The Problem With Pink

This weekend, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that my daughter and I “had a discussion about ‘boy colors’ and ‘girl colors’ today. I tried to explain that there are just ‘colors’. She wouldn’t hear of it! While she also admits to liking ‘boy colors’, it still rubs me the wrong way. Our first ideological disagreement!”

The reactions got me thinking. I’m posting it here because, if you stay with me ’til the end, you’ll see how it relates to technology.

Bear with me. I’m a wordy lady.

Boy Colors and Girl Colors

What I wanted to write back to everyone that responded to me on Facebook and Twitter (but instead turned into this blog post), was this: what bothered me about what my daughter said was not that she liked the color pink, but that at four years old she had learned that ALL the other colors (aside from pink and purple) “belonged” to boys. This attitude — that certain things are “for” boys and “for” girls isn’t as innocent or funny as it might seem. It’s a mindset that builds on itself and leads us to treat boys and girls differently, to have different expectations for them, leads them to believe that certain choices are better (read: more appropriate) for them than others and leads us, in adulthood to believe things about women and men that simply aren’t true.

While mulling that over this week, I’ve also been looking for inspiration for decorating the kids’ bedroom. Yep, my son and daughter are going to share a room, at least until they’re old enough to complain about it. (Then, one of them will move to the spare bedroom in the basement.)

In looking for decorating ideas, I was struck by how everything — everything — is divided into stuff for boys, and stuff for girls. Girls’ stuff is pink pink pink pink pink (OMG with the pink!), and maybe some purple or yellow. Theme-wise, it’s animals, flowers, princesses and the like. Overall, it’s all very soft.

Boys’ stuff is every color that isn’t pink or purple. Boys also = robots, trains, cars. Boy stuff is  — in color and subject matter — BOLD.

Boy Toys & Girl Toys

Shopping for kids’ birthday parties over the past year, I’ve noticed that the toy aisles are divided, too. There are boy toys and girl toys. Boy toys are robots, trains, and cars. In other words, things to do. Girl toys are dolls, pets, cooking and cleaning stuff. In other words, things to take care of. (By the way, this really pissed me off when I tried to buy a pack of play food for a boy we know loves cooking in a toy kitchen. The only available containers were pink and purple. What?!)

Now, hey. I’m not begrudging anyone their pink. In fact, I’ve been known to enjoy the color myself. I just don’t want that to be the only option.

My daughter has princess stuff, dolls, and a play kitchen. But, she also has a toolbox and a train set. Last Saturday, she wore a pink dress and glittery shoes to a rocket class at the local science museum.

My son has trucks and loses his mind with glee when he sees a motorcycle drive by, but one of his favorite things to do is to give a bottle to his baby doll and put her to bed. The little kisses he gives that doll make my heart explode.

I’m not saying that like, “Oh, look at me — I’ve figured out how to break gender stereotypes.” But, I have made a conscious effort to create balance in our house. My daughter has a toolbox because I intentionally bought it for her. My son plays with a doll because I offered it as a choice that was equal to anything else he could choose. If all we offer our kids are toys that are prescribed for their gender, that’s all they’ll ever choose. And who could blame them? Their job as children is to learn about the world around them; what are we teaching them with all of this?

Further proof of my point? While working on this blog post, this story about the new Iron Man 2 toys at Burger King came through my Twitter feed. They’re offering “four lifestyle accessories for girls and four action-packed toys for boys.” Awesome.

Where I Get to the Technology Part

A friend gave me some gentle teasing about my Facebook comment above because my current profile photo on Facebook is computer engineer Barbie (hello pink and stereotypes!). But, I LOVE that there is a computer engineer Barbie and that she wears pink. It’s cool because the stereotype that computer engineers can’t be feminine is just as lame as anything else. Get it? You can be both. Nobody “owns” it either way. (Pamela Fox nailed this idea at Ignite Sydney this year.)

Honestly, despite my hand-wringing over my daughter’s color comment, there are lots of positive things going on for girls these days. Adventurous, popular characters like Dora the Explorer give me some hope. But, what about the boys? How long will my son play with a doll before other boys accuse him of acting like a girl? (And — gasp! — is there a bigger insult than to be called a girl?!)

I guess I’m having a moment where I find it striking and bothersome that we divide our boys and girls so early on and then wonder why those stereotypes persist into adulthood — why there aren’t more female computer programmers or male nurses or why women make .77 for every dollar a man earns, even in advanced-degree careers. 

Or how about why companies who appoint women to corporate directorships have unchanged or slightly worse stock peformance, despite the fact that evidence shows that “companies with high numbers of female directors, metrics such as return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital are substantially higher than at companies with very few or no female directors.” (quote from the Harvard Business Review) Translation: investors don’t believe women can lead.

My point is that those ideas start somewhere. They start small, and they start early. We soothe ourselves by saying “Oh, boys and girls are just different,” as a way to justify these strange little boxes we are putting them in at such a young age.

Who knows, maybe boys and girls aren’t as different as we think they are. There’s probably no way to definitively know what is the result of nature and what is the result of nurture. But I believe it’s a mistake for us, as a culture, to teach our children that girls aren’t bold and boys aren’t caregivers by only offering them choices that reflect those ideas. As silly as it may sound, it starts with something as simple as “boy colors” and “girl colors.”

I’d like to see us give our kids more credit than that. We’ll all be better for it in the future.

In the meantime, I still don’t know what to do with my kids’ bedroom.