Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More On More On Pink

To begin with, I wasn't trying to imply that any woman who disagreed with me was therefore some sort of butch chick. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't intend to imply it either.

Dance responds:
Anyhow, let's skip right to the root of the difference between us, which you have very nicely stated:

Now, I understand and agree with the social construction argument to a point, but the flaw of that type of thinking is that it renders everything and anything tremendously important. Each human interaction, no matter how trivial, can be part of the problem because it contributes to the construction. So, pink toothbrush is part of constructing gender roles, which in turn leads to all sorts of disparities between genders. But the problem is that maybe it's just a kid's toothbrush.

What you say there is entirely true--social construction arguments do believe that the accumulation of small things MATTERS. Why is that a flaw? I would love to hear a sustained analysis of why you find this approach illogical. To continue with this particular example (but feel free to pick anything), why isn't pink part of constructing gender roles? Or, if it is, what are the factors that make the billions of dollars invested in selling pink toys irrelevant to how girls choose careers? where does the separation come from? When social constructionists say "no, it's isn't just a kid's toothbrush, it's part of an overwhelming system of messages that will bombard Miss FLG every day for the rest of her life", what counterargument do you offer to prove that that system doesn't matter? Or that this is not a good way to attack it?

Okay, so my issue with the social construction argument requiring that small things matter can be summed up thusly -- if everything is important, then nothing is. Importance is a relative thing. X is more important than Y. If the tiniest human interaction is part and parcel of a social construction and is consequently tremendously important then nothing is important. And this is where my argument that the lack of perspective undermines most social construction arguments comes in.

To your point about pink toothbrushes, you seem to be saying the following:
Pink toothbrushes are in the class of things that construct gender roles.
Gender roles are at least partially responsible for a whole host of choices made regarding careers.
Therefore, pink toothbrushes are partially responsible for women's later career choices.

My issue, to apply it specifically to this syllogism, is that the class of things that construct gender roles is so large as to be meaningless. By this logic almost everything human beings do impact women's later career choices. Even if that were true, we can't worry about everything. I guess one could argue that not everything is in the class that construct gender roles, but the use of pink indisputably is. But what would distinguish pink from other relatively innocuous gender construction roles, such as holding doors open for women, etc? Not much. Therefore, being of the class of things that construct gender roles is necessary, but insufficient.

The things I worry about are things that construct gender roles AND have reasonably direct negative consequences. Saying girls don't do science or math or whatever are in this category.

Flavia writes:
But the cumulative effect of pinking and princessing little girls, from a young age, does strike me as something worth worrying about.

I'm open, but still skeptical, to arguments that the EZ Bake Oven or princessing may hurt later career aspirations. I am concerned about body image messages, so I'm not going to buy Miss FLG a bib that says "Does my diaper make me look fat?" regardless of what color it is.

My problem with the article was that they are attacking pink. It's too abstract and as far as I can tell has no relation to later career aspirations. That it is of the class of things that construct gender roles, as I said above, seems an insufficient accusation. I wouldn't be so dismissive if it were complaining about toy dishwashers or ovens or princesses or whatever. I'd still be skeptical of their long-term impacts on the career aspirations of young girls, but there is a somewhat direct logic connecting the two. Pink, however, is simply a color. It's impact or even the impact of pink objects like toothbrushes on the career aspirations or indeed any aspirations later in life is so tenuous that focusing on it makes me question whether those concerned lack enough perspective. We can't worry about everything that constructs gender roles.


Flavia said...

Dance's two comments on your previous post weren't visible when I commented earlier--but she outlines my feelings about social constructivism much better than I could have or did.

A pink toothbrush or a blue toothbrush: I couldn't care less which color my theoretical future child picks. But I do care if people go around saying, "no, honey: pink is for girls and blue is for boys." That imparts, albeit on an individually insignificant level (if it were the only instance), that certain things are "for" girls and certain things are "for" boys.

Right now, pink does seem often to be associated with the princessy and the passive, but I'm not inclined to get het up about it; it's the binary logic that pink (often, but far from always) participates in that bothers me, when it bothers me.

(And fwiw, I'm not denying that boys and girls do, broadly speaking, have different tendencies and preferences, based in biology, and that to some degree gender roles grow or have grown out of those differences; but like most people I don't wish for them to be prescriptive, or to limit the choices that individual boys or girls feel they have.)

FLG said...


"I don't wish for them to be prescriptive, or to limit the choices that individual boys or girls feel they have."

But pink is only representative of that issue. To attack pink is to attack the symptom and not the cause. But worse yet, it attacks a relatively innocuous symptom -- pink shit.

I understand what you and Dance are getting at and agree with the broader point about the constraining aspects of gender roles, but that's what we should focus on -- where it really matters -- constraint with negative consequences. Not some abstract war against pink because it is somehow representative of gender norms.

Anonymous said...

Now, I have actually raised a girl - to 8, so far. Pink and sparkles came into our lives with her, she was damned if she was going to play with the trucks, or wear the overalls, left over from her brothers. She is what she is. She is getting a whole lot of her socialization from the girls at her school (boys barely exist, usually, except that this one or that one is icky).

If we'd brought home trucks, and little black turtlenecks, from Target, and no pink and spangles, for her? Fail, I think.

This is sort of an 'I read a book' comment - the psychologist Judith Rich Harris wrote a book called No Two Alike about how children construct their identities in response to those around them, and how little their parents can influence this. Has been useful to me as I navigate the shoals of dadditude. dave.s.

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