Stop Telling Girls Pink Sucks

I think we can all agree there is way too much pink being shoved down the throats of little girls. The girl aisles in toy stores are so over the top it’s hard to walk down them without having a physical reaction. Gendered toys such as girly Lego and Nerf guns or hyper-sexualised dolls are also very problematic. But I’m starting to wonder if there’s a fine line between being “anti-pink” and “anti-girl” and how this viewpoint impacts on both girls and boys.

I’ve noticed a bit of a backlash lately when it comes to celebrating girly things. A girl who rejects girly toys receives a metaphoric gold star. I’m guilty of this too. When I saw the ad for the engineering toy, GoldieBlox, I thought those girls made ideal role models. But that line about them hating princesses and wanting to use their brains didn’t sit right with me. This might be because girls have been told for too long that what they enjoy is frivolous or ditzy.

If a little girl is more interested in making her own tiara or baking some cookies from scratch over turning the house into a booby trap, that’s commendable too right? If she wants to dance barefoot around the garden as a ballerina instead of playing outdoor cricket doesn’t that use the same amount of skill and brainpower?

One mum I know praised her daughter on Facebook for dissing a Dora cup and reaching for Thomas the Tank Engine. Friends and family cheered her on with comments like “how cool” and “what a little legend”. I’m not exactly sure what makes Dora less cool than Thomas. She’s an explorer and a damn-fine problem solver. She’s just as independent as Thomas who gets himself into pickles regularly and relies on his mates for help. Maybe what was actually being encouraged was that this little girl managed to breakdown gender stereotypes – and she’s not even three. But maybe something else is going on here.

At a dress-up party a five-year-old girl turned up as the Green Lantern with glittery green tutu and pigtails. She looked both adorable and super funky. But I was taken aback when the mum proudly told me, “Little girls like fairies, thinking girls like superheroes”. So what distinguishes fairies as immature and superheroes as more intellectual and complex? Both have superpowers and help those in need. It can’t be that superheroes are more powerful or funny or have more developed characters. The most iconic fairy of all, Tinkerbell, is both cheeky and dangerous. But she saves Peter Pan’s life too while courageously sacrificing her own. So what makes one better than the other? The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is that one is for boys and one is for girls. Or in some cases that one is a boy and one is a girl.

I’m not saying that we should encourage our little girls to avoid things marketed at boys. If they generally prefer Thomas the Tank Engine and Green Lantern over Dora or Tinkerbell that’s awesome. But I don’t believe this same celebration happens when boys are interested in conventional girl toys.

My son who is about to turn two loves my makeup brushes, jewellery, handbags and wearing my pink slippers. At playgroup he spends a fair amount of his time at the little kitchenettes moving saucepans around fake stove tops and putting cups in the wooden microwaves, or even pushing around a pink pram. At a birthday party recently when everyone was playing dress-ups he proudly wore a purple beaded necklace with a sparkly handbag. This was met with, “It’s just a phase,” or awkward giggles. Where were the high-fives and praise that the little girls received when using boy things?

The saturation of pink marketing and the creepy sexualisation of female toys needs to stop. But making out that girl stuff is not as good or as worthy as boy stuff has been happening long enough for us to know that this is also about valuing one gender over the other.

So while we do need to rethink the marketing of our toys (perhaps by getting rid of boy/girl toy aisles altogether) let’s not diminish certain activities that both little girls and boys can enjoy. Both genders just need more freedom to discover their true interests. I realised this when I let my son chose a drink bottle from the supermarket. He picked the pink one out of a sea of blue and greens. Even after his dad took away his first choice and asked him if he was sure about his decision, he picked up the same one. Weeks later it’s still his favourite. Because maybe pink is actually a really cool colour that everyone should be encouraged to enjoy … in moderation.

Published in Essential Baby on Feb 10, 2014

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