That old pink stereotype just won’t fade to black
A funny thing – actually, make that a frilly thing – happened on the way to the feminist revolution.
Just as women started to get a better deal at home, at school and in the boardroom, our girl children have been hijacked by a foe more flouncy than any which has come before.
It is the colour pink and it is being worn – probably in frothing tutu form – by a micro-Cinderella near you.
Wander into the girly girl aisles of kids clothing shops and you’ll be struck dumb by a sequined assault of pretty pink, princess pink, screaming pink or methadone pink (i.e. purple).
Toy shops are even worse. In the blue section, boys are offered guns, building equipment, transport units and educational toys.
Girls, on the other hand, must make do with flotsam and Bratzsom such as nano kitchen sets, toddler stilettos, princessified fairy paraphernalia, and – for out-and-out Tomboys – lurid fuchsia takes on classics such as Scrabble and Monopoly.
As another International Women’s Day marches past in its boiler suit and sensible shoes, it’s tempting to wonder why the puce there is so much more pink than there used to be.
Then again, why hurt our pretty little heads thinking about such silly willy questions? Instead, let’s put on our bedazzled pink tiaras and giggle tra la la la la while we have a fanfairytastic day! That will put an end to all this yucky militant feminism! Yay!
While the latter isn’t an actual script from the highly successful – and relentlessly pink – Australian children’s show The Fairies, it isn’t far off.
Set in an Enid Blyton-inspired parallel sparkleverse, this lucrative franchise revolves around the adventures of a pink fairy called Rhapsody and purple fairy called Harmony. Tittering, handholding and toe-pointing is their response to just about everything. The worst things that happen are bikini sunburn and bad hair days.
In the recently screened Fairy Dancing Girl episode, a bevy of identically-branded ankle biters proudly explain that their ancestors come from 10 different countries. This is then used to “prove” that every last girl in the entire world loves fairy dancing.
What’s interesting here is the way race and cultural heritage are offered in all their heterogeneous glory whereas gender is flattened out to a single activity (fairy dancing) in a single shade (pink).
Apparently it’s tops to have a mother from Finland or a father from Korea, but not to be a non-perky girl who likes skateboarding or who wears bright orange pants with roaring lions on the knees. The whole thing gives me the pink equivalent of a splitting ice-cream headache.
As does the ridiculous “it’s genetic” line trotted out by pink apologists who seem to think female infants are born with some sort of Cinderella gland and the princess phase is just as legitimate as Piaget’s sensorimotor stage.
The truth is that pink for girls and blue for boys is actually a reversal of how babies used to be dressed.
While white was once the standard baby wear shade, female humans were often decked out in blue because the Virgin Mary was frequently depicted wearing a mantle in this shade.
Boys, on the other hand, tended to be dressed in pink – a toned-down version of the red associated with strength and masculinity. The colours switched after World War I when blue became representative of military uniforms and men’s work wear.
Princess-mania is also a social construct. In her new book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, American writer Peggy Orenstein reveals that Disney Princesses as a concept did not exist until 2000.
That’s when a Disney executive named Andy Mooney attended one of the corporation’s ice-skating shows and was appalled to see audience members dressed in homemade princess costumes.
His move to market princess characters separately from filmic releases was regarded as heretic and is the reason characters such as Snow White and Cinderella never interact or even make eye contact when they appear on the same consumer item.
But despite this sightline weirdness, Mooney’s gamble paid off. By 2009, Orenstein reports that sales of Disney Princess’s 26,000 lines had reached a royal $4 billion and become the largest franchise on the planet for girls aged two to six.
Feminist critics claim the pink and pretty princess thing is not far from Chinese foot binding in the oppression stakes. Orenstein, for example, links the new girlie-girl culture to premature sexualisation, rising rates of narcissism, and depression.
But her loaded suggestion that “today’s little princess” could become “tomorrow’s sexting teen” seems alarmist. (After all, teens are likely to sex and text regardless of what toys they play with as youngsters. That’s just what teens do.)
But while I’m not convinced that pinkification and princessification is the same as sexualisation and pornification, I do think the stereotyped rhetoric accompanying the pink-quake is A Real Worry.
My four-year-old daughter is bombarded with imperatives about pink being a girl colour and certain play activities – such as mothering plastic infant proxies and looking pretty – being girl games.
Then, on those occasions when she acquiesces, it’s held up as proof of biological determinism and used as the basis for bizarre extrapolations.
“She’s going to be a ballerina!” comes the cry when Alice walks around on tippy toes (which, in her case, actually involves a serious musculoskeletal dysfunction requiring ongoing medical intervention).
Yet when she builds things, reads things or stabs things no-one predicts she’s going to be a construction worker, academic or Olympic fencer. Unlike the definitive pirouetting, these are regarded temporary quirks; unreliable indicators about her future career prospects.
The whole thing poses an extraordinarily difficult dilemma to the modern, feminist mother. I don’t want to subject Alice to an overload of my own pink-stinks ideological agenda, but do wish to offer her a genuine sense of agency.
After all, what sort of hypocrite would I be if tell her she can make her own decisions then thwart her if she doesn’t choose stuff I like?
But – as with the food on her plate – I want a spectrum of colours in her wardrobe and in her toy box. And I want her to have access to activities which encourage her to explore the world and not just her appearance, femininity and nascent Stepfordism.
In the meantime, I take enormous heart from the fact that, despite an obsession with giddy tutus and super fairy princess wands, Alice’s favourite game is a scatological invention that’s far more Falstaff than Tinkerbell.
She calls it “fart march” and – while it’s tempting to explain its bylaws in all their gloriously flatulent details – I’m going to leave it up to your fanfartytastic imaginations.
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