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Could our girls wear pink with pride?

If pink means gay, then pink is good.

So why can’t we say the same of little-girl pink?

Last night I was chatting with some good (gay) friends. They said you’re less likely to see pink used as a symbol of solidarity these days, now the gay rights movement has won some long-fought battles (like same-sex marriage).

Even so, until recently the pink triangle was second only to the rainbow flag as a badge of honour. Marketeers still speak of the ‘pink pound’ (the dosh available to gay men and lesbians – it hefts a huge amount of clout). When, many years ago, I worked for a gay rights group and we went along to lobby a (straight) Tory politician, he wore a pink tie to the meeting, presumably to show his solidarity with the cause.

Gay people and their friends, wearing pink? Good.

But little girls, all dressed up in that very same shade? Bad, according to some feminist campaign organisations, like Pink Stinks.

Why this difference?

For little girls, it’s not the colour itself that’s at fault. It’s the fact that pink has come to symbolise everything to do with little girlhood; and those girls are often cast as soft, passive and submissive. It’s the suggestion that pink clothes and toys are the first and only choices available to children of the female gender, and never a choice for boys. It’s the association of pink with domestic chores (through the pink kitchen sets and brushes you see everywhere), and the use of pink to flag up (in the words of Pink Stinks) “products that overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up”. It’s the idea that girls prefer playsets whose figures are shown lounging at the beach or baking, rather than working in exciting jobs and having adventures (as seen in the Lego ‘Friends’ sets, aimed at girls, vs the many Lego sets not marketed towards girls – inside which you’d be hard pushed to find a single female figure).

I was heartened to see last week’s news that Lego are to release an all-female set of scientist figurines. Research Insititute, designed by Swedish chemist Ellen Koojiman (you can read her blog post here) shows women playing the roles of astronomer, Paleontologist and chemist. Let’s hope more toy manufacturers cotton on to the fact that not every little girl wants to ride horses, bake cupcakes or hang out at the beach. Not every little girl aspires to be a model, which was the only job included in the Lego ‘Friends’ range.

And not every female starts out wanting to wear pink. But the association of pink with girls is so entrenched in our society that, the other day, our four-year-old son had a meltdown when he was dealt a pink plate at lunchtime. And our two-year-old daughter will always say ‘pink’ when you ask her what her favourite colour is.

It seems as though she has already – at her tender age – decided that this colour helps label her place in this world. Despite our best efforts (D bought a pair of pink sunglasses after the plate fiasco, and we’ve always dressed both children in a wide range of different colours), pink seems to be forming part of our daughter’s emerging identity as a girl.

But, as any parent of little girls will know, even though they might insist on wearing pink these girls are seldom passive. They are feisty, headstrong and wilful. Just as much as any little boy, they know their own minds. A two-year-old girl will say ‘no’ frequently and forcefully. Gentle they may be (or sometimes, at least. In our own household, it’s when Gwen takes a break from pulling her big brother’s hair to get his attention). But no girl starts out as a submissive creature.

And yet, they love pink. I agree that girls should be told they can choose a different colour. And, at the same time, more companies need to take notice of consumers, and sell a broader range of toys to little girls and boys.

But might it not be possible that one day, pink can become a symbol of girls as they actually are, not the pretty, passive objects described by Pink Stinks? Could little girls ever reclaim pink, and wear it like some members of the gay community do – with pride, as a symbol of power and strength?

I don’t know the answer to this. For the moment at least, girls need campaign groups like Pink Stinks and Let Toys Be Toys, to put pressure on companies that brand pink – and, by association, girls – as something that is demure, ‘fluffy’, lacking in seriousness. But the other day, as I watched Gwen twizzling round, arms outstretched, singing ‘I’m pink, I’m pink’, I felt a twinge of sadness. Pink suits her (especially the dusky, rosy shade). She’s at the beginning of a life where she will have to endure sexism, and battle hard to keep on an even footing with men.

I could never say to her, that her first choice of colours stank.

8 Comments

  • Sonya Cisco
    June 10, 2014 at 6:35 am

    I dislike the pinkification of toys, not because of the colour, but for the things that tend to go along with it, the whole baking, ponies thing. My daughter went through a massive pink phase, the pinker and the sparkler her clothes were the better. It was unavoidable, despite me trying! But she still rolled in mud and climbed trees, as well as playing with dolls and trains and a wide variety of things deemed both boys and girls toys.
    My concern is that by having an anti pink campaign, we are actually going against what little girls like, and in a way stating that their preference is wrong or weak- and that isn’t a message I want to spread either. Let them like pink I say, celebrate pink, just don’t make it all about the fluffy stuff!

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 10, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Absolutely! Girls get enough flak from little boys about pink being ‘yukky’ etc. If they hear it from theeir parents too, then what message does that send about their early choices and preferences? If they get security from identifying with the ‘tribe’ of pink when they’re tiny, so long as there’s balance (like your own daughter’s mud and trees) the challenge and questioning of stereotypes will come later (with the right help from parents willing to challenge the status quo!).

      Reply
  • Tammy
    June 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    My little girl is 20 months old and although she has a range of boys toys to play with she always chooses baby and the boys always chose cars.
    She automatically gets drawn to pink in shops pointing saying me me me. I will absolutely support her pink but also remind her that she can do anything she bloomin likes in life!
    I hate the whole no to gender specific aisles in shops I believe we should have a divide but also allow that devide to be crossed through a child’s choice not by force that defeats the object in my opinion

    Reply
  • Nikki Thomas
    June 10, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Such and interesting post and an interesting point of view too. I feel guilty sometimes as I have allowed my daughter to surround herself with pink. It did start with me as after three boys, I loved having the chance to buy pink things and now she adores pink. Should I feel guilty? Yes and no I suppose as like you I want her to be able to love pink and she is strong willed enough to make her own decisions with things. I do disagree with some gender specific toys but I also think we can let girls be girls and boys be boys too if we want to without feeling guilty.

    Reply
  • Mummy Glitzer
    June 10, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Really interesting post.

    As a mum to a boy it isn’t really something I have thought that much of to be honest.

    I have two favourite colours, pink and purple. In many respects I am the typical girly girl still, at 31 years old. I like to wear heels (well, I would if I could still), I like to wear skirts and dresses, I do my make up because it makes me feel better not because I feel I have to, I like nothing more than to have a manicure and get my hair cut properly. And yet, in other respects I am not. I am usually the more dominant one in my marriage, I always make sure that my opinion is heard, I take charge of the finances (even when it was just my husband bringing in money).

    Like Sonya, I dislike the message that somehow pink is a symbol of weakness. And like yourself I would like to see a broader range for boys and girls, not deemed by colour choice.

    (Sorry a bit of a ramble with not a lot of point!)

    Reply
  • Jess Paterson
    June 10, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    I love a pink T-shirt on my boys and a pink work shirt on my man. I am aghast at how stereotyped toys aimed at girls are, as you know from my recent post. The scientist thing is great, but I’d like to see some Lego heroes that are girls. The closest you get is Nya in Ninjago, but she’s still marginalised by the four main Ninjas. Yes, I watch a lot of Lego play and Lego-related TV! Great post.

    Reply
  • older mum in a muddle
    June 11, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I am in total agreement with you. It isn’t little girls who have placed the term ‘passive’ on pink, they just see it as a nice colour, it’s us adults that have imbued it with so much symbolism. Little girls don;t see it as passive. Yes, it’s a pretty colour but it doesn’t have to be a passive colour…. years and years and years ago, it was baby boys who wore the pink and girls wore blue. Great post. X

    Reply

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