Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Pink* Will Eat Your Brain.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the colour pink.
As hues go, it is no more offensive than turquoise, oxblood, or chartreuse.
The politics of pink, however, are another matter.

These days if you have a young*** girl in your family, you will find that your house quickly becomes covered in pink.
This is not because the colour pink is somehow magnetically attracted to the female gender****, nor indeed are girls irresistibly drawn to the colour pink.
It is, quite simply, because just about every ruddy thing that is marketed to girls is, quite emphatically, pink.
 Now I'm sure there are girls out there who really do love pink, who would love pink even if they were told that pink was really not a girls' colour, who would fight for pink even though everything marketed at girls was green*****.
 However most girls don't really have the opportunity to decide whether they like pink or not: they are inundated with pink from the moment they are born.
 Very quickly, they learn to associate pink with for me and, conversely not pink, that's any colour that isn't pink, or perhaps a pinkish shade of purple, with not for me.
Most early learning toys come in two versions: one in bright colours, normally all the primary colours, but occasionally blue with decoration, buttons etc in various contrasting colours, and one in pink.
The message is clear: the pink one is for girls, all the other colours are for boys.
 Somehow, despite encompassing just over half of all children, "girl" is considered a special interest group: we have toys for children, and then we have toys for girls.

As girls grow older pink continues to overwhelm them, but now it also begins to direct their choices: having been trained to recognise pink as for me, girls are now directed towards certain types of toys, and away from others, by their relative pinknesses.
 Baby dolls, fashion dolls, dolls houses and princess or nurturer role-play and dressing up?
Pretty craft and design packs******.
Horse-riding, ballet dancing or ice-skating?
Absolutely anything domestic or containing the word princess?
My gods it's pink.
Yes, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball, however the garage, fire-station, race track and outer space seem to be off limits.
Sorry about that.
 Anything that isn't pink, such as construction kits, race cars, train sets, superheroes, dinosaurs, serious art supplies, spaceships, board games that aren't about fashion or dating, bats, balls, yo-yos, stunt kites, chemistry sets and magic tricks, is, somehow, not for girls.
 Now of course there are girls who will fight this stereotyping, and there are certainly parents******* who will make a point of buying the non-pink items, and who will steer their offspring towards the dinosaurs, or spaceships, or maybe dinosaurs in spaceships, but the social conditioning of pink is hard to overcome.
With the knowledge that pink is for girls, and the correlating information that non-pink is not for girls, comes the understanding that to step outside of these boundaries, to choose the wrong item, is to put yourself beyond the pale: to defy the laws of the tribe is to exile yourself from the tribe.
The result is that, eventually, even if pink were entirely removed from the world of toys, girls already trained by past exposure to all that pink, would still gravitate toward the stereotypically girly toys, because those are all they expect to play with.
 Likewise boys will avoid anything that falls within that girly stereotype, on the grounds that it is not for them.

As girls grow older pink becomes less predominant, not because their options are opening up -if anything they become even more constrained- but because, their training complete, they can now recognise toys and other items that are for them without the assistance of the colour pink.
 So pink becomes less dominant, a fashion doll's packaging, for example, will be blue and pink or, often, a lingeriesque black and pink, instead of the solid pink of their earlier toys.
 Eventually there is no need for pink at all: the girls', or rather the young women's interests having been firmly directed down the road of shoes, handbags, and hair products.

This may seem ridiculous, and it is true that few young women will end up completely conforming to stereotype, however I find it interesting that Woman's Hour , (on a programme about pink) interviewed a young woman who was colour blind.
 Her interests, even her taste in clothes, were very different to those of her friends, something she attributed to the fact that she could not see the colour pink, and therefore had grown up without the dubious benefit of a signpost to tell her which route she was supposed to choose through life.********

The world of pink, and the world of non-pink are very different places.

 All of which is pretty awful, all by itself

However, long before a girl has learned to like pink, before she has any say in the toys and clothes she receives, whatsoever, pink may already be making its mark upon her brain.

As I mentioned earlier, most early learning toys these days come in two versions: normal (for boys), and pink (for girls).
 The boys' versions are brightly coloured, with plenty of contrast between the various shapes, buttons, numbers and so on.
The girls' versions are, by and large, pink.
 This means that while a boy playing with the toy intended for him will start to develop an understanding of those shapes, numbers, and colours without really trying, a girl playing with that same toy in the "girls' " version will not.
 Indeed, as the mass of pink or lilac buttons blurs together, a girl who tries to take an interest in shapes and numbers (colours being notably absent from her toy) will find it quite difficult.
 The lesson to girls, right from infancy, is: maths is hard.

Deterred from an interest in basic maths by its difficulty, and by the relative ease of other, less complex, activities, girls are moved away from mathematics, science and engineering, before they even know what those words mean.

Pink will eat your brain.

 Of course girls can fight against the tide of pink, they can develop their own interests, and even those who truly, naturally incline towards pink, are not condemned to a life of brainless fashion-following.
Girls who like pink are every bit as capable of becoming renowned historians, architects, or cognitive scientists, as any other girls.
Nature can defeat nurture.
 The pink doesn't make it any easier though.

*Not Pink the singer, pink the colour, Pink is actually pretty cool.
Yes, I just put an asterisk into the title.
I'm not proud of this**.

**Maybe a teeny bit.

***Where young means somewhere between a foetus and old-enough-to-draw-a-pension

****Technically, only words have gender.
People have sex.
There is nothing wrong with sex.
The word gender, however, is used to denote, not merely the sex with which a person is born, but also that to which the subscribe whether it is that assigned by birth or not.
So it's a nice, egalitarian word, even if it is horribly inaccurate.

*****I'm sure of this because I know more than one boy who likes pink.
Pink is not marketed to boys.
Quite the reverse in fact.

******Often low in creativity and high in spangles and words like princess.

******* Hi there!

******** This is clearly anecdata, but I do find it rather telling.

1 comment:

  1. As a child, I avoided pink. Bleurgh. I didn't like the colour. My parents painted my room pink once whilst I was at my grandma's house or something, and I came home DISTRAUGHT about it. They had not asked me what colour I wanted, and I definitely did not want pink - it was swiftly repainted blue!

    My first bike had to be a boys bike, because girls bikes didn't come in any colour but pink.

    My interests in general are not girly at all. People have remarked at me, "you're not really a girl, are you?" I am a girl, actually, and I strongly identify with the female gender, I'm just not that stereotypical beyond liking to dress in nice clothes and shoes, I do have a thing for handbags, and I paint my nails.

    I am a programmer. I excelled at maths and sciences in school. I would go to a friends house and tell her that we should play hide and seek, tell her to hide, and then sneak off to play video games with her brother because I just couldn't stomach playing with Barbies any longer.

    Maybe the fact that I avoided anything pink, and in fact was blessed with many trainsets, dinosaurs and colourful puzzles and activities as a child, attributed to my ability to go further in fields that no woman is normally expected to even venture into? Who knows.