I was traveling recently, and as I stood in the security line at the Sacramento Airport, I noticed something: I was surrounded by variety.
A couple sporting matching hula pantsuits, avid sports fans showing off jerseys and matching hats, people of all ages with assistive devices including wheelchairs, walkers, and breathing machines. There were travelers with dogs, travelers with international passports, seasoned business travelers with “security-checkpoint-friendly laptop bags”, and novice travelers with boarding documents in carrying cases around their necks.
In the crowd, nearly every age, body size, skin tone, and clothing ensemble was represented.
After I made my way through the security checkpoint, I was greeted by a newsstand. In stark contrast to the incredible richness and variety that I was immersed in moments before, I saw the magazine rack with cover models representing a singular notion of beauty.
I was reminded that I hate “Pink.”
I don’t hate the color pink, but I vehemently oppose the culture of “Pink” we impose on our children: a culture which values a singular notion of beauty, champions homogeneity, and creates a dissatisfied consumerist culture that pursues an impossible ideal.
“Pink” messages are fundamentally limiting. The only socially acceptable toys for girls come from the pink aisles of the toy store. Clearly, parents can choose to venture beyond the segregated aisles, but the explicit message is that toys are linked to a specific gender.
“Pink” teaches that external beauty is the strongest measure of a woman’s value. Children’s clothing stores are divided right down the middle: pink (and purple) on one side, and the remainder of the rainbow on the other side. The pink/purple side has too-short skirts and shorts, tight pants (called regular, skinny, and “super-skinny”), and shirts are adorned with with words like, “princess.” Children learn from a very early age that female bodies hold value equal to their external beauty.
“Pink” perpetuates harmful gender biases and heteronormativity. There isn’t room in the clean-cut world of “Pink” for children to explore freely and equally. Toys and clothing designed for girls limit big-body and construction-type play; have you ever tried to buy shoes for toddler girls that support tree-climbing? It’s tough! The gender bias perpetuated in the “Pink” culture is damaging to boys as well, pushing them away from dramatic play or dress up. In fact, crossing the imagined “Pink” line may be even more difficult for boys. Society acquiesces for a girl who wants to play with trains, but a boy who wants to play dress-up is immediately suspect.
I want my children to have an equal chance to explore the richness of the world. I want my children to follow their passions and their talents, irrespective of their gender. I want to free them from an unrealistic model of beauty. I want the clothes that they wear, the hairstyles they choose, and the body art they sport to reflect their inner selves instead of a social ideal.
In that effort…
1. My children and I do not shop in retail stores for toys. In general, I don’t want to cast my monetary vote for a system I believe is unjust. If I need to purchase a toy at a store, I go by myself. The toys in our home come from largely from second-hand sources or online stores. And frankly, most of our “toys” aren’t actually toys, but items in the “cardboard box” family of materials.
2. I address issues of gender inequality head-on. When I hear comments like, Those toys are girls toys! and Boys can’t wear dresses!, I always offer, “That doesn’t seem fair” or “Clothes show what a person loves and what feels good.” I try to point to counterexamples that would challenge cultural stereotypes.
3. I resist commenting (excessively) on outer beauty. My daughter was very excited about the outfit she was wearing when she came to get me from the airport. Instead of “You look so cute/beautiful/lovely/etc,” I said, “You love to wear that shirt! It feels so good when we wear clothes that make us feel good.” She heartily agreed.
Two very helpful resources:
- Peggy Orenstein: Cinderella Ate My Daughter and Blog
- Rachel Simmons: The Curse of the Good Girl and Blog
Do you have thoughts about “Pink”? Do you have strategies for working with your boys and girls to counter the strong gender bias in early childhood?