Monday, November 30, 2009

The Pink Wars

A while back I linked to a post, I think it was on Feministing, about how the pink is for girls and blue is for boys setup was arbitrary. To which I responded, so what if it's arbitrary?*

Then I read this complaint about pink toys in the UK:
There may be worse things to worry about, but I feel this colour apartheid is one of the things that sets children on two separate railway tracks. One leads to higher pay, and higher status and one doesn't.

Right...wearing pink leads to lower pay. I see. They've taken to boycotting a store that sells pink toys:
However, she points out that ELC sells pink toy washing machines, pink cash registers, and even pink globes.

Listen, if you want to argue that giving girls washing machines and stoves and other domestic things to play with somehow inhibits their career aspirations, then I'll listen to you. I can sorta see some sense in that, but I have to say that I think people vastly overestimate the long-term effects of this stuff.

"Why on earth do girls need to have a globe in pink?" said Mr Mayo. "Does it ultimately lead to the 15 per cent pay gap suffered by women further down the line?. That's far too simplistic, but I feel gender roles are becoming polarised far too early on."

He adds that before World War II pink was more usually associated with boys, while blue – traditionally the colour of the Virgin Mary – was linked with girls.

I'll even grant that a pink globe is fucking stupid. But doesn't the last sentence completely undermine their entire point? It's not like women were leading fantastic careers when they were clad in blue before WWII. Sure, they had massive institutional and cultural obstacles, but surely girls in blue could've easily overcome these simple notions as long as they weren't wearing pink. Pink is like fucking kryptonite to career aspirations.

This is akin to another one of my pet peeves, which is constantly changing the terms for things. For example, crippled became handicap became physically challenged and who knows what it is now. Each time the argument is that the previous word had a negative connotation, which is possibly true. However, it has a negative connotation not because of the word, but because being crippled, handicapped, or physically challenged can suck. Changing the name doesn't change that fact. Same goes for the midget, dwarf, little person distinction. Nevertheless, it's not that big a deal to change things if the words make people feel bad. So, when push comes to shove I understand, but it's ultimately futile.

Then again, the nigger, negro, black, then African-American transition I understand. Well, not necessarily the black to African-American transition, but mostly because the second term is so much more unwieldy. But consigning terms like nigger to the trash heap of history makes perfect sense. It contains so many negative connotations from its historical usage. But again, it's not really the word that was the problem, but how African-Americans were treated and their status within society. Ridding acceptable discourse of the word was a necessary and relatively simple step in the long march toward equality.

Getting back to the pink thing after my long digression. It's not that pink is the problem. It could be tartan that is associated with girls and we'd still have a problem. Again, I'm willing to grant that societal pressures and expectations as represented by toys play a role in development and that these may have far-reaching implications for the young girls who play with them, but the color ain't the problem. The problem is the societal expectations.

Then again, I can't say that I feel there's a massive problem with pay and status disparity. Not that I'm a woman to understand the supposed oppression first hand, but it is certainly possible that women are not as personally motivated by status and money as men are regardless of what color their toys are.

I think one could tell a evolutionary biology story about how men value looks and women value wealth and status in their partners, which if true would explain a permanent disparity in income and status as well as focus on beauty. But what is natural isn't necessarily Good. So, let's leave that aside and assume the discrepancy between income and status between men and women is entirely Nurture. Do we really want to tell half of our population that they ought to stop wearing pink and instead be more greedy and power-hungry?

* I find arbitrary an undeservedly maligned term. Sometimes arbitrary simply gets stuff done. If the consequences of that getting stuff done are minimal, then I'd rather have somebody just make a fucking decision and get moving.


Robbo said...

I believe the term du jour for "crippled" is "differently abled".

And no, I am not joking.

George Pal said...

Yes, differently-abled. I’m awaiting “the impairment enhanced” version.


“it is certainly possible that women are not as personally motivated by status and money as men are”

Just you be thankful you’re not the President of Harvard.

“colour apartheid”

Oooohhh! Apartheid! Oooogah-booogah!

Harry Wallop, Emma Moore, and PinkStinks are nuts and their names are now on the list.

FLG said...


What precisely is this list of which you speak?

George Pal said...

The list consists of anyone referencing their own private little hells (psychoses) as basis for making the world a better place. The list is made necessary as I can no longer commit to memory the overwhelming number of lunatics who have forever forfeited any claim to be taken seriously.

Oh, and if I were king I’d lock up Harry Wallop and Emma Moore and make them listen to…:

…until they were cured.

dance said...

Oh, come on, FLG.

"this colour apartheid is one of the things that sets children on two separate railway tracks. One leads to higher pay, and higher status and one doesn't."
Right...wearing pink leads to lower pay. I see.

That's a dishonest interpretation.

No one protesting in that article said pink was a bad color in itself. You're gonna quote, and then completely ignore the real point?

That's far too simplistic, but I feel gender roles are becoming polarised far too early on."

Yes, they are. And yes, pink toys, and the insistence that girls take pink toothbrushes at the dentist, not blue ones, are just a different manifestation of the same thing that says girls study english and boys study science. Now, might a pink globe or a pink tractor actually help overcome that? Maybe. Is it silly to focus on a trivial symptom rather than the underlying problem? Perhaps. But *is* it a trivial symptom when you actually look at the production and marketing of kids' toys? When you examine how much time the average kid spends exposed to advertising that reinforces gender roles?

Also, the arbitariness of pink/blue, and the difference before WWII, is not intended to indict pink, but to point up that this is a matter of nurture, that it is socially constructed, that girls do not have any inborn affinity for pink, and thus that even though every little girl you know might love pink, that is not a legitimate rationale for teling the little boy who says "I want pink" that "oh, no, BLUE is for boys. You really want blue."

You just had a little girl. Look out for the people who insist she needs to wear pink, can't wear blue, and make sure they aren't also people who will tell her girls don't need to learn to use power tools, girls don't take computer science, girls read bible textbooks while boys read Aquinas, etc. It's just a different kind of box.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.