Pretty in Pink

I was reading a Terry Pratchett novel, Monstrous Regiment, about a young woman who enlists in an army disguised as a man, and… And a lot happens, and I’d be doing you all a disservice if I spoiled it for you. Suffice it to say that it’s a hilarious satire on gender roles, geopolitics, and religion, all cloaked in Terry Pratchett’s excellent prose, and I highly recommend it.

Actually this was my second read-through. I’ve been sick, and so stayed in bed with the book as comfort reading between naps. If you’ve read any Terry Pratchett, you know he likes footnotes. One footnote I came across was this: “It is an established fact that, despite everything society can do, girls of about seven are magnetically attracted to the color pink.” I immediately had this thought: “When I was seven did I like pink?” Followed by, “Not really.” And a moment later by, “Yeah, but was I a girl?”

To which I had no answer.

I had a few pink things in my childhood, including the walls of my bedroom from the ages of 10 to 13 (at my request, I’m a little ashamed to admit.) I had bright aqua carpeting, rainbow-striped curtains, and cotton-candy-pink walls. (Oh, Eighties, we don’t really miss you all that much.) I had, and still have, a pair of faded pink, exceptionally soft thermal-weave baby blankets that were probably once the sort of pink blankets that all new mothers of little girl babies received. They’re faded now, and a little off-pink, and very much still comfort objects to me. Also they are excellent when lain over the eyes at blocking the light out when you want to sleep past sunrise.

pink baby blanket

mine have square corners, but you get the idea

As a  very little girl I had a room with pink and red rosebud wallpaper. It was a tiny, elegant print of little wreathes of rosebuds between hunter green stripes on a field of just-slightly-cream. Very grown up, but also very “household”, if you know what I mean. You wouldn’t necessarily paper a little boy’s room with it, but an adult man wouldn’t be uncomfortable sleeping in a guest room decorated that way. In any event, I slept in that room, and had a dollhouse, too, full of dinosaurs. The plesiosaur swam in a swimming pool made from an upturned tambourine, and the brontosaur couldn’t fit in the dollhouse and had to peer in through the second story window, but the stegosaur and the triceratops and the ankylosaur were quite at home once the dolls had vacated.

Plesiosaur

this is a plesiosaur, in case you were wondering

Look through a few batches of photos of me as a child, though, and there’s precious little pink to be seen. I didn’t wear it. In fact my mom tells a story about how she somewhat despaired of my incorrigible insistence on black, navy, and purple when I was given my druthers in dressing myself. Some pop psychology book told her this meant I was morbid and suicidal, which we all laugh about now, but I definitely didn’t fall in line with that whole “this is what your little girl is going to be like” stuff that was in Parent’s Magazine and Doctor Spock’s Baby Book.

pink poker chip

there's something about gambling on baby pink

But pink. Maybe it’s just that I was lucky enough to be seven before the tyrannical reign of pink and purple began. I had a red bike. Red sneakers, and blue ones. When I was a little bigger, I had a red, white, and blue bike with fat tires, streamers on the handlebars, and a banana seat. Pink was a color for babies.

Purple, my favorite color, was a rarity you almost never saw. I remember the utter delight I had at getting a pair of purple saddle shoes when I was eight, and purple Converse sneakers when I was ten. We’re not talking lavender, here, either. I mean, sure, lavender was a tolerable substitute if no actual purple could be had, but what I liked was purple. Violet. Royal plum. The color of the middle of the night sky right at the edge of the moon, eggplants, petunias, and the shimmery borders of black mussel shells.

purple converse high tops

possibly the best sneakers ever

Then along came… something. Something while I wasn’t looking, probably when I was being a teenager and unaware of children’s things. Something that imposed pink and purple on girls like a burka. Pink and purple have become the sole province of girls’ toys, girls’ furnishings, girls’ clothing. Go to the toy section of Target and try to find a toy aimed at a girl that isn’t pink or purple. Go to the kids’ clothing section and see if there is any purple to be seen amongst the boys’ clothes. Good luck.

Ironically, I tend to look quite dashing in the right shades of pink. My favorite I-will-wear-it-until-it-falls-to-rags sweatshirt is a dark watermelon-peach color. A sort of faded red. In other words, pink. I look excellent in fuchsia, vibrant in magenta, and striking in palest cherry blossom. I pretty much don’t wear them, though, (except that sweatshirt, which you may feel free to bury me in if I die and it hasn’t yet) because pink has been so thoroughly co-opted as a “girly” color. And purple is going the same way. It bothers me.

It bothers me that little girls’ toys are segregated from toys for boys even more than they used to be. Sure, we’ve always had Tonka trucks for boys (I had a car carrier, a cement mixer, and a small assortment of Matchbox cars) tea-sets for girls (I had one of those, too), dolls and dinosaurs (I had both), but it used to be a tricycle was a tricycle was a tricycle, in red, blue, and the occasional exciting orange. Now you have to get either an overly macho boy’s trike, decorated with GI Joes or Transformers decals, or the girl’s model in confectionery pink and purple, embellished with trails of stardust and Disney princesses or My Little Ponies.

Disney Princess Bike

the bike I'm so glad I didn't have

If I’d had to ride some girly bike as a kid, I’d have been humiliated. My bike was, after all, my motorcycle on an imaginary racetrack, my trusty steed as I led the way into the West in my coonskin cap, my dirtbike carrying me behind imaginary enemy lines on urgent spy business.

And it’s kind of an economic hardship for families. A little brother can’t inherit the Cinderella Big Wheel from his sister, nor can a little sister ride without heckling on her brother’s Spiderman Special. I didn’t grow up in the world’s most enlightened era, but at least I got to play without having gender roles pushed on me like ill-fitting dress clothes at every turn.

Which brings me back to that second question: Was I a girl? Well, was I? Yes, obviously. Says so right on my birth certificate. But also no. I was and I wasn’t a girl. I was just me, and I still am just me, and I’m still not really a girl, even if I’m not really a boy either.

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~ by Nezu on 22 June 2010.

8 Responses to “Pretty in Pink”

  1. I agree with your post whole-heartedly. And eye Terry Pratchett’s little footnote with very narrow eyes. That off-hand comment, satire or not, is pretty much how the world is trying to shove little girls into the whole, ‘girls only like princesses and pink’. When I was younger, all my siblings played with ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys. We all had My Little Ponies, we all had Cupcakes, we all had Power Rangers, and we all had transformers. We also had Lego sets (mine was a pirate set. It was awesome. And a ghost and a knight in a tiny castle I called Sir Lego).

    Frankly, I think a lot of today’s gender roles are very society constructed – girls at age 7 in my grandmother’s time did NOT go for pink just because they were girls. And I doubt girls in TP’s grandmother’s time went for pink either.

    • Yeah, there is something a little annoying about that quote.

      I wanted Legos so bad, but I didn’t have any. My little brother had some when he was small, but he’s ten years my junior and by the time he got them I was almost too old.

  2. My bike as a child was a red and black boys’ bike given to me by my grandfather. One of my favorite toys was a yellow Tonka dump-truck. When my sisters and I played dress-up, I was always Cowboy Bob, in a fringed leather vest and a grey felt cowboy hat.

    On the other hand, my tricycle was blue and pink and white, and I LOVED Barbie dolls (even though for the first two generations of dolls I chewed their hands and feet to flippers). I frequently wore play dresses. And some of them were even pink.

    And I blame the macho/girliness of bikes nowadays entirely on the overabundance of media tie-ins. Kids these days watch too much TV!

    • I think you and I would have been great friends back then if we’d managed to be small children at the same place and time. I had a fringed leather vest and pants, too. Oh the ranges we could have ridden together. *grin*

      Also, there is something overwhelmingly endearing about the image of chibi!Ki chewing the hands and feet of her Barbies to flippers.

      I agree completely on the overabundance of media tie-ins. I think I was probably lucky to be a child before the VCR-era.

  3. I think the favorite colors around here are orange, blue, green and yellow and that would be for all the kids not just the girls or the boy. We try and avoid gender stereotyping for our kids in a rather passive manner. It’s fine if the baby wants to be a princess and wear dresses all the time. If the boy wants to cook and clean that’s awesome, we’ll help. It’s them making the choices, not us. All toys get passed around up and down to all the kids. Pink is just one of many colors and I think that’s a more balanced and better centered way for the kids to live.

    While my littlest is a girly girl in the total stereotype fitting ways, the middle one is not quite a tom boy, but not fitting into any convenient stereotype either. They are both normal girls. My boy isn’t profoundly masculine either, but he’s healthy and well balanced emotionally so I don’t know what more I could ask for?

    Gender roles can be mildly useful in some cultures, but we’ve mostly moved past that in our society. Admittedly, I’m first generation past the feminist movement’s heyday so I try for a more strict equal work for equal pay and equal rights and equal responsibilities. Every boy should be able to do his own basic mending and able to cook his own meal. Every girl should be able to use hand and power tools to build things. The basic skills are basic skills regardless of gender.

    I refuse to shop in the aisles that are nothing but pink. The barbie dolls were not bought by me, but I won’t stop the baby from playing with them. I don’t buy action figures either. For all that there is a real and somewhat disturbing tyranny of pink for sale at all the stores with lots of marketing aimed squarely at children, we the parents don’t have to buy in. I’m not sold on the idea that I have to follow the mainstream.

    • It’s awesome that you’re letting your kids pick toys on their own, and be guided by their own inner-sense of what they want. I’m with you on that generational thing wit respect to feminism, although I”m a little closer to the cusp. The women who broke all the rules and turned culture on its ear came right before me. I remember reading my stepmother’s Ms. Magazine, but my real coming-of-age was during the beginnings of the AIDS crisis.

      Anyway, three cheers for you not following the mainstream! You’re awesome, and so are your kids. 😀

  4. The ADS that this post generates make my head hurt. TODAY it’s “Determine the gender of your baby!” and pregnate belly.

    >.<

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