Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More On Pink

Dance disagrees:
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.

If I read this correctly, what Dance is objecting to is the existence of gender roles in and of themselves of which pink is simply a consequence or manifestation. I take that point, but it seems very silly to focus on the pink issue when there are much bigger consequences.

I guess my point here is that the issue is not at all that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. It's the "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." Dance argues that these stereotypes and pink = girl are simply different kinds of boxes, which I believe she implicitly argues consequently constrain little girls.

Does taking a pink toothbrush really tell a girl to be a dumbass instead of a lawyer or doctor? I seriously doubt it. While girls don't do science certainly does.

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.

Now, in full disclosure, and part of the reason that I found this story so exasperating is that Mrs. FLG and I spent the better part of Thanksgiving weekend painting Miss FLG's room a lovely strawberry pink and cream. Plus, the horror, we rehung Barbie pictures. But if you think for one second I'm going to tell that little girl she can't do whatever she wants when she grows up or can't study whatever she wants, then you are seriously mistaken.

So, looking at pink strikes me as lacking in judgment in determining the relative importance of things, which as I said above is something of a symptom of social construction arguments period. But as regards what I take to be Dance's primary objection, that the mere existence of gender roles is constraining and therefore negative, I must object.

Obviously, the existence of a role is constituted by things one does or does not do. So, in a sense, yes, I agree they constrain. But I don't agree that constraint is negative by its mere existence. The nature of that constraint is what I am primarily concerned about. To that end there's nothing wrong with being a girl, and in fact it is something that ought to be celebrated. My goal for Miss FLG is for her to embrace her girlhood, and eventually her womanhood, in a positive way without being adversely constrained by it. Pink has little to nothing to do with that and concentrating on it implies a lack of seriousness in my opinion.

NB: My use of the second person is not intended to direct comments at Dance. I just use the second person sometimes.

4 comments:

dance said...

No, I was objecting to your method of argument. You created a strawman and then ridiculed it, attacking something totally different than what the protesters were saying. Similiarly, I was not objecting to the existence of gender roles, but merely to them being enforced upon people (by the way, I'm very feminine in my dress--no makeup, but jewelry, skirts, lots of bright colors, etc. So please don't be thinking I don't celebrate womanhood).

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?

Incidentally, I let people merge on the highway, etc, because I believe the accumulation of small acts MATTERS.

dance said...

I wrote a long comment which may have vanished into the ether, but it boiled down to---I would like to hear a counter-argument to social constructionism that engages with the approach and demolishes it on its own terms rather than talking past it and missing the point it makes. Saying "it's just a kid's toothbrush" is not an adequate reply to people who have an extensive and sustained understanding that it is more than that.

I objected to your method of argument, not the existence of gender roles.

Flavia said...

I have mixed feelings about this, as I did with your first post, and in general I think I agree with Dance.

I've got nothing against pink per se, or even Barbies, or certain trappings of traditional femininity (I wear high heels and makeup myself, after all). But the fact that when a friend has a baby I have to hunt high and low for a greeting card that says something neutral, rather than, "congratulations on your little princess!" (in pink, with fake lace) or "congratulations on your future sports star!" (with a football, and all in blue) does bother me. As does the segregation of the clothing at Babies R Us and the like.

My feeling is that probably no damage is done by a single pink dress, or even a closetful of them. I would not prevent my theoretical future daughter from watching Disney princess movies--though I'd try to provide lots of other models of femininity and adult womanhood.

But the cumulative effect of pinking and princessing little girls, from a young age, does strike me as something worth worrying about. (And as many mommy bloggers have commented, in some ways it's worse for boys: girls can wear blue and play with trucks, but boys REALLY can't wear things that are pink or glittery, or play with dolls, and are shamed from such predilections while girls are more often just discouraged.)

Robbo said...

I have three daughters. I can't tell you what color their toothbrushes are because they keep losing them and having to buy replacements, and they tend to change a lot. But I CAN tell you that when we choose new ones, we don't say, "Now, girls, be careful to consider the social construct before you pick a color."

I also have a colleague who has two small boys. And while I can't prove that she's specifically ever told them to consider the social construct before choosing toothbrush colors, I do know that she is quite obsessed with such matters and is industriously imparting her own obsession on their developing little minds.

What impact all this may have on future careers, I can't say. (FWIW, my eldest girl is already talking about being a lawyer just like ol' Dad.) But I can tell you right here and now who are going to be the healthier, happier and better-adjusted adults and, as a consequence, far more able simply to ignore the bombardment of the "system of messages".

 
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