Thursday, 17 March 2011

Girly Pink

Wellies.  Yes I realise this might seem an unlikely place to start.  But I'm all fired up about them.  I know, I know, it might seem trivial.  But bear with me.  Because, sometimes, the microcosmic detail reflects a macrocosmic problem.  And this is one such occasion.  Let me explain.

Wellies.  I just popped into the children's welly aisle in a well known supermarket to chuck a pair in my trolley along with the six pack of pinot grigio I had actually gone in there for in the first place.  My daughter's number one recreational activity at the moment is puddle jumping, mine is taking the edge off the day with two glasses of chilled white before going to bed at 8.30pm: everyone's a winner.

So here was the choice: pink background with dark pink stars, pink Charlie and Lola, pink and purple with rabbits, or, and this is the one that really got to me, pink with a picture of a princess, and trimmed with the words 'Waiting for my Prince'.  So, I turned the air blue with a few post-feminist mutterings, and checked out the boy's selection.  The usual suspects: dinosaurs, aliens, monsters, trucks.  A good example of one of those moments in life when 'having a choice' doesn't really mean you have a choice.  I left with just the wine.

Being the mother of two girls I see a lot of pink.  Somedays I look at my daughters and realise they are dressed entirely in varying shades of the colour from top to toe. It is absolutely unavoidable, no matter what your principles.  Go to any high street shop or supermarket, for any item, from socks to sunglasses, and you are barely offered any other option.   And it's not just the colours, it's the 'motifs' too: little kittens with diamante tiaras, miniature handbags, 'daddy's little princesses'.  The world of toys fares no better, and I even got the same treatment myself recently when I was being talked through the various handset options for a mobile phone upgrade; the salesman suggested, 'How about this one, in girly pink?'.  Reader, I savaged him.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the notion of 'pink for a girl' is a fairly new one.  Up until the 1940's it was blue for girls, and prior to the twenties, there was no tradition in our culture of associating a colour with either sex.  Looking back on my own childhood, I don't remember ever owning anything pink.  Photos of myself pushing guinea pigs around in toy buggies are in existence, but the buggy has red stripes, and I'm wearing blue dungarees and a green shirt.  For very special occasions I seem to have preferred a natty little number made of brown velvet trimmed in cream with what looks like an old doily.  But no pink.

It's not so much the colour that I have a problem with; it's what it stands for.  The whole notion of the 'pink princess', the idea that my fabulous and intelligent daughters should, before they have even started school, be being given the message that being a girl is about pleasing men and having nice accessories, makes me seethe, particularly as it runs so counter to my daily efforts to encourage them to have interests, ambitions and horizons even broader than my own.  Last summer my then two year old had to pick a prize from a selection at the fairground.  The prizes were split into sections for boys and girls.  For boys, the 'active' - pop guns, trucks, bows and arrows, juggling balls; for my daughter, the 'passive' - hair brushes, dress-up dolls, tea sets, mirrors.  Finally she chose a pink mobile phone.  Clearly a Chinese export, it bore the typically baffling and mistranslated slogan, 'Benign Girl'.  For me, that just summed it all up.

So how did it come to this?  It does seem strange that the Zeitgeist is spewing out 'pink and girly' items in this way when my mother's generation worked so hard to free us from a life spent playing kitchens and doing our hair.  But after every revolution, they say, is a lost generation, and I can't help wondering if we aren't all fumbling around a bit right now, making a good show of knowing what we're doing, but secretly feeling a bit muddled.  I guess it's not surprising.  We thought we could 'have it all', but actually we find ourselves having to make difficult choices between the dazzling careers we spent our first three decades building for ourselves, and being with our small children who we prize more highly than stardust.  Our menfolk must feel equally confused, landed as they are with educated and feisty women who make them participate in housekeeping and childcare in a way that would have been unthinkable or even humiliating to their fathers and grandfathers.

With all the pieces of the gender puzzle chucked around so chaotically, perhaps we are searching to find some sort of order, clarity and simplicity.  Maybe there is something reassuring about the predictability of our colour coded world.  Perhaps we need the comfort of things being reduced to 'pink and blue'; we might not be able to find our way through our relationships, careers and psyche's, but at least we know where we are in Mothercare.

Of course this doesn't make it right, especially not for our dearest daughters, striding out into the brave new world of the twenty first century clad in pink with the slogan 'Passive Princess' stamped across their developing chests.  What can be done to help them find their way?  First and foremost we need to show them that there are many many more exciting things to do than waiting for princes, who tend to be unreliable anyway.  Other than that I'm short of suggestions.  For now, I will ponder solutions as I finish my pinot, and head to bed.  There's a hard days childcare ahead of me tomorrow, and a mountain of laundry.  And most of it, for now at least, is girly pink.

There is more reading and thinking to be done via the campaign Pink Stinks at www.pinkstinks.co.uk



26 comments:

  1. I am pondering this at the moment as I am expecting a girl, but my eldest is a boy.

    My first thought was, ooooh, wayhay, cute clothes, but now am actually looking around at girls my son's age it is, as you say, all about the pink. And cuddly. And innofensive. And the more I look, the more slightly horrified I become.

    Anyway. I have decided to fight back as long as possible by forcing my daughter to wear my son's carefully packed away cast offs. I don't hold out much hope though.

    Oh nearly forgot. Found you through the BMB March Blog Hop thingy.

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  2. Oh, before I had my 1 year old I was so militant, pink would not be seen in our house, no way no how no never. Unfortunately, I am also really cheap. Turns out, if you get the bulk of your daughter's clothing from gifts and hand me downs, you end up looking like a unicorn threw up in her wardrobe. My mum just got back from Australia and brought a load of Barbie outfits sent by my deeply beloved but extremely conventional cousins. Fortunately, they're unlikely to visit me and I'm not going to Oz any time soon, so those can just nestle discreetly at the back of the cupboard before getting too small and migrating to the charity shop. I'm pretty pleased that Offspring Number Two is going to be a boy though, because I can now have a massive cull of the pink tornado in a wholly guilt free way. One thing that my son will be wearing though is tights. Yeah, they don't come in boy colours. Unlucky. Call me crazy, but I'm bigger on warmth than gender appropriateness, and the little sod would probably be top to toe pink as well if I hadn't become so sick of the damn colour on my first go round.

    And as for toys... well, she's already ears deep in Duplo and far more interested in the terrifying array of grown up gadgetry we appear to possess (meaning mobile phones, ipods, remote controls and computers, nothing of more dubious origin, however that statement may sound), so I doubt we're going to have much problem with passivity. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that our madam will be the scourge of her poor grandma who already tells her how unladylike she's being when she lets loose with her rip roaring farts and burps. It probably doesn't help that both her father and I get tremendous giggles whenever she makes one of her more explosive emissions.

    So yeah, I feel your pain. The really hard thing is for my friends who have daughters and think I'm crazy when I get upset about the pink thing. It's kind of like the active hostility I encountered when I didn't change my name after getting married. It's like I'm some kind of crazy feminist or something! So yeah, I don't think there's any doubt about the whole Lost Generation thing. Oddly, the more high powered the career, the more girly the child. Could be an over compensation thing. So, as stay at home, full time mum, I'm planning on raising a hardcore demon feminist. And since hubby has already decided she's going to be on the first manned mission to Mars, I think he's onboard with the plan as well.

    Nerve touched. Rant over.

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  3. You know what, I have no problem that my two girls want to wear pink, one more so than the other. I know that as they grow I am strong and independant enough to help them develope their sense of self.

    Let you a message on BMb in reponse to your question about 'successful' blogging.

    Mich x

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  4. I know what you mean about the pink however like Mich above I tend not to get to het up about it. I am far more anti camouflage clothing for little boys than pink for girls!

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  5. Thanks all for your comments and for reading my blog!
    Jeanette I can't click through to your blog...but would be good to read it.
    Great fun had checking out all your blogs xxx

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  6. I have two boys and it's the same problem in a different hue; the blue. Good lord the blue. If it's not blue with - as you mentioned - pirates/robots/dinosaurs it's sludge. Just sludge, in many shades. Who wants to dress their kids to look like a muddy puddle? Ok, so with my son that kind of makes sense - but I get SO excited when I see something in an actual colour.
    He has one pair of bright green trousers. The trousers themselves are ugly as sin, but he wears them a lot because I love seeing him in colour. He has one orange t-shirt. Ok, so it has the obligatory digger on the front - but it's orange - so he wears it a lot. Sometimes he wears the orange t shirt with the green trousers and looks like a crazy person but I'd much prefer that to losing him in the crowd of sludge coloured children at playgroup - in those clothes I can pick him out from anywhere in the room (if the screaching doesn't give him away in the first place)

    You've pretty much inspired a blog post of my own so I'm off to do that - I'll link you because you started me on the rant ;-)

    E xxx

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  7. As promised, a post, with you linked http://mommatwo.weebly.com/ hope that's ok!

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  8. thanks so much elizabeth! that's great!
    xxx

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  9. I have 2 boys so the pink is not a problem and i think it's getting better for boys colourwise!
    However I do remember the brown and cream trim as a girl!!! Nitemare
    But I do like the fact that you didn't have the same 'choosing' issues with the wine and that managed to keep that in your trolley...impressed!
    I found your blog via BMB and will definitely be following. If you get a chance to look at mine muminmeltdown.blogspot.com I'm new to it all.
    Thanks T

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  10. thank you T!
    important not to be too fussy about when it comes to purchasing wine i feel! ;-)

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  11. Goodness, I just wrote about how my toddler daughter likes pink! Totally agree about the daddy's little princess etc though, there's a fine (pink) line sometimes for me :-)

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  12. There's something so wrong in the world of children's clothing. Like you say with your pjs choice (and I speak as another Mum who has left M&S with only wine after a failed pyjama shop), there's problems on both sides. Something for a less frazzled mind than mine is there to be said about the demonisation, sophormor-isation, fetishisation, coding, sexualisation etc of young children through clothing...

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  13. well quite, i could have gone on...but didn't have the time or brain cells...or perhaps i'd just had too much pinot! perhaps another day when i am less frazzled, sozzled or both, i'll get on to those issues! ;-)

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  14. I totally understand where your coming from, I too have stood on the welly section, unable to find anything 'appropriate'. Gone from shop to shop just to find Pyjamas that don't offend me. I find it irratating that boys get labeled via t'shirts noisey and nuisuance and girls princess. My son is not a either of those things. He has no interest in trucks, so why does that mofit have to appear on so much. Ps. I went for pepper big wellies, blue with a bit of pink pepper a nice balance.

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  15. Great post! As the mother of a boy, I don't have the pink problem, although I could totally see it. I'm amazed at the whole princess craze. That said, the phone I had before the iPhone was pink and I loved it! I liked that it was distinctly feminine and not boring black. But I didn't like the iPhone case availability so the case now is...white. Easier to find in a purse.

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  16. Being a mum of two girls who get dressed in the hand-me-downs of their older cousin (with half an African, pink-oriented family) and having to also siphon out of the wardrobe everything that is susceptible to be worn by a boy towards their cousin, I am confronted to the sea of pink everyday. Which, in the long run, made me simply not care anymore. On purpose, everything I personally buy for them is blue, yellow, orange, green or purple, but I had to deal with an enormous tantrum from our oldest a month ago when the pink wellies daddy had bought without giving them a second thought really didn't fit anymore... We talked about a real bike last week, and little miss immediately said: but it has to be pink! And I sighed at the poor taste of the mere image, but then again - I don't care. I am aware of the `passive princess` that all that pink is associated with and its being undesirable on so many levels, but banning it won't do the trick of teaching my girls they can be everything they want to be. It's not because a Chinese run commerce stuck in its 19th century values of feminine/masculine is flooding the market that our children will not be able to think for themselves. I believe that, as long as we give them tools to evaluate everything critically, instead of feeding them our own beliefs unidimensionally, the sky is the limit. But then again, I'm so naive in some of these things :))) .
    P.S. As you can see, I couldn't stop reading your blog all morning :)

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  17. thanks so much jiminy, i'm thrilled you've been enjoying my blog!
    your comment is very thought provoking. i hadn't thought about values from china!
    i'm sure you are right that if we give them the right tools as parents they will hopefully not be limited in any way. but i do think there are links between 'princessification', 'girlification', and 'sexualisation', (another blog post there perhaps?!) and i just worry that some of this is bound to affect my daughters in spite of my better efforts.
    well, there is much to ponder here!
    thank you for reading and for making me think abou this again xxx

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  18. I must say that when expecting my second after having a boy I was terrified of having a little girl who would grow up in a world of bobbly headbands and pink plastic shoes. But now that I have one, I find that I don't actually want to dress her in her brother's clothes. I would like her to look feminine and haven't found it too difficult to find clothes that aren't pink or only have a bit of tasteful pink in (how I loathe that strong bubblegum pink - it makes me feel physically ill!)
    So, yes, I agree that when you shop for clothes in supermarkets it is all pretty hideous - pink and frilly for girls, grungy for boys (My son also has a pair of bright green trousers Elizabeth!). I have pretty much given up now and do most of my shopping on ebay - anything that is bright and colourful for either sex always catches my eye. And yes, my daughter does have some pink stuff, but the choices I make will surely inform the choices she makes. I don't remember having much that was new when I was growing up in the seventies, but I remember that some other girls were much more girly and plastic even then, and I was encouraged to like clothes and toys that were more practical, hardwearing and useful. We were more 'green' then than we ever realised at the time.
    Oh yes, and incidentally, if you are ever struggling to find inoffensive wellies in the future, go to Mole Valley or a garden centre - green is unisex and boring, but what are wellies for except to get wet and muddy!

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  19. Hmmm - I thought about it some more and wrote some thoughts down on my side (I'm not posting links on your page though, it feels rude and as if promoting one's own blog when I'm really just enjoying the talk) - but I had a bit of trouble splitting all the intertwined issues that sprung forth out of this theme. It went so badly astray that I never even got to write the word pink in the whole post :) . To be honest, it's material for far more in depth thinking, just as your Judgemental post is (I'm on the fence there too :) ).

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  20. well i shall post a link for you:
    http://pesterasoarelui.wordpress.com/
    after a very long day i simply cannot articulate a decent response to your comment or the previous! but thank you so much both of you and i will muse on all these thoughts...perhaps a follow up post is needed! xxx

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  21. I've been thinking about this all morning, so eager to write a response....I have 6 kids and 3 are girls. The oldest are twin 5 yr olds, one of which is a girl. I think it would be sad to continue what the woman's lib started in the way of thinking women have to be more like men to be viewed as strong. Big misconception. That's just confirming men are strong and we want to be like them. I am a very strong woman. I like pink and teach my girls to be warrior princesses. Oh yeah. There's a reason toys are geared toward boys like cars, swords, stuff like that...they LIKE it. Girls stuff is geared toward dolls and other girlie stuff, because they LIKE it. Instead of us trying to rob our girls of being girls (making them wear boy clothes? Wow.) Let us empower them to be all they are meant to be. If they like to play with cars, great, let them, if they like blue, let them, if they like pink, let them. I see a woman as a powerful creature. My girls aren't waiting for some prince charming to come rescue them, they are excitedly anticipating a great adventure that they will embark on with their prince. A prince that'll treat them like their very life is worth protecting and honouring. In a culture that says a woman should pay her way on a date, or not have a door held open for her? No, we are just teaching them that they are not valuable or different. Let's teach them that life is a wild adventure, if they so choose they may enjoy that with a man, and if they choose they will raise mighty men and woman, that they are special, and different, they are women, it's ok to be completely beautiful, strong, at times volnerable, and everything it means to be a woman. I will teach my girls that they are special and are to be treated as such, that they have a special place in the world. The women's lib was about women deciding they wanted to do what men do because they were told they couldn't, so let's admit it, for the most part, that meant leaving families and going to work, leaving kids to fend for themselves. That's not what I want for my kids. They don't have to be like men to prove they are strong. They are strong women.
    This is Nadine Willis, not Brent just to clarify! lol

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  22. I believe that what our fore-mothers :) in the past may have fought for was to be respected for who they were and they took it a little too far and ended up putting us right back where we were before but with more on our shoulders now. I personally think women's lib only truly liberated us women from the freedom to be who we are without shame. I love being at home with my kids and yet my husband rarely encounters anyone out there in the world who doesn't look at him all "confused" that I don't have a job. My eldest daughter happens to want to get married and have a family and lotsa' kids...it's what SHE WANTS...yet since she was 17 everyone was asking her WHERE she was going to college and what she was going to be and when she would reply that she didn't WANT to go to college she got "that look" from people of disappointment. It's like a thing our culture has come to look down upon...and that's sad. Women have been robbed the freedom to choose to be moms if that's what they wanna be. They're expected now to have careers AND be moms. We're expected to have 2 full-time jobs now and there aren't that many hours in each day so something has to suffer...usually the kids and us. We end up losing out on breastfeeding or struggling to do it and we get either no sleep or we end up sleep-training our kids 'cause we just can't do it all! I don't find that liberating.

    I think we need to encourage whatever our girls (and boys) like...and if our girls like being girly we need to make sure they know that being girly does not mean we're being squashed/put down by men...or that being manly is the way to make us equal to men...and if they happen to like to slop around in the mud and not dress up like a princess they need to feel OK doing that, too.

    I have 5 girls and 3 boys. Two of my girls' favorite color is blue. :) They all like playin' in the mud and climbing trees. But, I want them to love the fact that they are women and NOT men. I want them to know they are just as smart and as capable as a man...but I want them to see the opportunity being born female has presented them because the better thing to be is a woman because we get to bring new life into the world...and...the hand that writes the corporate memos rules the company...shur...but the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world... :)

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  23. My God I love your blog. It's awesome and your petition is spot on. Good on you for having the guts to do it! Vive la revolution!

    I wanted to have my two cents! I am now the mother of a 7 month old daughter, and all that talking about gender that happened before she was even a speck of an idea, let alone born suddenly means something. Poor love had to sit through my sociology of education classes during my pregnancy when we talked gender (poor love) and listen to me walk to work because "I'm going to model healthy behaviours for these teacher trainees, pregnancy is not a disease!". She wears a healthy smattering of girls' and boys' clothes (today she's wearing a pumpkin patch, if you're from Australia, you'll know, outfit from the boys' section which was a gift from a female friend who said "I couldn't buy her a onesie from the girls' section, I refuse to be reduced to handbags and glitter). She's bald so she's often confused with 'being a boy' (will he let you do blah blah blah).

    I have a marketing background though and I do wonder if it's because parents buy all that pink crap for their daughters and that's why it is continually manufactured. I have some students who also had daughters recently and they bedecked the child in all things pink, soft, cutesy (even those abominable head bands) and have real 'girly girls'. Their daughters aren't confused with boys, EVER!

    On the other hand, I have a friend who was determined not to follow stereotypes of hegemonic femininity, but her daughter is mad for pink and barbie and princesses. She's always in her princess dress-up clothes when I see her. It seems to happen when they go to daycare or kinder. Maybe they learn about gender implicitly, it's inferred by the other 'girls' behaviours?

    I don't know but my kid better be tough, even in pink. We do field recording trips in the jungle, the desert and the bush. She is going to have to learn to wee in the bushes in her pink sparkly top that says "I love shoes" or whatever it is we have to dress her in!

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha Rebecca that's hilarious!
      Thank you for reading my blog, and for supporting the petition too.
      Both my daughters get dressed in 'boys clothes' sometimes too, usually for the same reason you've said, I go to buy a t shirt and I just want plain green one so I end up in the boys section.
      And when both my girls have been short haired babies, they have often been mistaken for boys, and people will say, 'Alright son! Hey look at that digger! Broom Broom!', and I'd think, I wonder what they would have said or pointed out if they had been all in pink?!
      I also get annoyed, now that my eldest girl is 4, by the number of her peers who seem to be permanently in dresses and skirts, the kind of thing I think of as 'party wear', but this is just for the park! Throughout history the clothes women have worn have reflected their status and their role in society, often the most restrictive clothes have been worn by upper class women who were prevented from making much of a contribution. So I wonder what these little girls in sparkly dresses says about where we are now...
      I'm about to try and write something about the make up products available for little girls. Another piece of the same big jigsaw.
      All the best for now
      xxx

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  24. Thank you so much for this article. I have never found somebody with quite such a similar opinion to my own. I feel the same way about how our boys are supposed to wear 'blue' all the time and play with guns and cars. My son was offered lots of toys and clothing of all colours. Right now he loves transformers and the colour red and his cuddly toys. He also loves playing with babies, which is a releif considering we are expecting our second later this year. I find out if its a boy or a girl in a week, and I am praying its a boy because I know relatives will try and smother her in 'passive princess' slogans otherwise... Why does baby and small children's clothing have to be divided by gender at all? Surely a pair of blue jeans will fit either a boy or a girl, and a t-shirt is a t-shirt. Certainly sleep suits and body suits are split in to 'pink, neutral (white or cream) and blue'. I hate it. This baby will be in all different colours no matter what its gender, and I WILL go out and buy organic clothing dye if necessary!

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