My eight year old son finds advert time on kids TV hilarious, primarily because, if I’m paying any attention at all, I’m sitting there exclaiming ‘Why does that have to be pink?!’. He points pink stuff out to me at every opportunity, just to see my screwed up, disgusted face. Recently he asked me an important question – why do I hate pink? He followed this up by pointing out all the things in the kitchen that had pink on them, including, I’m proud to say, some of his own artwork.
As I explained to my son, I do not have a particlar aversion to pink as a colour. Some pink things are lovely – I like pink roses for example. We all have our favorite colours, however, and pink is simply not one of mine. It is very unlikely that I would ever buy pink china or a pink top.
I explained to my son that what I actually hate is not the colour pink itself, but the fact that, since before he was born, manufacturers have been making everything ‘for girls’ predominantly pink while the boys get all the other colours of the rainbow – with a heavy dose of blue. Right from birth, girls seem to be swamped in pink clothes and pink toys, and as they grow up both girls and boys are conditioned to consider that anything that is not pink is not meant for girls. For those not brave enough to break out of the mould they were born into, this means that girls are generally steered by colour coding to wear particular clothes and shoes and to play with certain types of toys. This restricts their choices in life from a very early age in a way that is not done for boys, at least to the same extent.
I then tried to explain to my young son in, a simple way, what sexism is. That saying that a person must/shouldn’t wear certain things, have certain things or do certain things based on whether they are a boy or a girl is sexist, and that sexism is so wrong it is actually illegal. Yet, somehow, all these manufacturers get away with doing exactly that – and that makes me angry.
Girls are not actually banned from having clothes and toys of other colours, so there is no discrimination in a legal sense. Yet as consumers we are constantly faced with defined marketing of ‘boys’ stuff and ‘girls’ stuff, a sea of pink and years of social conditioning. Whether through choice, ignorance of what it is doing to our children, or simply a lack of options on a last minute run for a Birthday present on party day, we are constantly perpetuating this totally arbitrary division with our purchases.
As Mum to a boy I am, perhaps lucky to some extent. His world is not dominated by the colour pink – although blue features heavily, it is, at least, livened up with a rainbow of other colours. But he may, one day, have a girlfriend with dreams to encourage. Perhaps even a daughter stifled by the pre-fabricated mould of pink plastic. He needs to know that this kind of colour coded restriction is wrong. That there is no such thing as boys colours and girls colours. That boys and girls can play with whatever toys they damn well like, whether that is transformers or dolls houses. That boys and girls can grow up to be whatever they dream of and that society and industry have no right to influence or limit those dreams. All our sons and daughters need to know these things.
Thankfully I am not the only person to be outraged by the gender stereotyping our children are constantly being subjected to. There have been a number of press articles on the topic. Too few in my book, and progress to reverse this sea of pink is too slow for my liking, but it’s a start. The bottom line is that industry will make more of what people buy. As consumers we have a starring role in this story.
Let’s all choose a rainbow of choices for our children.