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Hey Color Pink--It's Not Your Fault!

by Michele Yulo

On my FB page, I posted a survey (via PinkStinks) by the UK's The Guardian that asked the question: "Is it sexist to make pink Lego bricks for girls?"

As most of you know, Princess Free Zone, Inc., is all about options. Not all girls out there like pink and frilly things. Some actually prefer browns and greens and reds. I have nothing against the color pink as a color and never have. It is beautiful, isn't it? Unfortunately, it has a reputation as a pawn in the gender stereotyping arena, and there is a reason for that: I doubt anyone could look at the color pink and not think one thing. You're thinking it right now. Girl. Even more than blue is for boys, pink represents a very one-dimensional way of thinking about girls. Let's face it, girls can wear blue, but boys seldom wear pink or let alone even venture to think they can wear pink. 

Research shows that by the age of two, children have already absorbed these color cues. Girls will automatically choose pink, while boys will begin to reject it. This has nothing to do with biology, but everything to do with how pink is stigmatized by gender. My own daughter has never liked pink or princess. She has completely rejected it since she was old enough to pick out her own clothes. I've asked myself--why? I think it's because, since she's inclined to prefer "boy" things, she has treated pink as being synonomous with being girly and, therefore, will not wear it (which is what boys do because that's what they are taught). I always tried to explain to her that pink is just another color, but, in the end, it's simply too associated with one way to be.

Is this what it's come to? The idea that a color represents one sex while being off-limits to another? No other color is treated the same way. Just pink. This seems ridiculous. But the issue is constantly a source of discussion whenever the topic of gender is raised. Do you recall when J. Crew's former creative director, Jenna Lyons, was seen in an ad with her son donning pink toenails? Oh, the horror and the debate that ensued! Lyons was "turning" her son gay. No, wait. He would turn out to be transgender as a result of such abuse. All due to a COLOR! 

Have we become that stringent, closeminded, puritanical in our thinking that there are people who actually believe that a color could have so much power? In a weird way, however, it does. Look at girlhood and girl culture. Pink is assigned to girls before they are born. Then the onslaught begins. And it's not just from family or parents painting a child's room pink. Go to any toy store and look at the girls aisles from a distance--you'll be overwhelmed by a sea of pink. Almost every single item for girls, if not pink itself, is offered in pink. We all know that there is more to girls than this--but companies have taken hold of the color pink and made it their cash cow. As a society, we've turned it into something that limits how we view gender.

Truth be told, it has not always been this way. Author Jo Paoletti has just released her book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, which takes an in-depth look at the history of color in clothing for children as it pertains to gender. In an article in Smithsonian, Paoletti's work is highlighted to explain how different colors came to be associated with boy and girl: "The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out." In the early 20th Century, pink was actually considered to be for boys (as a lighter shade of the seemingly more masculine red) and blue for girls (the more calming color usually identified with the Virgin Mary). 

[And check this out--it turns out that pink isn't even a color in any actual sense--it's not in the rainbow. An article from NPR by Robert Krulwich takes a hard, scientific look at the color and concludes, "...there is no such thing as a band of wavelengths that mix red and violet, and therefore, pink is not a real wavelength of light. That's why pink is an invention. It's not a name we give to something out there. Pink isn't out there." If that's the case, what's all the fuss about?]

Now, look--I've never said pink is bad. It's not. It's quite lovely which is why I changed the background of my website to fuchsia, to make the point that I am not anti-pink. But because the color is perhaps the largest link in the gender stereotype chain (for both boys and girls), I simply want to offer another alternative to girls so that they know pink does not equal being a girl. So, in answer to the question, "Is it sexist to offer pink Lego bricks to girls?" the answer is an unequivocal NO. The problem is when we only offer girls pink. Or we withhold pink from boys. When we do that--we are indeed saying that the only way to appeal to girls is through a color; hence, the Lego question. Most parents will tell you that their daughters enjoy ALL colors. So why is it that girls continue to be robbed of those choices? Let's stop this nonsense, deburden the color pink, and allow all children the opportunity to love all colors and not alienate one. 


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Reader Comments (6)

I am nearly 20 weeks pregnant. I don't know what sex my baby is.

My baby, when old enough will get two boxes of lego bricks (one in a pink box aimed at girls, and one in a blue box aimed at boys) I will mix the bricks together and put them in a new container and discard the genderised boxes. I think it's pretty cool that lego bricks now come in more colours, but they shouldn't be segregated by sex. Then baby can decide what colours s/he want to use to play however s/he wants to play.

It's interesting, the stage I'm at, not knowing whether I'm going to be the parent of a daughter or a son and trying to figure out my own expectations of gender and challenge them.

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

I don't think if it is right to assign color for gender. Kids have the right to choose toys that they want to play whether these are color pink or blue. It is not the color which is the problem but the mind set of the people about them.

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterplaymobil

The pink they offer to girls constantly always reminded me of Pepto-Bismol, and I refused that color after the first time I ever had a spoonful of the stuff. I dug in against it even further when my mother kept insisting that I wear it. I looked at my little brothers' clothing which was cool and bold, and looked at mine which was flimsy and acidulated, and what do you think I preferred? I wasn't even a tomboy. I liked my mary janes, had a pair of lace tights I adored, a light blue dress with white bunnies on it, liked wearing the occasional frilly, lacy thing. But if someone had given me pink legos, I think I'd have to had to throw up on them. I mean, pink only legos? At least offer the same range of pastel colors, including pink. But not just pink. That IS an insult. And it reminds me of Pepto-Bismol. (urp!)

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercarolita

Among the stylish, colour choice has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with skin, hair and eye colour. From the photos, Gabbi looks like a classic "earth tone", and pink never looks good on us earth-tones.

"I think it's because, since she's inclined to prefer "boy" things, she has treated pink as being synonomous with being girly and, therefore, will not wear it"

I'd like to suggest a possible alternative explanation: maybe your daughter just has remarkably good taste for her age, and her rejection of pink is borne of an innate sense of colour ;)

Style is also about confidence and self-expression - which is why I think what you wear does matter - and why kids shouldn't be forced to wear things they react against.

Incidentally, I was about 10 when I was first allowed to choose a dress in the shops. It was chocolate brown. Never looked back :)

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWombat

It's a funny thing about pink. I've always called little girls who like to dress up as princesses and play with dolls: "pink girls". I never was a pink girl myself, never gravitated towards that color at any point in my 42 years, and not as any conscious thought, it just doesn't appeal to me.

September 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralysha

I'm making a non-sexist girl action figure for my cousin. I don't like how most of girl's dolls/figures are directed toward fashion and gender roles. She's a superhero. The kind of girl who'd never wear makeup.

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaxie

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