My eldest daughter, now aged 7, was born in Brighton. There couldn’t be a better place to bring up children in a gender-neutral way. Organic capital of Britain, champion of alternative lifestyles, Brighton is as laid-back and open-minded as it gets when it comes to raising children.
When I fell pregnant, I couldn’t wait to kit out my baby in shades of oatmeal organic cotton and buy lots of neutral-coloured wooden toys to help my (likely to be a genius) daughter develop her imaginative play skills without being over-stimulated by garish plastic toys. Or television. Of course there would be absolutely no television. I’m sure you can guess how that worked out.
I’ll gloss over the first hellish ten days (what – you can’t put them down ever?) of weeping, mastering breastfeeding and eating every meal with one hand, and skip to the part where we began to receive visitors and occasionally venture out into the world, with my new baby proudly dressed in shades of beige.
“Isn’t he lovely!” exclaimed every passing grandma who took a peek into the buggy. “How old is he?”. “She is ten days old”, I would reply cheerily. One sweet little lady even told me she should at least have a pink blanket. At home, gifts poured in, in every shade of pink and it wasn’t long before I caved in too. It made the gift-givers happy, it made the little old ladies of the neighborhood happy and, rather surprisingly, it made me happy.
What on earth was going on? Me, a staunch feminist, was feeling the urge to make my tiny days-old daughter look ‘pretty’, to feminise her and make her more attractive in some way. If I’d been getting more than 3 hours sleep a night at that point, I might have taken the time to analyse it properly, to make a stand against the tide of pink sweeping through our house, but of course, as all mums will know, those first few months pass in a blur, and you’re just grateful to find any clean clothes in the cupboard, whatever colour they might be.
And so we wore pink. And shortly after, as my daughter writhed miserably in her cot, completely ignoring the tasteful beige teddy bear mobile circling daintily above her head, we invested in noisy, brightly-coloured deeply captivating plastic toys. And Baby Einstein videos. The battle was over before it had even begun.
Fast-forward four years. My eldest daughter, Grace, is now 4 and we have a new addition to the family, Lily, aged 1, who has suddenly become interesting to Grace because she can understand simple words and respond to commands like a small dog. One day, I hear conversation in one of the bedrooms. I peek in to see Lily wearing a pink hat and scarf, a pink t-shirt over her babygro, surrounded by pink fluffy animals. Grace is talking at her in a soothing voice. “We love pink, Lily, because we’re girls. Girls love pink. Pink is for girls.” Mission pink accomplished. Brainwashing complete.
Where does it come from, this crazy ‘pinkification’ of the world of tiny girls? The truth is that it’s everywhere, insidious and so completely engrained in the psyche of girls that it’s almost impossible to avoid. A quick whizz round Toys-R-Us reveals carefully segregated aisles of boys’ and girls’ toys. The ‘girly’ aisles are a sea of candy pink – dolls, babies, toy kitchens, hair sets, cleaning equipment. Passive, stay-at-home gender-stereotypical products encouraging young girls to aspire to a life of shopping, fashion and domestic chores. The build-your-own-rockets, the science kits, the bug experiments – basically the fun, adventurous stuff – is firmly shelved in the ‘boy areas’.
Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with a certain kind of pink. Candy pink, Barbie pink, Jordan pink. The kind of pink that those “I’m a Princess” t-shirts always come in. The pink that says there is only one way to be a girl – the princessy kind who waits for a man to come along and rescue her, whilst in the meantime she learns how to dress pretty, cook and keep the house nice. Don’t get me wrong – we have a whole box full of princess dresses and nasty pink shoes (I don’t think you can ignore it completely) but we also have cowgirl outfits, a mean-looking cat costume and loads of pirate gear. We also keep the TV on add-free channels or Netflix to keep those crazy glittery girly adverts to a minimum. Don’t get me started on Lelli Kelly shoes!
Happily there are some great resources out there for kick-ass girls and mums who want to fight the good fight against princess pink. One of my favourite websites is Pink Stinks, home to a campaign founded in 2008 by two disgruntled mums and sisters, Abi & Emma Moore. The site is brilliant. It’s slogan (there’s more than one way to be a girl) is full of links to the best and worst products available for both boys and girls. Pink Watch names and shames ridiculously inappropriate pink toys (make-up for toddlers anyone?) and the Pink Approved section is full of great ideas for unisex clothing and books which are aimed at ‘kids’ rather than targeted specifically at boys or girls.
We also love A Mighty Girl, a site which bills itself as the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls. My girls love to browse the clothing section with its Wonder Woman caped socks and ‘self-rescuing princess’ t-shirts which can all be bought in the UK through Cafepress.
So what’s the status of pink in our house? The attraction seems to be waning. Grace’s new favourite colour is blue because it matches her eyes and she has recently declared herself to be a tom-girl because she thinks those kind of girls have the best adventures. And Lily, though firmly still in the pink camp, can most often be found in the ‘boy toy’ aisle and pocket money lately has been going on remote-controlled cars and transformers “because they can be a person and a machine, mummy, but dolls are just one thing.” Smart girl.
How do you feel about pink? Does it stink in your house?