My children and I are enjoying a rare quiet moment watching a documentary about a school trip to a farm. Behind our finger-smudged TV screen, the fascinated infants are lined up on a wooden bench watching the demonstrator feed the goats. There is no need for school uniform on this day out, yet I can’t help noticing that most of the girls are dressed alike: a pink army in fuchsia jackets. This passes without comment from my children, from the narrator and from the demonstrator. Of course it does, for the monochrome world of my daughters has become entirely normalised.
I think we’ve grown immune to the pink hegemony. It has certainly worked its insidious way into my children’s lives. Pink coat, pink play tent, pink bike, pink bed covers: a pink plague has beset my home and my eyes have grown weary of its lurid hue.
Most annoying of all is the fact that, from a spectrum of choices, girls have been landed with the most frivolous, cloying colour of all – and one which begs not to be taken seriously. Pink: the colour of marshmallows, bubble gum and lipstick. Few truly useful things are pink and its association with women is unhelpful to us. Can you imagine turning up to a job interview in a pink suit? The central (exhausted) joke in Legally Blonde is that Elle’s bimbo appearance in her top-to-toe pink is at odds with her career aspirations. Of course it is. People with important work to do shun pink for good reason: it diminishes respect. In fact, the only time you’re likely to see someone in a pink uniform is at a beauty salon – because the pursuit of “prettiness” is central to “being a girl”.
I can’t help worrying that painting a girl’s world pink keeps her silly and insubstantial and leaves boys and their sensible colours to get on with the important business. No-one ever boosted their intellectual credibility with pink; its icons are Katie Price and Barbie, for goodness sake. This is partly because pink is also used to sell sex: it’s the colour of labia, tongues and candy and it shouts “eat me, I taste sweet”.
Pinkification is not just about girls; it also affects boys who see pink objects as off-limits. Drenching the dolls section in our stores in this one colour sends a message to boys that this is not their territory. Colour coding children and their toys polarises the sexes, ignoring the plurality of gender identities and tastes. It locks boys and girls into separate play rooms and limits their exposure to a range of skills and learning processes, which is good for nobody.
I don’t like the idea of my daughters wearing a pink badge to designate their gender; I don’t think any child should have to wear a badge so people can make assumptions about who they are.
Like many parents, I am tiring of this saccharine signifier of gender. I don’t have a pink veto – I like bright colours – but I do want my kids to look like individuals and not clones of a misguided concept of femininity. But veering off the pink path is not easy, especially if you want to offer your children something other than dreary navy and grey, which the boys have for their own miserable uniform. It’s often hard to find cheerful, good-quality goods and so I am lured back to pink, again and again, and reinforce the wretched trend.
My misgiving is this: the pink universe of dolls, beauty and princesses is a dumbed-down world where science, exploration, technology and construction have no place. I want to be sure that my children know that there are other rewarding paths available to them. Needless to say, my girls (aged three and five) seem happy to be immersed in pink and dressed like ornamental objects but, then, they’d doubtless be happy to eat sweets for every meal and watch TV all day, which would also do them no good in the long term. Responsible parents naturally insist that some things be enjoyed in moderation and try to introduce their children to a range of experiences.
Fortunately, I am not alone in wanting my children to inhabit a multi-coloured world, full of opportunity and choice. Pink Stinks, Let Toys Be Toys and Let Clothes be Clothes are also campaigning to free children from colour-coded stereotyping based on their gender. Their websites recommend suppliers who offer girls a world that is not exclusively pink. Isn’t it time we reclaimed the rainbow for both sexes?
Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a writer and editor at Amsterdam Mamas and a freelance journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @DebNichollsLee