Pink Stinks

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A confession: I actually quite like pink, if it's a nice pink (hello, blog). I also carried on playing with Barbies for longer than anyone who hopes to have a normal social life reasonably should, only giving up when the potential embarrassment of being found out by my friends was finally greater than the joy I found in making up stories and creating outfits and designing floorplans all over my bedroom carpet with precarious rows of books as walls. 

But I also read those books, and rode my bike, and wore green dungarees and red wellies and nobody accused me of not being feminine. I played with Barbie; I didn't aspire to be her. 

I don't have a daughter, or any immediate prospect of one, but even I can see that there is something badly wrong with the way in which little girls are targeted and defined by today's media. There's pink, and then there's Pink.

In the sheltered, calm waters of the blogosphere (or at least the corner of it that I frequent), it's tempting to believe that the tide is turning. I see intelligent, stylish parents raising their daughters with respect, imagination and more than one colour of clothing, and I feel some measure of hope for my own hypothetical offspring.

But apparently, the rest of the world is lagging behind a bit. More than a bit, in fact. Just look at this. Ugh, and this. Sigh.

All is not lost, though. I have been following the Pink Stinks campaign on facebook for a while, and I was delighted to see their new website has just launched this week. Their campaigns not only highlight the pinkification (what? It's totally a word) of little girls, but also challenge the underlying stereotypes and blatant sexism that sneaks in behind it. They first caught my attention when they forced Sainsburys to back down over gender stereotyping (they labelled a fancy dress doctor costume "Boy", and a nurse's uniform "Girl". I mean, come on). By the looks of the shiny new Pink Stinks website, they are headed for even bigger things. I defy you to watch the promo video on the front page and stop your jaw from dropping. It's not possible. 

Far be it from me to lecture parents on how to raise their children. I'm finding it exhausting enough just trying to keep a dog alive. But not even dogs are safe from this ruthless gender stereotyping. Just look at poor Smidgen:

The Pink is spreading, ladies. WE HAVE TO STOP IT.

1. Doutzen Kroes shot by Karl Lagerfeld (yes, really) for Harper's Bazaar, April 2008. 2. Me, shot by a responsible adult, presumably. 3. Smidgen, shot by me. She loves it really...

14 boats moored

  1. I am so with you on this! Currently I'm trying to work out what to buy my 5 and 2 year old girl cousins for Christmas - it's so difficult to find non gender specific presents for kids nowadays and I'm sure it wasn't like that when we were young!

    Oh, and is that a doggy slanket!?

  2. Me too. I have sons and the pinkification doesn't help them - they get polarised towards grotty, sludgy macho boys' stuff that doesn't help either.

    We visited our local fire station on its open day and I was stunned to see pink fire helmets for girls.

  3. There's an article on the BBC this morning entitled 'Girls growing up in "moral abyss"'. While the headline may be ever so slightly doom-mongering, the content is entirely accurate:

    "If parents can't see anything wrong in dressing up their children in 'Future Wag' T-shirts and letting them wear make-up, high heels and 'mini-me' sexy clothing, then something is intensely wrong in our society."

    It's things like this that helped me decide to be a teacher - girls can, and should, be educated better than this.

    I guess it's difficult when this 'pinkification' continues into adulthood, and the women around these girls have bought into it.

    Excellent post, Kirsty!

  4. Amy - why yes, it is a doggy Slanket. Can't have Smidgen feeling left out now, can we? ;)

    Ellen - those pink fire helmets make my head explode.

    Danielle - oh yes, those Future WAG T-shirts are majorly depressing. I also saw a t-shirt for older girls/women that said "Future Trophy Wife" and I wanted to punch my computer screen.

  5. I don't know if you read Sociological Images ( but they often write about the ways in which things like fancy dress costumes are gendered. Just thought you might find it interesting :) I used to read the Pink Stinks website a few years ago & I can't think for the life of me why I don't now. Thanks for jogging my memory!

    Dog + pink slanket = awesome. So much love for that picture.

  6. Well, I just got utterly lost in the Pink Stinks website -- but I'm not complaining. The messaging of these toys is, quite frankly, insidious. And while I'd always assumed we'd had it worse when we were kids -- "gender stereotyping" not being a thing that parents were particularly mindful of in those days -- in the time passed since I took leave of childhood, the toy manufacturers seem to have gone on a vicious pink, trampy tear. They have kicked it up several notches even from the pink plastic glittery crap that was marketed to ME in the 80s. Holy cow.

    Thanks for sharing this, and more importantly: thanks for that picture of Smidgen in a SLANKET! I demand weekly Smidgen photographs now. A Smidgen update. See what you've turned me into?

  7. Kirsty thank you so much for bringing up this discussion, it is SO needed. The Pink Stinks campaign is a great initiative, that I was unaware of. Actually I kind of wanted to talk about this during the APW How to be a woman discussion but didn't quite know how to bring it up (except when she talks about role models and Katie Price). Anyway, changing the world we live in is all about making our voices heard, and you are doing this. Here is hoping that the pinkification of little girls stops, from some one who also quite loves pink, but also books and playing in the mud. By the way that picture of you in the red wellies is amazing.

  8. I also just got lost in the PinkStinks website. I am really glad you posted this. I was brought up dressed in pink and yet still ended up wanting to play with Lego and build treehouses. I consider myself lucky. I really fret for the future daughters of my friends and I.

  9. Thank you for sharing this - totally agree!

  10. Hmm, pink vs Pink... never really thought about this one. I didn't actually have any pink clothes as a kid and I was a little tomboy (the scars on my knees testify to how many trees I fell out of!). Only as an adult did I decide I'm quite fond of pink (not Jordan Pink!).

    On the nurses/doctors thing, I once wore a doctors costume to a fancy dress party and it really irritated that every guy there assumed I was a nurse... even though it bloody said 'doctor' on my labcoat!!

  11. Ditto Zoe, I never had dolls when I was little and had to be forced screaming into a dress. But I don't remember girly-ness ever being directly connected with pink when we were young because I don't remember being repelled by it in the same way that I was Tiny Tears, frilly clothes, pony clubs and all the other stuff I hated. It's such a modern phenomenon.

    Pink is Sam's favourite colour, and he often reminds me that it was, in fact, traditionally pink for boys in the olden days!


  12. I'm not a fan of pink in the slightest. Never have been. I had an ET bedspread when I was young and my favourite clothes were my dark green cord dungarees! :)

    With our baby, I was quite glad we didn't find out the sex as I could imagine if it was a girl, family members stocking up on pink frilly clothes. As we don't know, I've painted our baby's room a pale powder blue. My very traditional sister thinks this is very very wrong, and I should have painted it yellow. When I've been buying baby clothes I've also avoided the unisex cream/yellow section and headed straight for the boys, where you get all sorts of great colours and patterns and stripes - all of which I would have no qualms about dressing a girl in, and equally a boy in. My sister again, is slightly horrified by this (she brought her daughters up completely dressed in pink).

    If we have a girl and she wants to wear pink and have a pink bedroom when she's older, then so be it, but for now I don't want to get stuck in some gender stereotype!

  13. ps: Boyfriend says he's saving the beard card for whenever he wants to grow a beard! He says it could be before the birth, it could be after the birth, but the beard will come!

  14. [for context to Kirsty's regular readers: I'm her cousin, and my daughters were 2/3 of the Flower Girls Squad of Doom]

    It's possible to avoid all of that pink trash, but it does take work and time and, to be frank, either ruthlessness about not letting girls have certain toys or spending more to get them less crap toys. It's also a balancing act... we've been pretty successful in keeping Barbies out of the house, but there are more American Girls dolls than any two children really need (at least they read the back stories as well.)

    But the toys and clothes are nothing compared to attitudes... because our girls do actually interact with the outside world a bit. And when you have 3 year olds trying to enforce "dresses only" codes in nursery school, or 8 year olds making judgments about weight, and 9 year olds talking about school elections being uncontestable because "the most popular girl is running," it's just depressing. As are discussions about "when I grow up I want to be [fill in the blank with a pink collar ghetto profession].

    I've taken to reacting to those along the lines of "if you do X, then you need be ready for a life like Y" - because while I don't want the girls to track themselves into "traditionally female" jobs because of tradition, nor do I want to devalue work that might be important (teaching) just because it doesn't pay. I just want them to be clear about the effects of what they choose to do, and to not be shy about standing up for their due in whatever work they do... because that's just as important as making sure that you're not encouraging them to be tarts who depend on males of the species.

    I could rant on at greater length, but that's enough.