Girls will be girls

Let’s talk about pink. Specifically, about the “pinkification” of female childhood. This is a growing trend I’ve noticed over the past decade working in education contexts including primary and Early Years: put simply I don’t remember everything being so bloody pink when I was a child.

Recently, I thought it might be nice to get Scarlett some trousers in a dusky plum/soft maroon sort of shade to go with a top of hers. Not anything outré, like grey or khaki or mustard or mud – just a slightly deeper shade of the pink/brown family. Reader, do you know how many dusky plum/soft maroon baby trousers there are in the whole wide world of the internet? There are none. They are all pink. They. Are. All. Pink.

For many years, I’ve taught dance to children aged 3-18 (not all at once, in age-appropriate groupings), and a thing I’ve noticed is the rising incidence of tutus, princess costumes and fairy wings in my classes for younger children. I don’t know when tutus and wings became standard dancewear for the under-6s; when I began teaching, everyone seemed content to turn up to class in t-shirts and leggings or child-sized tracksuit bottoms. I’m not a fan of wings in dance class: I tend to think they get in the way of upper-body movement and present a poke-in-the-eye hazard to other participants. But additional to my Health and Safety concerns, I’m not really a fan of the increased fairification and princessisation of little girls, either. Something about the endless swathes of pink and taffeta in today’s infant wardrobes seem to be a straightforward regression to the 1950s, an era not notable for its positive attitudes toward women.

And yet….do I want to condemn pink? Is it bad to want to be a princess per se? It’s a delicate line to tread. I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking (or giving the impression that I think) that everything girly is automatically negative. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a dress; one can wear a floral print and heels and still be a kickass civil engineer/sysadmin/neurosurgeon/ninja warrior/downhill skiing champion. One can be a kickass teacher, nurse or ballerina too – there’s nothing wrong with wanting to enter the caring professions, teachers are awesome, and you have to be hard as nails to dance en pointe night after night. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with boys wearing pink, or wings, or princess dresses. Boys should wear pink if they want to. Girls should wear pink if they want to. You see how this internal dialogue ends up tying itself in knots?

I suppose the real issue I see, and that I think is different from my own childhood, is a kind of cynical commercial pressure applied to girls to be pink and princessy, which is probably as much to do with manufacturers spying a way to sell twice as many of the same products by churning them out in different colourways as any social conditioning. So it is disappointing to me that Lego, one of my favourite childhood toys, now comes in a stupid pink variant which I think is revolting, instead of the all-purpose primary colours I spent many happy hours slotting together in my youth.

Lego’s own marketing used to pride itself on being a toy for boys and girls, and I dislike the fact that pride has been replaced with a gender-dividing march toward product diversification: “This one is for girls, and this one is for boys, and never the twain shall meet, ker-ching”. I suspect it’s the same with baby clothes – Mothercare may simply be trying to double its revenue by aggressively dividing its stock down gender lines, but it’s absolutely infuriating when trying to purchase clothes. And as one new parent friend recently pointed out, why does the world need visual cues to signify what a baby has dangling or slotted between his or her legs? I don’t need complete strangers to know my baby girl is a baby girl. Why should they? She’s a baby, these things aren’t going to materially matter for at least a dozen years.

There’s another issue about girl-owning that’s already arising for me, and that’s language. I’ve realised I have a tendency to tell Scarlett she’s a “good girl” whenever she’s being compliant, doing what I want her to do or simply being quiet. I’ve been thinking about whether that’s the message that I want Scarlett to receive about acceptable behaviour for little girls, and whether I would say the same thing about a baby boy. (The answers are, respectively, no and yes – as an educator, I’ve spent years making sure I praise teamwork, co-operation and good listening in children of both sexes. Many other adults do; many adults don’t, so I want to be sure this remains true of me at least.)

Some friends of ours came over before Christmas, and the gentleman of the pair praised Scarlett for being pretty. “And clever!” his good lady chimed in immediately. I take her point – the world in general praises little girls too readily for being pretty and pliant and all things nice, and not enough for being headstrong and energetic and clever and strong. So I want to make sure I praise my undoubtedly pretty girl when she speaks her mind (she will, eventually; in fact she already does if you count “aah ahh ahh ah-goo”) and when she does things her own way rather than doing what I say all the time. She should challenge me, and feel confident to do things independently, and work things out for herself. But she should trust me on the sunscreen.

Pink isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. I want Scarlett to be able to wear pink as one of her colour options; I don’t want her to be forced to wear it all the time. I want being sweet and kind to be one of her possible routes to being considered a good girl, not the only way. But most of all, I want some goddamn dusky plum trousers. If anyone has better shooping-fu than me and can find some, sincerely let me know.


9 thoughts on “Girls will be girls

  1. Agree totally on all counts. Rowan prefers green and I now buy a lot of boy’s clothes although vertbaudet and Boden are better for non conventional colors for girls. You’ll also undoubtedly have noticed the theme in slogans on t shirts of Princess and cute animals for girls vs. the “here comes trouble” variants for boys. All I have to say to that is grrr.

    • Oh, good grief yes. All the little girl clothes have variations on “Mummy’s little angel” with wings and halos and yet more frickin’ glitter, and the boy clothes have horns and handprints and references to mud and mess and being a little devil. I feel just as sorry for the boys with the brush this tarnishes them with (I’ve met plenty of non-devilish young gentlemen in my time!) as the girls and this constant expectation of angelic behaviour. What is actually wrong with the designers and manufacturers and retailers?

      (Confession: one of Scarlett’s onesies has the word “cute” written on it, but it is in a neutral colourway of white and silver and I personally would be happy to put it on a boy at this age too. Plus, y’know, she is cute.)

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  3. From Liz on Facebook:

    Grannie bought Persephone 2 navy dresses for Christmas. One striped, one polka dot. Disturbingly she looks a bit Samantha Cameron in either. Don’t think you can win! Otherwise, I prefer to dress her in Magnus’ old clothes, although as you say, people think she must be a boy baby as she ISNT in pink.

  4. From Aviva on Facebook:

    Polarn.o.pyret are a good outlet to choose for more ‘gender neutral’ clothing for babies and young children. Not sure if they have dusky plum, but they might have snazzy patterns. They are quite expensive, unfortunately.

  5. From Chris P on Twitter:

    This, by @Lisekit, thoughts arising from having a daughter, is excellent, and mirrors my internal monologue exactly.
    I literally have the same things running through my head, and I’m grateful you wrote them up!

  6. From Craig G on Twitter:

    Also, this:
    And Lego continues to disappoint, but it’s mostly always been deeply conservative leadership and gender split product.
    Er, and the thing I should have said first: that was a great piece of writing. If I could RT it more loudly, I would.

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