Does The Colour Pink Actually Stink?


By Hannah Mudge

Earlier this year I blogged about PinkStinks, a website which was starting to receive some attention in the blogosphere. PinkStinks was at that time a new campaign, which aimed to promote positive role models and an inclusive, diverse message about what it means to be a young girl while combating negative gender stereotypes.

Its enemy? The "culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls' lives". The way that even before they’re born, girls are targeted by an obnoxious, neverending supply of pink princess outfits, pink miniature household appliances and pink accessories.

The all-encompassing 'pink for girls and blue for boys' standard actually didn’t become mainstream until after World War Two – and it’s only in the past 20 years that it's become a full-blown obsession. If, like me, at least some of your childhood predates the 1990s, you’ll remember a time when girls were offered more choices than being 'a princess', or 'just like mum' - doing the housework. 

A time when companies didn’t feel the need to produce ridiculous pink globes, pink Scrabble sets and pink glue sticks claiming to be 'Just 4 Girls', as if female children can’t possibly contemplate playing with something that’s any other colour.

PinkStinks founders, sisters Emma and Abi Moore, have been trying to challenge this. Their wish? To show young girls that there's a wide range of interests, hopes and ambitions out there. To show them that women are successful in the arts, sciences, sports, business and technology and that one day, they could be too if that's their thing. To promote a life for little girls that isn't just about fairies, princesses and being thin and pretty.

Sounds promising, right? 

Over the past few weeks, the Moore sisters have received a lot of press – in 22 countries, no less - about their Christmas campaign, targeting the strictly segregated 'boys' toys' and 'girls' toys' aisles in Early Learning Centre and similar shops. And much of it has been bad press. 

Predictably, it’s 'political correctness gone mad'. Or they’re just 'humourless feminists', out to brainwash children with left-wing propaganda. Many critics have been quick to point out that actually, little girls just love pink and always will, as if it's part of their genetic makeup. Others are angry that the campaign seems to promote a burning hatred for the colour pink.

This is missing the point somewhat. It's not about banning pink clothes or toys altogether or stopping little girls from playing 'princesses'. It’s about promoting a vision of childhood that is free from expectations – many of them invented by consumerism and marketing - of what it is to be a 'proper girl' (passive, interested in little more than 'being pretty') or a 'proper boy' (adventurous and boisterous). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard adults say "She’s a proper little girl/he’s a proper little boy!" when a child displays some stereotypical characteristic.

This sort of culture has a negative impact on both sexes, particularly if they have no interest in or do not live up to 'approved' standards of masculinity or femininity. I once overheard a woman telling a friend that she'd found her two-year-old nephew playing with her daughter's doll. She'd taken it off him and told him that dolls were 'not for boys'. I wondered what sort of problematic effect she envisaged the doll having on her nephew.

As part of their criticism of PinkStinks, the naysayers have been very quick to say that girls like pink, boys like blue and that’s the end of it. BBC children’s news show Newsround decided to actually consult some kids on the matter and received some interesting responses. Plenty of girls replied to say they love the colour pink, but many more picked up on the limited range of choices and aspirations they’re presented with:

"I hate the colour pink. I think there should be more colours to choose from like boys have a choice. It's just not fair!" (Georgia, 10)

"…they shouldn't only sell things like princess things for girls. Girls like more things, like sports, but they always have pink all the time. Girls' clothes are often pink and we want more colours." (Ishbel, 8)

One education writer has suggested that reactions to the Early Learning Centre campaign have been so strong because parents feel guilty about buying into the sort of stereotyping and consumerism the campaign criticises – and of course no-one likes their parenting brought into question.

But as research has proved that anxiety about appearance can compromise brain function in girls, that girls are now worried about their appearance at an incredibly young age and that the backlash against feminism has had a negative impact on their aspirations, maybe it is time for more parents to take consider whether they’re selling their daughters short and that there’s more to life than being a princess.

Image via PinkStinks.co.uk

POSTED IN: NEWS
Wed, 16 Dec 2009 18:19 (GMT+00)
5 Responses
1.

Loved this article and I'm so glad to read that little girls themselves are questioning the abundance of pink directed towards them!

Eline
Wed, 16-Dec-2009 23:12 GMT
2.

There's obviously a massive difference between having an aesthetic preference for a colour and being a stereotype of it. All these ideas that pink indicates the 'ridiculous' and that it is promotes negative, un-feminist ideas are only there because people have narrowed their thinking. Little girls don't need to be told by a blogging campaign that there are other options out there. They need to be shown by their parents who need to pay a bit more attention to the messages they send their kids all round. Simply demonizing a particular colour is only going to do damage to little girls who have a genuine preference for it by their own independent thought. Playing princess or Barbie or house isn't inferior... it's just another innocent part of growing up and having fun. It's not the colour of the product that needs changing, it's the attitudes towards something so silly and ultimately unimportant as colour.

Eleanor
Thu, 17-Dec-2009 11:09 GMT
3.

I loved this article too.... It's this process that helps lead to girls not choosing stuff like technology, science, engineering or business careers. Parents need to stop pushing stereotypes on to kids, but it's not just about them - there are all sorts of influences, especially marketing departments, on little girls making them appearance obsessed and passive. If a campaign like this does something to push things back in the other direction, I think it's great. Pink is a fine choice to make but the point is that it's not really a choice - it's often the only option for girls.

Rebecca
Thu, 17-Dec-2009 11:27 GMT
4.

Fantastic article, Hannah... I agree with the above comments. I'm always happy to see another website challenging the "packaged" gender roles that corporations push in order to up their bottom line in product sales. No one really stops to consider the concrete damage that this type of hard-core marketing tactic has on the psyche of children - it's just as damaging as saying "girls aren't good at math" in the end...

Besides the headline "Does the Colour Pink Actually Stink?" killed me... such a pressing question, hard news style. Bravo!

Kate
Sat, 19-Dec-2009 00:58 GMT
5.

Several years ago I built a dollhouse for my niece, Kadie. I painted it green with black shutters. She told me that she was disappointed that it wasn't pink.
I was disappointed in her for feeling that way and told her she could paint it pink herself. I feel that it is her father who pressures her into believing that she has to be in the role of a girly-girl in order for her not to grow up to be gay. He is super homophobic.

Chris Winckelmann
Sat, 16-Jan-2010 20:33 GMT

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