriate for that age range??). Of course my nieces have been conditioned into believing that blue and green are boys colours and will burst into tears if asked to wear these colours. The best I can do is wear these colours when I visit them, buy them dolls and toys in more varied colours, and try and raise the topic in conversation, but I feel I am fighting an enormous pink glittery wave which their parents actually encourage.

aimee // Posted 8 March 2010 at 8:58 am

Joy, I would LOVE a link to your site when it’s up and running. It’s actually impossible to find gender neutral clothes for my two (nearly three) year old!

Horry // Posted 10 March 2010 at 6:05 pm

Well, I got my response from Sainsbury’s. I used “Dr” in my email in an effort to sound authoritative – kind of wish I hadn’t as they think, rather simplistically, that I’m annoyed because I’m a female medic (when the title actually comes from a literature PhD – I don’t even have GCSE biology!). But anyways, it is quite positive overall and suggests they are doing something practical! (Even if not, um, till next Christmas…):

“Thanks for your email. I’m sorry that you were offended with the

marketing of the dressing up outfits in our store. I understand that this

is disappointing as you are a doctor yourself.

The Boys and Girls swing tickets are used at the minute purely to control our

stock levels and sales in store. They have not been tagged to discriminate or suggest that males are more dominant that females as suggested in your email.

Our dress up team are aware of the issue and are in the process of setting up unisex tagging for all dress up items such as the Doctors outfit.

Both outfits have been made to fit and suit both genders to allow them to play together. This will be implemented in store from our next peak delivery of dress up which will be Christmas.

We’re grateful for your feedback as it helps us improve our products and

services. We look forward to seeing you in store soon.”

Philippa Willitts // Posted 10 March 2010 at 6:07 pm

Glad you got a reply, doing it by Christmas is a bit crap, but at least they seem to be taking it on board!

vanja // Posted 23 September 2010 at 9:43 am

I am trying to find books on gender neutral parenting, I seem to find loads in Swedish from publishers like, and Unfortunately my partner doesn’t speak the language.

I’ve found some American books about equal parenting and this page has some good resources:

Is there any UK resources? Would be very happy for any tips.

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