Pretty In Pink

Posted: August 12, 2008 in Fly-By-Night
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recently, I was drawn to this article by feminist writer Monica Dux, in which she discusses the phenomenon of little girls dressing as fairy princesses. As I read, I found myself nodding: there’s truth to the idea that garbing small girls exclusively in pink and lauding their beauty above all else can lead to problematic behaviour in adolescence – a bona fide Barbie mentality. And, like the writer, I was a tomboy at school: at seven, I was deeply obsessed with dinosaurs, loved soccer, could hold my own in a handball game with boys three years my senior, burned ants with a magnifying glass, built forts in the bush and played video games whenever possible. I wasn’t Pretty In Pink. 

But for all that, I can’t help feeling that Dux has cottoned on to a genuine concern and drawn a flawed conclusion – specifically, that forbidding pink and fairies is the answer. Like other parents mentioned in her article, mine certainly never encouraged the Fairy Fixation, but neither did they actively forbid it. As a consequence, My Little Ponies jostled in my schoolbag alongside Starscream of the Decepticons; I dressed up as the Man from Snowy River for my bookday parade, but also had a tutu in my wardrobe. (I’ll give you one guess what colour.) Diversity isn’t just forcibly steering a child away from the norm, but actively offering them a choice. And if you stint the dominant side for long enough, sooner or later, you end up creating a different kind of imbalance.

There’s nothing inherently sinful about the colour pink: refusing it on grounds of its association with princess-type deviance makes as much sense as declaring that lefhandedness is evil, a pahse I’d like to think this part of the world has grown out of. The problem isn’t the concept of fairies as loved by children, but how adults react to their use. Dux herself makes note of this – parents who praise their daughters as beautiful, pretty, sugar and spice when princessed up – and yet her solution is not for adults to change their own behaviour. Rather, she advocates that they regulate costume use in children. As an approach, this is virtually identical to telling teenage girls not to dress provocatively if they don’t want to be wolf-whistled, instead of, as makes more sense, trying to raise boys who don’t judge women by their clothes. Human weakness and pragmatism allows for some middle-ground, and there’s a case to be made that dolls like Bratz and Barbie capitalise on the colour pink to sell an unrealistic standard of beauty, but ultimately, girls should be free, in the gender-biased sense, to be girls. A truck-hungry tomboy does not lurk within every prepubescent glamour queen – nor should it.

Minus the adult overzealousness, there’s still a distinct bias in the way toys are offered to children. Underneath all the gendered marketing, the fact is (and Dux agrees) that boys and girls are different. What needs to be encouraged is the idea that different isn’t automatically bad – not just between boys and girls, but girls and girls, boys and boys, and that it’s OK to pick’n’mix your interests. Girls who want to play rugby should still be able to frock up in pink, just as boys who’re happy to play with dolls should still be allowed to like cars. It’s also a fact that children are cruel, and police difference within their small communities with a rigour and bias difficult in the politics-conscious adult world. That can’t be changed entirely, but I suspect it can be mitigated by parental behaviour.

Unless we’re talking about the singer, pink’s not my cup of tea (and even then, I have to be in the right mood). There’s a long road yet to travel before society stops marketing towards the biases children have for themselves and starts venturing into new territory; in video games, at least, there’s been some headway. Parental coddling has a lot to answer for, and given the kind of adult I’m turning out to be, I’m glad I never felt pressured to cling to pink and fairydust to win approval. Perhaps, to take a backwards leap, I’m turning into the adult I am precicely because I never felt that pressure. There’s also girls who’d feel similarly uncomfortable if forced towards tomboyishness – not that Dux advocates this, but it’s one potential consequence of her solution.

And the moral of this story? That girls (and boys) can be pretty in pink, or not. The important thing is choice.

  1. Iain Hall says:

    My daughter is nine and refuses to even wear dresses but you are right in suggesting that we can’t get too precious about what our children choose to wear or about what rings their bells.
    I tried so hard to encourage my daughter to make things and use tools but she has Zero interest in that. But my 4 year old son is totally fascinated by anything in my workshop. As you say there are gender differences and we should respect them but not be dogmatic about the subject.
    A very good post 🙂

  2. Wendy Chennell says:

    Response to Pretty in Pink…
    Thanks for your insightful and well written response to Monica Dux’s article… You articulated everything I felt… I agreed with her up until she said put the fairy dresses away… My sister and I were very different girls growing up… i was the Pretty in Pink Princess Barbie lover and my sister would rather put on a pair of jeans and go out camping or hunting. I don’t think the solution is as easy as Monica is espousing. My parents encouraged both of their daughters to be interested in many things, and to realise that they were no different to their brother… I think parental guidance together with a healthy dose of equality is the way to bring up girls. I was never excluded from doing heavy work that my brother did, and if I was interested in something that was considered to be a boys domain by general society I was encouraged. I learnt more about fixing my own car from my dad than I think my brother would have. Hiding away a fairy dress is to me, cruel and way to simplistic to deal with this problem of self esteem in girls. I am currently pregnant with my second child (we don’t know if it is a girl or boy) but as we have done with my first child (a boy) my husband and I have NEVER discouraged any interest that he has had. My view is that you may not like what your child has a passion for, but as long as it isn’t hurting or harming them, I think you should let them develop their own sense of identity. There is nothing to stop you as a parent exposing them to every aspect of life, but I do disagree with removing something that they themselves identify with just to satisfy your own morals…. This reminded me of the same heavy handed tactics that I was exposed to at University. I sat in a class where we were discussing rape and murder of women (it was a legal studies class) and I raised the possibility that men who rape might actually have some genetic disposition to this. This was not an excuse but to me a logical possibility of why some people might do this. I was pounced on by the rest of the class and lecturer as being an anti Feminist! I am certainly not anti Feminist, but I would like to think that you can be a feminist with a balanced view point and not deny that there are other ways of educating the women of the future without being heavy handed or blaming every man on the planet!

  3. fozmeadows says:

    Thanks, Ian!

  4. fozmeadows says:

    Well said, Wendy, and thanks for reading 🙂

  5. Kathryn says:

    I went to a fancy dress party on Oxford st dressed as a purple pansy from Alice in Wonderland. Does that say anything about me?

  6. fozmeadows says:

    You actually made the entire flower costume? Are there photos?

  7. Pirate Pete says:

    Interestingly, research shows that the sexual and social behaviours of children, both girls and boys, is almost totally implanted by their mothers. And, more interestingly, it is implanted by facial expression, rather than by spoken word.

    So, in general, the way that a boy or girl behaves is alomst totally the doing of their mothers.

  8. fozmeadows says:

    Got link?

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