There has been a new addition to the family this week and in between the joy and the buying of unnecessary gifts, mainly toys that are too expensive and an absolute attack on the nervous system of a new born (one toy in particular was 7 different colours, had a horn, a rattle and sang a song…), there were several moments of reflection.
For those of you keeping count or know me well, there are now enough of the next generation in my family to have a full football team or possibly a small, but effective, army. I intend for it to be the latter.
So, why would this be a topic of discussion for a Feminist Friday? Well, because sexism starts from birth, in fact, it starts from conception, and it’s first noticable when you start thinking about what colour you’re going to paint the baby’s room. Pink or blue? Or apparently, if you like to be gender neutral, it’s egg yolk yellow. How unfortunate. Equality, clearly, lacks interior design knowledge.
When someone asks a pregnant woman “So, do you know what you’re having?” You might as well respond with “I had the scan yesterday – It’s a blue!”
You should know, I have no personal experience of this. The only time I’ve ever been asked “So, do you know what you’re having?” is by someone in a restaurant where my response is usually just “Diet Coke and the lunch special”.
I’ve defined myself as a feminist for a long time, since my early teens, but the issue of ‘Pinkification’ didn’t really bother me until these last few years. Even still, I consider it to be one if the low priority issues, far behind rape conviction, sexual assault, the gender pay gap….and many other things. That’s because I’ve always assumed that an intelligent individual wouldn’t succumb to the marketised colouring – in of childhood. Given a choice, I would think (hope) that parents would provide their children with a wide range of toys, books, clothing, films or whatever it is they are purchasing for their child. But what happens when you don’t have that choice? Well, a gingerbread baby is what happens. I should perhaps give this some context.
So a little boy was born into my family this week. Culturally, and much to my dismay, Muslim families tend to make a bigger deal of this than necessary. Que a chorus of older Muslim women professing that a boy is a gift from God, the wonder of continuing the family name and now there being a male to take over the responsibility. My sisters are a living, quite successful, example of this all being a little bit ridiculous and inaccurate. Regardless, a child has been born and that is something worth celebrating. As such, I run off to Clinton’s (other greeting card stores are available, so this one won’t be) to purchase the standard giant helium balloon and card, and I am smacked in the face by a tide of nauseating pink and blue merchandise. But I fight my way through the ribbons, the princess banners for baby girls and the cowboy ones for boys, to find….nothing, nada, zilch. I desperately wanted to find a gender neutral card and the closest I came, was a gingerbread baby (right), no balloons that simply said ‘congrats on your baby’. I had to make the decision right then and there; Will my nephew be type cast into what society deems a masculine colour at the ripe age of 9 hours old? I wanted to say no, but Clintons (and my mother) got in the way. I caved, I bought a blue balloon. I still feel dirty.
I may be writing this in a flippant (wonderfully witty) manner, but actually, when it comes down to it, it’s quite a big deal. It starts with a definition of a colour and soon becomes a definition of what a little girl should be; A pink balloon celebrating a birth, evolves into a Barbie, evolves into a pink dolls house, evolves into what her hobbies should be, which evolves into make up and then starts to define a journey towards womanhood. There’s a lot wrong with this – this tells us there is only one way to be a woman and that way is superficial.
- What about the girl who likes cars or the colour blue – is she to feel less like a girl?
- What about the boy who likes the colour pink – is he to be bullied?
Now, don’t read this as some sort of hatred of the colour pink. I happen to like that colour. But I also like the colour blue and cars, science, action films
and sports (haha, no I don’t. Don’t be ridiculous). I am secure in my femininity to have a diverse range of likes, as any human being should be, but as more and more marketing is thrown at children in every ad break of their TV shows, will girls, and boys alike, have the same sense of strength in themselves to challenge what is being pitched as the norm for their gender?
Any girl or woman can, absolutely, paint her room pink, have floral bed sheets and the entire set of the Bratz dolls, but if she wants, not because that’s what’s in the girls’ section at ‘Toy ‘R’ Us”.
I asked my older nephew who is five years old what he thought of a toy kitchen (that had a pink roof) in a toy shop we were in and his response was:
“I don’t want that. That’s not boys’ stuff, girl’s like those things, buy it for her” (he points at his younger sister who 2 years old).
And all it took was some irrelevant pink advertising from birth to define his attitude towards ‘girl stuff’ by the age of 5.
I used to think this was a non issue, but when you think about the attitudinal effect it has on young people, it becomes, very quickly, a major issue.
I’ve learnt a lot about this from the Pink Stinks Campaign. Read more here.
So, next time someone says they know it’s a boy, as they simultaneously buy a little blue blanket, discourage them, by explaining it might actually be a tiny, very clever, girl foetus sticking her middle finger up at you, because she knows otherwise you’ll paint her room pink.