Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just say no to pink

I actually really like Pink!
These are proto-thoughts, very rough. What do you think?

When I talk about raising girls and avoiding gender stereotyping, I often get the pushback - what if she really honestly just likes pink (or barbies, bratz, princesses, or whatever)?

It's a fair question.

My answer, again still in progress, is this. You have to be the one who works against the grain. Society is going to push "pink," using pink as a metonymy for many things, on girls. There is no honest way to just like a color/toy set divorced from it social context. Ellie, in the middle of last year, came home and demanded the pink bowl because pink was a girl's color. We talked about liking all colors and the sentiment seems to have faded, but it was a shot across the bow. It's my job, with my daughter, to work against the grain, to push back. I don't have to be balanced because society is not balanced.

Moreover, don't buy pink for any other girl. Trust that someone else is going to do it. We had Ellie's birthday party a couple weeks ago. The Barbie and Disney princess bags went to the garbage, not the re-use drawer. I apologize for nothing (my wife actually threw out the Barbie one)!

Don't buy pink for girls. Not your girl. Not any other girl.

The next question is whether we /should/ buy pink for boys if we want to work against the grain. There I am less sure. A girl without pink is not an outsider. A boy in pink is an outsider. It's about exerting modest counter-pressure versus societal, not creating kids who cannot fit in (if they want to). Which is to say that a boy who came to me and wanted pink, or a skirt, or makeup, or whatever - I say yes. But I'm not going to try to force them against the current. A girl who comes to me and asks for a princess - I say yes (you know, assuming it's gift season or whatever). But I'm not going to buy her one unless she explicitly asks.

So, how am I doing so far? What are your thoughts? Help me refine this in time, oh, Black Friday after Thanksgiving.


11 comments:

JManna said...

I think life i problematic. So saying 'no' to a color seems short sighted. I would rather focus on the automatic decision girl=pink. Because you can try and eliminate pink in your home but it's in school, in stores, in TV. I don't know the answer. Kids are far more clever then we like to give them credit and I think explaining to a kid that they are not defined by a color and have lots of choices is a start. Adults need to 1) teach kids what the mechanics of society are and 2) how some of those mechanics are bullshit and 3) how to operate successfully and happily with the knowledge from 1 & 2.

Basically if you're not going to ban blue from boys how is banning pink from girls helpful?

Don't get me wrong. Totally for empowering girls. But I really think that is more about offering far more choices then eliminating any of them.

David Perry said...

Hmm, maybe I wasn't clear. I'm not banning anything. Right now, Ellie has 4-5 Barbie-like princesses buried in her toys somewhere, lots of pink clothes, and a ton of Frozen-related merchandise. She can choose whatever she wants. I, on the other hand, will never pick anything pink for her or any other girl.

JManna said...

So you're talking about making the choice for them? This sounds like less like it's about girls as it is about adults playing out gender roles without thinking.

Along the lines of http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html

David Perry said...

Right, very much along Bloom's lines. I won't do it. They can do whatever they want and I will never tell my daughter that "pink" (again, standing in for a lot of things) is bad. I might say, "And now the princess climbs aboard her three-headed dragon and flies over the mountains" or "Shall we go outside and play baseball?" Or whatever. But I'll never tell her that such choices are wrong.

Laurel Krahn said...

I don't know, really. Good thoughts and I totally get where you're coming from. I'm thinking about how I was raised and how colors were presented to me.

My Mom has been a grade school teacher, an art teacher, and an interior designer. She loves colorful things and color, but is not a fan of pink. I suspect some of her dislike of pink comes from her mother liking the color and also possibly from having many pink things foisted on her in her youth. I'm sure there was also frustration when I was a child in the '70s, as she shopped for me.

Growing up, my childhood room had red and lots of colors in the color scheme, later on it had yellow walls. I know I wore some pink things, but they were mostly (all?) gifts my folks got from other people. I, of course, picked out some pink things and my folks let me. I think there was a discussion at some point about blue for boys and pink for girls and how that was very limiting given all the great colors out there. I think my brother's room had a mostly green color-scheme.

(Hmm. I think years ago it was also less common to find out the sex of a child before birth and so may have been more common for rooms to be decorated in a supposedly gender neutral color scheme and gifts given at showers to be not for a specific gender. Maybe? I dunno.)

I do recall my Mom encouraging me to wear aqua blue because it looked good on me and I, of course, rebelled against that. I think anything parents push a bit can be fodder for rebellion (including very irrational rebellion).

It sounds like Ellie already has good instincts and thinks the silly classifications of "girl toys" and "boy toys" at fast food chains and the like are stupid. I guess I'd point out that colors are merely colors and people can like what they like and shouldn't listen to anyone who assigns gender to them. Sounds like you've been doing that.

I agree on not buying pink things for girls and blue for boys and so forth, unless there was a specific request for it. In this day and age, I wouldn't be buying stereotypical gender appropriate gifts for anyone, honestly (unless requested), because it seems out of date and it's entirely possible the person receiving the gift (or their parents) would not approve. I mean, unless there were rockets or robots or baseballs on it or something, then I'd totally get it for anyone.

David Perry said...

Thanks Laurel. I work hard to make sure it's not a parental line that she can then see as worth rebelling against. I just don't personally do it.

marchfirstweek said...

My daughter is 2 years old and when asked she always wants the blue one. Right now the biggest social influence over her are her 2 big brothers. Both of her brothers had different favorite colors until they started preschool, then they both "decided" their favorite color was blue. I was disappointed that they conformed with their peers, but I tried not to let them know. I find myself dreading the day my daughter comes home from preschool and declares her favorite color is pink. Although there are many drawbacks to boys conforming to gendered stereotypes (which is why I love "The Representation Project") I feel that girls being "girly" will hold them back more.

Anne Gray said...

But rockets and robots and sports are for girls too! All colors are for everyone, and I shop in the boys section sometimes and I've also started decorating plain clothes myself because I'm frustrated with the limited diversity of colors and topics on kids clothes. Boys clothes tend to be pretty boring, cokorwise, honestly. All this gendering is no good for anyone.

Tesla Seppanen said...

The answer that I use for our family is this: I have always bought a variety of colors of clothes and types of toys for my son, and have steered clear of anything that small of gender-norming. No clothes with words at all. He chooses which clothes to wear and is as likely to pick the pink shirt as the red (or blue, or green) one.

We are now at the point where he is beginning to choose things to buy, but since we do most of our shopping online it's usually me showing him two things and saying "which one do you want?" I suspect this will get trickier as he starts to assert independent preferences.

He loves his trains and his tea set and his trucks and his dollhouse and his Legos and his apron and his dress-up dresses and helmets and bunny ears and whatnot. I indulge his train obsession both because it's his own obsession and because trains are fun for me, too.

Where it gets really interesting is where we intersect with other families. We strictly avoid gender-normative gifts and gift wrap - but again, the kids are very young and are not yet asking for specific things.

Of course everything here works within the context of our particular version of privilege: we live in an affluent, largely liberal but otherwise culturally diverse area. Some of this wouldn't work as well in other contexts.

I will say that I'm pleased to see how little our preschoolers seem to fall into "traditional" gender roles on the whole. Two of the three wildest kids are boys - but so are two of the three calmest ones; it's consistent with the demographic makeup of the group add a whole. I take this as a little anecdote suggesting that avoiding gender norms really can materially change things within just a few years.

(I'm on my phone. I hope the above is coherent.)

David Perry said...

I really like the motto - don't buy anything with words on it. REALLY REALLY like it.

For our daughter, this last year (4 to 5) was a huge shift in terms of the gendered messages she brought home from her peer group.

Elizabeth H said...

My jumble of thoughts:
In my experience, having parents who went "against the grain" worked. My younger sister and I shared a yellow room and had almost no pink clothes, toys, bedding, or belongings. My parents chose a hippie daycare and a Montessori preschool that did not present the pink/blue binary. I do not recall having a favorite color -- I don't think we focused on "favorites" in general, least of all people (as in best friend, second-best friend). Once, when we were 6 and 3, someone gave us a little-kid-sized pink plastic vanity table &chair, with lights around the mirror. We played with it on Christmas Eve and it was gone by morning. The Barbies were too numerous to avoid, so my mom hand-sewed business suits for them. Anyway, I have no memories of dressing Barbies -- mostly we just hit each other with them and pulled their heads off. Most of our toys were multicolored and gender-neutral: Lego, building blocks, Lincoln Logs, games. We had an abundance of choose-your-own-gender stuffed animals and very few dolls. In particular, my mother never wears pink, and I think that was the most important influence. Certainly I'm not suggesting that mothers should never wear pink, but for me it made the contrast more clear. She is a jewel-tone person: navy, plum, emerald, burgundy, rust, and the neutral black, brown, and beige. The blue/pink thing did not start happening to the kids around me until first grade, and w hen it did I recognized it as a construct. Additionally, I noticed a corollary: "pastels are for girls; saturated colors are for boys". Previously, I had just thought that pastels were for Easter. I also saw that pink went along with a bunch of other behaviors that seemed weird to me, particularly a sudden increase in focus on appearance: jewelry, hair, clothes, shoes, lipgloss and sometimes even eye makeup. I saw that it was a package that many girls were buying into, and some did not realize they had a choice. But my family, my mom, my grandma, my aunt, my parents' friends, did not buy into that package and I could see that I could choose not to, or pick and choose, despite peer pressure. I wanted pierced ears and jelly bracelets but I did not want the rest. Could I have made those realizations and decisions if the first six years of my life had already included the pink/blue idea? Maybe. But I think my parents' choices had a profoundly positive impact. If pink had turned out to be my favorite color anyway, if I had enjoyed all of the hair/makeup/clothes/shoes/etc for the fun of it, or if I had wanted at any point in my life to be "girly" or conform to societal standards of "femininity", I think my parents' choices would have helped me realize that these can be choices and not traps.

Next thought:
It bugs the crap out of me that, in a big way, pink equals "pretty" but blue does not mean "handsome". From the moment we're born, we're color-coded so that strangers walk up and say "what a pretty girl she is!". As a non-pink, unfrilly, and generally tomboyish girl, I noticed that other girls were frequently praised as pretty and I was glad that I did not have to deal with that. I did not wear or do the things that code as "girly"/"pink"/"pretty" and so (regardless of my attractiveness) people were not constantly reinforcing the idea to me that praise and worth for girls is linked with appearance. Of course it follows through to adulthood: an ugly man (whatever "ugly" even means, according to American stereotypes) can still be considered very masculine, but an ugly woman is seldom considered very feminine.