Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pink: Not just another color ורוד: לא סתם עוד גוון

Even if you subscribe to the belief that girls and boys inherently differ — as argued by a friend who describes her son’s first encounter with a tractor tire at age three: “He stood there staring at it in awe…my daughter would never have exhibited such behavior” — it’s hard to argue that the deluge of Everything Pink, Princess, and Sparkly (after which they graduate to Sexy, Slutty, and Bratty) is doing our girls any good.

First, let’s take a look at the color (actually shade) pink. To those who shrug and ask, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a color,” I ask in kind: What’s the big deal about a swastika? It’s just an ornamental symbol that was in use for centuries before there were ever such creatures as Nazis. See what I mean? Nothing that ubiquitous, that pervasive, is ever “just a…” We can’t turn the clock back to when pink was just a color any more than we can go back in time to when a swastika was just a decoration.

Speaking of going back in time, let’s take a look at the quintessential female-stereotyped toy: the Susie Homemaker Oven As much as I disapprove of its message that cooking and baking are women’s jobs, note that 1) It’s — get ready! — green, and 2) It actually does something, i.e., it’s a tool used to produce, create, make something — not to mention promote learning a life skill — as opposed to the overwhelming quantity of products aimed at today’s girls, which encourage them to 1) dress up, 2) look good, and 3) get pampered.

Even classic toys like Lego, which encourage building and creating, now have a special “Girls” category, and parents unfortunately seem to swallow whole the Legos premise that kids’ interests break down by gender. Instead of asking, “Why aren’t there more ‘girls’ Legos’?” how come parents aren’t simply buying the “boys’ Legos” for their girls? Did I miss the Gender Police at Toys r Us?

Lastly, let’s turn our attention to this century’s corporate juggernaut, the Disney princesses. Look closer: They’re no longer innocent. In fact, they’ve gotten a sexy 21st-century makeover Also, note the facial expressions: In the last two examples, Belle and Sleeping Beauty have coy, come-hither expressions that they didn’t have when they were “born”. In other words, Disney princesses who began their “careers” as girls have "inexplicably" morphed into young women, i.e., they have sexual potential. Whether or not it’s not subtle, it's insidious, and like any subliminal message, deserves our attention.

So, what do we do? Well, for one thing, we can make a Present Pact: Next time you’re choosing a present for a kid, choose a gender-neutral one, or if those are too hard to find, at least don’t drench the recipient, if she’s a girl, in yet more pink; and if a boy, in yet more macho, superhero black. For newborns I recommend skipping a gift for Baby entirely and instead pampering the parents with a nice body products or coffee sampler gift pack. After all, being pampered is a privilege, not a right, right?


  1. A 6/30 article in the Washington Post or maybe the NYorker noted that the movie rating PG-13, which indicates films containing sex, nudity, etc. is popular with preteens. My 7-year-old granddaughter watches Disney preteen shows. Well, that's life, or maybe our life.

  2. Indeed. It's called "age compression", the phenomenon that has seven-year-olds wearing tummy-baring tops emblazoned with "So many boys, so little time". Is that the message you want to send to your granddaughter about how she views her body?

  3. As a child growing up in Israel, I played with "avnei pele", see -- the made-in-Israel Lego-like plastic interlocking building blocks, long before Lego was imported to Israel.
    I loved it; spent hours (not in winter) sitting on the cool tiled floor building houses, forts and castles. It didn't make me into an architect, but it kept me busy and must have been in some way conducive to my development.
    It wasn't instead of playing with dolls (including paper dolls, which I adored). And all games had a large "make believe" component to them.

  4. Nina, I had a similar love affair going with a toy that I simply referred to as "tiles"; I could play with them for hours. But none of the tiles or *avnei peleh* we played with were pink, purple, and / or sparkly!

  5. Around the time that our daughter increasingly rejected the dump truck that my friend bought for her (knowing my beliefs), Newsweek ran a story about research that had proven that there indeed were inherent gender differences.

    But I did not dress her in pink and made a point of blue. (Ditto re gifts.)

    When someone gave us "girl" legos as a present that couldn't be exchanged for PC reasons, I was not happy. Eventually, though, I just combined it all w/ the others.
    BTW, another nice gift for parents, esp if not first-timers, is a gift certificate to a nice restaurant or cafe (possibly a joint gift from more than one). That + cash for a babysitter, if this is a gift from several, is very appreciated.
    For first-timers, the book and CD of "Mei'ah Shirim Rishonim" and the like make great presents. (I avoid the DVDs for that)

  6. In the spirit of making pink "just another color," my rough and tumble son is currently wearing a carnation pink polo shirt (which he loves), bought from the boys' section of a very popular children's store (Carter's, if that matters).

    I refuse to give extremely gendered toys to my sons' friends when we go to birthday parties, and I also hate spending money on Cheap Plastic Crap, which pretty much leaves me with art supplies.

    My sons have a wide variety of toys that encourage free-play -- everything from an enormous bin of legos to dolls to play food to trains and lincoln logs to stuffed animals. If we had the space, I'd have a play kitchen too, but the little one has one at daycare and the big one is tall enough to help me in the real kitchen. The stereotypical toys aimed at boys, like bakugan and the like, are much coveted in our house, and they do have a some, but they rarely play with them. There's just not much you can do with them, and the kids seem to know that -- though they claim to LOVE those toys, they are not the go-to toys that the legos and dolls are.

  7. Sonia, had to look up Bakugan, but thanks for commenting. Good going for being OK with your son wearing pink!

  8. I agree with your friend describing her three-year-old son's tractor encounter that gender is innate--I just don't think that gender expression always follows biological lines. MOST boys are in fact obsessed with trucks and other "boyish" things; MOST girls are into sparkles and pink. Then you get a tomboy, or a kid like my son who, against all cultural and familial direction, wants to dress up as a princess and have long hair. A pink boy. And that's just as hard-wired as the boy-boy she describes.

    As a good feminist I always imagined (before having my son, who by age three wanted to wear a dress to school) that gender was something we chose. I would have done as you and your commenters suggest and tried not to perpetuate gender stereotypes when giving gifts to kids. And many kids actually do fit right in the gender stereotypes. My daughter, for example, would not know what to do with a Tonka truck or a Transformer, and is delighted with Polly Pockets, American Girl dolls, and (oh my aching feminist heart) Barbies.

    So my kids have taught me that we adults need to wait to see what gender expression kids do have, and to honor that...and if some boy is all about princesses, then great, but if he's obsessed with super-boyish things, well that's great too--we don't need to force him to like dolls, any more than we need to force a pink boy to like construction sets. Boyish boys are not just interested in boyish toys (and girlish girls/girlish toys) because their peers are (or because marketers tell them to be). If that were the case, we would have no pink boys and no tomboys, those kids who go against the grain.

    Fighting for gender neutrality in kids' clothes and toys is admirable. But I think that's a blunt instrument when what's called for is more subtle: offering a range from super masculine to super feminine, with neutral in the middle, and letting KIDS choose where they fall. Not having boys' and girls' sections, but pink and blue ones, and letting those terms become, if ever possible, "just a color" in the way a swastika may never be.

    I wrote about gendered toys at McDonald's here (the next post answers the question):

  9. Sarah, thanks for your edifying comment. I'll respond to a couple things:

    1. re your daughter not knowing what to do with a Tonka truck or a Transformer, I'm not familiar with the latter, but I discovered a fun way to use trucks on all genders that I call Truck Massage. Babies and older kids (grownups too!) love having those trucks "drive" all over their / our bodies! I even have a young (girl) friend who has a pile of varoius sizes and types of toy vehicles, and when we get together we truck massage each other and then assign rankings to each vehicle. Great bonding, and participants can use "vroom-vroom" sound effects or not, as you please.

    2. Regarding "Not having boys' and girls' sections, but pink and blue ones,..." so why have labels at all? Why channel kids and let the corporations decide what's "pink" and what's "blue"?

    Anxious to read your post!

  10. Nachama, I hope that Newsweek article wasn’t about Louann Brizendine’s research. The books shown here all refute it.
    I like your suggestions of birth gifts for parents. “100 shirim* is good for Hebrew-speaking families, but I have a problem with it: Ever noticed that the illustrations accompanying the holiday songs are all of stereotypically traditional Jews, while those accompanying the everyday songs are just “ordinary” people? What message is that sending our preschoolers? That deserves a blog post all its own…

  11. Funny, I just got the Richard Scarry book Cars and Trucks and Things That Go -- one of my fave kids books -- for a new baby girl...but weirdly, it's been girlified! It has a lavendar cover! It's here:

  12. Ack! I hovered my mouse over the book's image. That lavendar jumped out at me! What in God's name is the deal? That baby girl and all her girl peers will be terrified to go near anything that's not "girl-colored". What's next? Pink sparkly math books?