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