“Be careful Victoria, you don’t want her to grow up ‘butch’.”
That was the sting in the tail to my mum’s innocuous interest in my daughter. A light and breezy chat about whether Florence liked dolls and teddies suddenly turned into a snippy sermon on gender alignment.
You see, mum had recently sent me a list of books she wanted to buy Florence. Like all good liberal (high) minded mothers I didn’t mind what she bought as long as she avoided dullard wastrels in pretty dresses i.e. princesses (I didn’t want my daughter lusting after a windowless tower and a 100 metre pony tail before she could string a sentence together).
The conversation with my mum ended with me rubbishing her antiquated notions of femininity and her telling me she needed to go and weed the geraniums – her favourite euphemism for ‘you’re getting up my nose and I can’t be bothered to talk to you’.
My affronted feminist self took immediate refuge in the Pinkstinks website. Pinkstinks is a movement that challenges the ‘pinkification’ of young girls. Gender stereotyping (particularly in relation to girls) comes under fire from their feisty activists. Anyone who manufacturers toys, books and even grocery items that propagate the idea girls are merely pretty and vacuous is called to account. I thought it was a fine call to arms for anyone concerned about how girls are defined and a welcome damning of pink’s unrelenting grip on girlhood.
I was about to email the Pinkstinks link to mum when my daughter toddled by with baby Bubba. Bubba is a heavenly confection of pink and blonde plastic. Bubba is nurtured to within an inch of her tiny life. Florence LOVES her very pink Bubba.
Yowzers!! My own daughter had succumbed to the malignant forces of pink right under my self-righteous nose. Burn baby Bubba! BURN!
Except, I didn’t think that. I thought about how she enjoys playing with her brother’s train set and his fleet of cars, but that her heart is with Bubba and the army of soft stuffed things guarding her room. I thought about how she loves helping with the chores and how she likes watching Angelina and Peppa– not so much Thomas and Roary.
In many ways my daughter is a (stereo) typical girl and I started to wonder if that’s more down to biology than marketeers wooing her with their gender agenda. She may respond to ‘girly’ things because she doesn’t have a bucket load of testosterone swilling around in her system.And that may make her more gentle and eager to help and more nurturing. Less of a risk-taker, less physical, less arghhh!
Why can’t my daughter be all those things and have a robust spirit? Why can’t innate femininity coexist with ambition? Is the princess conundrum really setting up our daughters for a life of domestic servitude and stymied independence?
If it did then we wouldn’t have a current generation of women who are lawyers, writers, entrepreneurs, politicians etc. We’d all be in glass boxes with a poisoned Granny Smith wedged in our mouths waiting for Brad Pitt to do the honours. My lovely friend Cath grew up on a diet of Girl’s World and Rapunzel, yet she miraculously avoided their oppressive clutches to become a doctor.
The Pinkstinks movement has its heart in the right place, but I’m no longer wholly convinced by its message. Emphasising girls’ ability to be brave and courageous is great, but at what cost? Are we telling them that being a girl isn’t enough – to be valued you have to be, well, more like a boy.
Because let’s face it, many things that little girls and big girls love don’t rate too highly in the respect stakes. Take clothes for example. Fashion is often framed as an extension of celebrity narcissism and consumerism. It’s art’s low point. No matter that a Louboutin heel is an exquisite blend of mathematical thought and aesthetic imagining, we’re taught that loving clothes isn’t a good fit for the intellectually engaged.
Now think of all the things in the average boy’s bedroom. There isn’t a single item that would attract social derision when translated into a future career or interest.
Ensuring girls grow-up with a healthy self-esteem and the confidence to pursue whatever life path they choose is critical. However, in the process we should be wary of demonising their natural instincts.
A desire to nurture and express kindness are as important as strength and bravery. Liking gorgeous frocks won’t make her vacuous. Mild romantic fantasies involving handsome blue bloods won’t forestall future healthy relationships with ordinary non-blue bloods. And there’s nothing wrong with pink – just as there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my Bubba loving daughter.
For the last ten years Victoria has been writing about music. Like most things in her life her young children are starting to wheedle their way into her words. You can find her on Twitter here.
Pink for girls. Thoughts?