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.