The pink machine, and why I won’t tell you my baby’s sex
Oh yes, I have a problem with pink.
We had our 20-week scan last week, and for the first time in three pregnancies, I wanted to know what gender this little toad’s turned out. Not so I can bake a cake and colour the sponge pink or blue, or start stockpiling ruffled pink bloomers or macho blue truck-print onesies. No, I just reckon it’s been enough of a bloody surprise, this later-years’ pregnancy, and right now I’m over the surprises.
So, after the scan, we had the sex written down and sealed in an envelope. We opened it on Easter Sunday, just our immediate family. (Exactly half of us had guessed correctly, if you want to know.) And it will be a limited reveal. For a reason.
I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but, if we are expecting a daughter, the last thing I want is visitors turning up with pink presents. Pink singlets, dresses, blankets, stretch headbands. Etc.*
It’s not the femininity that grates. It’s the colour.
Because pink has become a symbol. Colour as hyper-simplified semiotics.
Pink = “girl”.
The commercialization and commodification of our kids has produced a corporate “pink machine”, and to a lesser extent, a blue one, but it’s pink that’s the most rigid. (And purple, that “other pink”. The ever-so-slightly tougher, yet still female-prescriptive, colour.) A corporate code to sell stuff. Segmenting the market by hue. Those racks of pinkness in clothing stores: pink, fluffy, feminized. I cannot remember more defined gendered children’s clothing in my 4-and-a-bit decades on this planet.
Girls are taught, from birth, that they have one colour, and their colour is pink.
Which would not be such a big deal if this was restricted to a rather dull fashion palette. But the pink girl-branding continues across all of a girl child’s consumer options. Clothes. Stationary. Kids’ yoghurt. Furniture. Toys.
Walk the aisles of your local toy barn. Note the aisles that glow pink. It’s a little scary.
I have two sons. I’ve not had to face the pink machine, yet. As a mother of boys, I can avoid, with a certain smugness I confess, those toy shop aisles that glow in their Barbie rosiness. The “girls” aisles. Even non-gender-specific (or traditionally “boys”) toys are re-branded “for girls”. Pink-tinged blocks. Pink guns. Pink fucking Lego Friends.**
Girls are taught that pink (and sometimes purple) is their colour. And then they’re presented with a lesser range of toys branded “girl”.
Girls toys are coloured pink, and appear to be reverting to the 1950s. Boys toys aren’t just blue, they are every other colour.
Because pink designates girl, and then dutiful girls choose from the pink toys. Pink sections in toy stores encompass the traditionally “female” toys: the nurturing ones. Baby strollers and toy kitchens. Not superheroes or cars or tools or action figures.
Few traditionally “male” toys are coloured, or packaged, pink. Why is this an issue? Because a girl less likely to play with a construction set is less likely to want to be an engineer when she grows up. Or it may be harder to imagine being a scientist when you’re flouncing around in your pink gown and tiara, pushing a pink toy stroller. A girl caught up in the princess fantasy is less likely to play the hero in her own daydream, and rather more likely to seek her handsome prince saviour.
And please, lower those itchy trigger finger fingers from the reply button, mothers of girls. I understand that some girls actually choose to wear pink. That they want the frilly feminine. I get that. I, too, have friends whose gender-neutral raised daughters reached for the pink, frilly, tutu girly-ness as soon as they could assert their taste. Pre-kids, I may have claimed to be a “nurture above nature” feminist who believed that every bit of gender-stereotyped behaviour could be ascribed to societal influence. Then, of course, I had sons, the universe’s special gift for feminists, boys who turned into blokes despite my best efforts to keep life gender-neutral. Who turned sticks into guns when our house was gun-free.
I now think there’s a bit of nature AND nurture defining kids. But at the moment, girls are shoved by the mainstream onto a one-way gender conveyer belt.
My daughter, when she has an opinion (if she’s a she), sure, she can dress in pink or play with as much frilly pinkness as she wants. But until then, I plan to show her some options. I don’t remember pink owning kindergarten fashions during the 1970s. (And the photographs, if I can find them, shall prove me right…) But I do remember being castigated for not spending enough time playing in doll’s corner (uh, puh-lease! What fun was there in a dusty space containing a toy cot, an ironing board, and a rack of smelly clothes?), choosing to hog the tractor instead. But that was 1974, for Uma’s sake! FORTY YEARS AGO. Are we sending out daughters back to a colour-coded dolls’ corner?
Because, as Rebecca Hain writes in her blog, the pink princess marketing is forceful, and is outstripping the choice that little girls used to have to choose pink or not.
And there it is: It’s not the colour, it’s the lack of choice.
My sons’ toys come in all shades. Girls toys rarely do. By reducing a girl’s perceived choice, gender roles are prescribed before the child even has a chance to choose how to define herself.
If you walk into my house with that toxic Disney Princess crap, it will be walking back out with you. Please don’t think me ungrateful.* I’d be delighted for you to visit the baby. She’ll have enough stuff (we all do!); you don’t need to bring anything at all. Please respect a feeble tilt at the commodified mainstream, and help me to keep her mind uncommercialised as long as I can. Babies and children are not just mini-consumers, and feminity is more than a colour.
*In fact, please don’t bring us any thing! Just turn up and have a cup of tea, and maybe hold the baby while I change out of my PJs at 4 in the afternoon. The best gift anyone gave me was a friend turning up when I was frazzled with my brand new firstborn, who looked at me and said, “please let me hold him while you go have a shower”.
**Ah, Lego Friends. Let’s go there in a later post.
Since I’ve been working on this post, which I started a few weeks ago, I’ve stumbled across a number of articles across this theme. Here’s a tiny selection.
Analysis of the pink machine
The pro-pink posse