I’ve written previously about how much my two year old son enjoys mimicking me doing household chores. And I’ve ranted at length about my perturbment when, on trying to buy him a toy iron of his own, I discovered that the only options available to me were in various shades of bright pink, covered in flowers and – in certain cases – emblazoned with stickers stating ‘girls only’. As I’m sure many of you will agree, this is not the kind of message I want to imprint on the brain of my little man who will one day (I hope) grow up to realise that he has to do his own ironing and that it is not ‘woman’s work’.
It’s an issue close to my heart and one about which I’ll happily expound at length, which is why I was particularly interested to hear about a UK-based campaign entitled ‘Pink Stinks’. Those behind the crusade come from a different perspective to mine, though their sentiments are similar: they’re the mothers of young girls who are disgusted with the way many toys for little girls are gender-orientated and how nigh-on impossible it is to purchase clothes for their daughters in any colour other than pink. Hence PinkStinks is a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls’ lives.
Now I was never a ‘girly girl’ myself so I abhor the traditional idea of dressing a little girl in forty shades of pink and supplying her with a steady stream of dollies to play with. I tend to give those pastel-coloured and fluffy aisles in clothes and toy shops a wide berth.
And while I accept that some girls do love all that is pink and glittery, I’m also keenly aware of those children who will pretend to like it because their friends do. Such impressionable little minds are a marketer’s dream. And the message from those cleverly-marketed toys and clothes is fairly clear – choose pink if you’re soft and feminine, otherwise, you’re classed as a tomboy.
The website www.pinkstinks.co.uk aims to gather support, promote discussion and ultimately to mobilize that support to influence marketeers and the media about the importance of promoting positive gender roles to girls. It points to a number of pieces of research which suggest that self-esteem amongst girls is at its lowest ever, with body image obsession starting younger and younger. And the seeds of this are sown during the ‘pink stage’, as young girls are taught the boundaries within which they will grow up, as well as narrow and damaging messages about what it is to be a girl. Heavy stuff, I know, but food for thought just the same.
The belief is that by presenting girls (and boys) with images of women – all shapes, sizes, colours and kinds, doing all sorts of amazing things … it will in some way improve a girl’s self-esteem and self worth, whereas the current mono-culture only destroys it, by celebrating that which most of us can never hope to achieve (‘famous’, ‘thin’ ‘rich’ or ‘married to famous men’… you get the picture).
Those behind the campaign regularly plead with such toy retailers as Mothercare and the Early Learning Centre to cease the ‘pinkification’ and gender-stereotyping of children’s toys and urge anyone who reads the site to do the same. A worthy cause, methinks.
So when you’re filling the stocking of your little boy or girl this festive season, spare a thought for the pinkification process and try to be as gender-neutral as you can with your purchases. Hell, while you’re at it ladies, why not buy a new iron for the grown man in your life. That should lead to some interesting debate over the Christmas dinner table.