Feminism Friday: pink vs blue

The other day, I found a piece by Belinda Parmar on the Guardian’s website entitled Barclays has pinked up its new ad – how lazy and depressing. I tweeted this, wondering when this ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ nonsense will end. While most people understood what I was getting at with that comment, a few didn’t so I thought it might be worth using more than 140 characters to clarify my point.

Aside from its parents, there is not really any reason why anyone actually needs to know the sex of a baby. We’re just so used to knowing (it’s the first question most people ask after the birth), that we find it difficult to cope with not knowing. But why is that? Before WW2, babies and toddlers all used to be clothed in white dresses, which were considered gender-neutral – with both sexes looking identical until the age of six. In her article When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? for Smithsonian.com, Jeanne Maglaty explains that: “Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers.” After this, there was a return to gender-neutral clothing for a while in the 70s, but then the pink/blue divide really came into force in 1985. According to Maglaty, this was in part due to prenatal testing (allowing parents to discover the sex of their child before birth), and the realisation by manufacturers that gendering every item would help them to sell more. Not only would it mean that parents would be keen to buy everything that is tailored to the sex of their little one, but they’d also have to buy more if the sex of their next child was different. So this pink/blue thing that many people are so hung up on is not just a marketing concept, it’s one that the majority of people don’t even know they’re falling for.

But that’s not the only thing that bothers me about this. After all, if you want to dress your little girl in pink or your little boy in blue, fair enough. They’re just colours, after all. It’s what those colours have come to represent that’s the really worrying thing. As Parmar says in her Guardian piece, “in principle, there is nothing wrong with a pink toy. The problem comes not with the choice of colour itself, but with the stereotypical attitude that often accompanies it.” If parents and children believe that pink toys can only be played with by girls, and blue toys are only for boys, what sort of message are we sending out to our children? That some things are forbidden because of their gender. If a boy wants a toy kitchen so that he can pretend to be a chef like his dad, will he feel that he can’t if the only ones the shops sell are pink? Will a girl feel that she’s wrong for being interested in science because all the chemistry sets come in blue boxes?

Girls can be active and boys can be creative, but we risk bringing up a generation of kids who feel that they can’t do what they want because it’s not allowed. If your daughter wants to dress in pink and play with dolls that’s great, but you wouldn’t want her to feel that she had no choice in the matter, would you?

Images via Pink Stinks‘ Pink Watch.