Monday, June 27, 2011

Color Wars ... Pink vs Not Pink

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Between the recent J. Crew ad featuring the little boy with the pink painted toenails, to the Canadian family who refuses to reveal the sex of their four-month old child, I've been thinking a lot about gender roles, societal expectations of boys vs girls and the color pink. As I am about to give birth to a girl-child, my ruminations are not in vain. I want to be prepared to raise a healthy girl with a strong sense of self, who feels free to express herself.

Now just some background. My mom had ten sisters and a very strong mother. I went to a very affirming women's college. And I firmly believe in single-sex education. I have never felt any doubt that my feminist muscle was ready to take on the world. Until now. I was all prepared to paint the baby's new room yellow or green or some other neutral color that says 'you don't have to be a girlie girl,' when el esposo raised his voice and said, I'd like to paint the room pink. (record scratch). Since I didn't actually have any other color picked out, I meekly said okay, but then I started to worry if I was heading down some Disney princess path of no-return?

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I get a package in the mail full of baby clothes and blankets from some of my family members. Yes, they are all pink and fluffy. Should I send them back? I wondered. What kind of tidal wave of pink am I going to have to fight? Will Barbies be next? And what does it all mean? Maybe I should be like the Canadian family and name my daughter something neutral like, Moon and let her find her own way.

But then I calmed down. I decided to have my friend paint a giant giraffe on the (pale, pale) pink walls of the nursery and accent the room with chocolate brown and a spot of red. I bought a navy blue dress at Target that was just too cute and I picked up a pink polo shirt for my younger son. And it was my son that made me get a clue. He objected to the color of his new shirt. "Pink is for girls," he cried. And I quickly responded that colors don't belong to one sex. Anybody can wear any color they want to. And to think that somebody could "own" a color is ridiculous. My son bought it and so did I. At exactly that moment I realized how silly it was to uphold color as gender specific. My husband wears pink and I often wear navy blue and black and we are so not gender curious. We just look good in those colors. Isn't that what it's all about? In fact, by buying into color stereotypes (oh, I can't paint my daughter's room pink or she'll grow up to be weak and girly) is as damaging, I think, as only letting her wear feminine colors and playing with American Girl Dolls.

My new mantra as it relates to raising my daughter will be, 'let's do what feels good and looks right." What do you think? Can colors define a person's personality? Do all little girls just want to wear pink naturally? Anybody out there refuse to let their girls wear pink?

I'm listening.



Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

I like where you're going with this. My husband read something once about how the color codes for gender were actually the opposite: pink/red for boys because it was thought to indicate strength, and blue for girls because they were "flighty like the sky". Apparently up until the early 20th century though, baby girls & boys were dressed mostly the same. It was only with the advent of the commodification of baby culture (clothing, accessories, etc.) around the early 20th century that a decision was made and they actually flipped the colors. (Michael Kimmel wrote a book on this.)

So basically, as I see it, assigning colors to genders or to values on a masculinity-femininity spectrum, whether you buy or reject all pink is still a reaction to an early marketing decision.

I like your idea to just go with what feels good. My husband wears pink on occasion, just as I wear blue, and vice versa, and neither of us feels challenged in our identity.

I also take umbrage at the insinuation that strength and femininity are at odds with one another (not anything you said, just the insinuation generally made in both pop and counter culture). My favorite women in the world are both strong and feminine, and I think feminists shoot themselves in the foot when they reject anything girly because they basically rejecting a big part of themselves, and/or ourselves. We don't have to move towards androgeneity to (feel we have the right to) demand mutual respect.

Your color scheme for the nursery sounds gorgeous and I bet that giraffe will be super cute!

claudia said...

Just beware of the princess cult. I don't know what has happened in the last few years but the Disney marketing has enveloped all little girls. Even little girls, like my babycakes who would rather play with trucks and baby dolls feels socially obligated to dress in those insipid princess rags.

Olivia said...

As a mom who thought (before having a boy) that gender was a construct (yes, we all took those overly theoretic courses in college) I was extremely surprised when my son was drawn to anything with wheels as soon as he was old enough to express an opinion. Of course he also loves statues and things less traditionally "masculine". But it was that first "bus"-moment that really stayed with me. I wasn't pushing him in any direction and here we stopped to watched construction as much as we could...
Now that he's in school he's told me that "pink is a girl-color, but I still like it."

Fastforward to our girl who's not a year yet. I was faced with the same dilemma you have/had. What to do with pink (which I personally don't like much)? Well, her clothes are mostly hand-me-downs from friends so we do have a lot of pink and I noticed that when she wears her brother's old clothes people have to ask if she's a girl. So society is definitely conditioned.

I'm curious to see how the education progresses... so far she plays with the gender neutral blocks, playmobil and legos that we have lying around. I'm bracing myself for the first doll.

Good luck!

Itsbugart said...

Here in western Sweden the little girls (as in preschool age) are into pink and frilly stuff but lose interest during their early elementary school years. By grade 4 they are almost all *militantly* anti-pink/princess/Barbie type stuff.

Alicia said...

A great article about the "pink culture" for girls:

LT said...

I heard about this history as well but thanks for sharing it with the readers here.

Got it. Keeping an eye out for the 'princess cult'

I hear you. After making sure my first son had plenty of female playmates I was so shocked he gravitated towards everything with wheels. Therefore I was so ready when number 2 only wanted to play with trains. So does this mean baby girl will want to play with girlie things? Or will she be influenced by her two older brothers? The social scientist in me is so excited to see how this all plays out.

Thanks for the view from Sweden. It's always good to hear how things play out in other countries.

Thanks for the link. I'll def. check it out.

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

You might also like to read (if you haven't already) "The Male Brain" and "The Female Brain." (Both are by Louann Brizendine.) There are some interesting differences between the sexes that do appear to have a basis in biology.

alli said...

ok so i think the pink comes from somewhere, But if your girl is BROWN, paint the room purple, fuschia, or any color other than blue. No confusion and questions unless u movve to ghana or Nigeria where it doesn't even matter. then you can paint it any color you feel like. But Blue?pink That's standard in America, I am a firm believe that girls should be girls and boys should be boys, but blk or mixed ppl dont 'automatically' have to be white. if you get my drift. So I would be open to yellow, purple or lavender(royalty) or Coral/peach. Actually I hate pink, but it is what it is. I like Orange however.

chirimoya said...

I think there's a lot to be said for letting girls and boys choose in small ways. Telling them that their inclinations towards or away from a color they like sends the wrong message. The current culture in parenting is so focused on being aware and preventative that sometimes it takes away from the simple pleasures of childhood. There's plenty of time for conversations about gender bias and marketing, when they are old enough to understand. My oldest daughter loved pinkandpurple (said in one breath)for a while and now loves blue and green. My youngest loves pink, but thinks princesses are boring.... Enjoy this special time and the newness of your daughter, whichever way you like. You can't go wrong.

Honeysmoke said...

Oh, my. I also had trouble with pink, but there weren't many options. My oldest wore all kinds of colors. Her room was painted baby blue, the color I had picked years before she was thought of. I managed to find a crib set that was farm-oriented and gender neutral, in case my second was a boy. (She was not.) I also had all kinds of trouble with princesses and such. I put up a good front for a while, but I caved when the my girls gravitated to all things girly. That's a long way of saying I don't know what's best. I think you're heading in the right direction. Congrats on your baby girl!