Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Pink Really Does Stink!

The genderisation of children's products has been debated and questioned for some time now, especially on social media sites thanks to organisations such as Pink Stinks, The Baby Gender Diary and Let Toys Be Toys. It seems that the question has recently become more mainstream, with articles in the Guardian and discussions on BBC Radio 2 and 4 and I couldn't be happier that more and more people are talking and thinking about it.

When I was pregnant with Wiss I didn't want to find out if he was going to be a boy or a girl at the 20 week scan; it really made no difference to me one way or the other so I didn't see the point. I'm pregnant again and it has been the one question asked by everyone I've spoken to, but this time the implication seems to be that I should find out so that if it's a girl I can buy the 'right' things rather than using all the baby stuff we've saved as hand-me-downs. We never put Wiss in exclusively blue or boyish clothes so that's not really an issue but the assumption that girl and boy babies need different things right from the outset really bothers me.

When did the 'pinkification' of everything start? It didn't use to be this way, in fact it seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. In the late 80's it became possible to detect the gender of the baby in utero, a result of increasing technology in scans to detect anomalies. Since the 90's it has become more and more popular to find out and cynical marketing tactics have been used to sell double the amount of baby products to excited parents. Artist JeongMee Yoon has been documenting the explosion of all things Pink and Blue since 2005 and her images are amazing, and terrifying!

If we trace back the associated meanings of pink and blue things were never so clear cut: blue was the colour used for the Virgin Mary in most symbolic paintings, and pink was often used for male sovereignty as it was considered a regal and strong colour. At other times blue was used for blue eyed babies, regardless of their gender, and pink for brown-eyed babies. But in today's society pink most definitely equals girls, and girls alone! Which is a real shame because pink is such an excellent colour. For everyone...

You may think that it's just a colour, and what harm can it do? And on a basic level you would be right. Pink in itself, as a colour, is just as valid as any other hue but the problem begins when it is one of only two colours on offer. Many products for children today solely come in either pink or blue and ignore the other colours of the rainbow. In fact, it was for this reason that I started making things for babies myself and that is how This is Wiss was created. I do make and sell items in pink but I ensure that they are exactly the same products as the other colours on offer. For example, my felt crowns come in yellow, grey or pink but they are all the same design and non-gender specific.

Pink today signifies more than just one colour, it has been branded female and the idea so reinforced even very young children know that it signifies 'girls'. Pink is now synonymous with 'femaleness' whether we like it or not. So many products have been unnecessarily 'reinvented' with pink versions - pink Pritt stick, pink world globes, pink Scrabble and Monopoly boards, pink Kinder eggs. I could go on and on. These things don't need to come in 'girl' version, the originals are for either gender.

But when products are being made pink and dumbed down I think it is cause for real concern. In many cases the pink version is inferior to the standard or blue option, like in the case of these microscopes and telescopes, the laptops below or the controversial Lego Friends range. What message are we sending our children? Do we really want girls to think that looks are all that is important and for boys to think the only way to be manly is to be tough and clever? Do we really want to narrow the ambition and imaginations of our girls and our boys?

I went to an all-girls secondary school, and although sexual discrimination was regularly talked about, I can honestly say it never really affected my world. I was encouraged to do whatever I enjoyed and I never thought about things in terms of gender. The career I chose is a fairly male-dominated one but I had never considered that one way or the other, it was just a job I was interested in and liked doing. It saddens me to think that children today are being subconsciously told that they should behave a certain way, like particular things and even have different dreams and ambitions just because they happen to be a boy or a girl.

My son is pretty calm, he is also quite cautious and very affectionate, he loves cars and trains, reading, dinosaurs, talking, his play kitchen and he also plays rugby. He loves to cook and to play rough, push his teddy in the buggy and hold hands with his friends. He is just an ordinary child. He is neither 'boyish' nor 'in touch with his feminine side'. He is just 4 years old - it will be a long time before he's figured out who he is and I don't want him to feel pressured by any influence to compromise on that. The story of Grayson Bruce, and the tragic case of Michael Morones have recently highlighted just how strong the stereotypes for girls and boys have become.

It is heart breaking but things are being done to challenge these out-dated views and I believe we can all help to change these perceptions for the next generations. Sign up and show your support to campaigns such as Pink Stinks, Reach for the Stars, Let Toys Be Toys, The Baby Gender Diary, Everyday Sexism to name but a few. Talk to your children about these issues, read them books with interesting characters of both sexes, make sure that pink or blue is not the only choice they are given and above all, provide them with positive male and female role models in real-life too.

I'll leave you with this excellent flow chart that can really help those who are still struggling with the idea!


  1. Wonderful piece which I'm going to post for our parents to read. I work in a playgroup and feel sad and tired at the constant pinkness of every single thing and the princesses, who have no purpose except to be princesses. Thank you

  2. This is exactly the type of post I have been mulling over writing for ages! Like you I never wanted to know the sex of either of my children and bought non gender specific clothes etc. I let them chose what toys would interest them and what colours they were drawn to. Many girls will be drawn to pink and dolls much as many boys will be drawn to blue and diggers (nice bit of genderisation there) BUT they should be given the choice and more importantly pink should never be seen as weaker or inferior. More and more this choice is being removed and children/parents are made to feel they have done something wrong if a girl/daughter likes diggers or a boy/son likes pink. . In France where we live the pink for girls, blue for boys issue is much less obvious in clothes but is becoming increasingly obvious in toy shops, books etc and that really saddens/angers me.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond (I know the verification is a pain, and I am still working out what works best to avoid spam)

      It's really interesting to hear that the pink and blue divide has not been as common in France...yet! I couldn't agree with you more that children should be given a choice. What they choose is not important, and if the girls want to be princesses and boys play with cars that is fine as long as it is an uninhibited choice.

      Thanks for reading!

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