Why I Hate “Pink”

????????????????I was traveling recently, and as I stood in the security line at the Sacramento Airport, I noticed something: I was surrounded by variety.

A couple sporting matching hula pantsuits, avid sports fans showing off jerseys and matching hats, people of all ages with assistive devices including wheelchairs, walkers, and breathing machines.  There were travelers with dogs, travelers with international passports, seasoned business travelers with “security-checkpoint-friendly laptop bags”, and novice travelers with boarding documents in carrying cases around their necks.

In the crowd, nearly every age, body size, skin tone, and clothing ensemble was represented.

After I made my way through the security checkpoint, I was greeted by a newsstand.  In stark contrast to the incredible richness and variety that I was immersed in moments before, I saw the magazine rack with cover models representing a singular notion of beauty.

I was reminded that I hate “Pink.”

I don’t hate the color pink, but I vehemently oppose the culture of “Pink” we impose on our children: a culture which values a singular notion of beauty, champions homogeneity, and creates a dissatisfied consumerist culture that pursues an impossible ideal.

“Pink” messages are fundamentally limiting.  The only socially acceptable toys for girls come from the pink aisles of the toy store.  Clearly, parents can choose to venture beyond the segregated aisles, but the explicit message is that toys are linked to a specific gender.

“Pink” teaches that external beauty is the strongest measure of a woman’s value.  Children’s clothing stores are divided right down the middle: pink (and purple) on one side, and the remainder of the rainbow on the other side.  The pink/purple side has too-short skirts and shorts, tight pants (called regular, skinny, and “super-skinny”), and shirts are adorned with with words like, “princess.”  Children learn from a very early age that female bodies hold value equal to their external beauty.

“Pink” perpetuates harmful gender biases and heteronormativity.  There isn’t room in the clean-cut world of “Pink” for children to explore freely and equally.  Toys and clothing designed for girls limit big-body and construction-type play; have you ever tried to buy shoes for toddler girls that support tree-climbing?  It’s tough!  The gender bias perpetuated in the “Pink” culture is damaging to boys as well, pushing them away from dramatic play or dress up.  In fact, crossing the imagined “Pink” line may be even more difficult for boys.  Society acquiesces for a girl who wants to play with trains, but a boy who wants to play dress-up is immediately suspect.

I want my children to have an equal chance to explore the richness of the world.  I want my children to follow their passions and their talents, irrespective of their gender.  I want to free them from an unrealistic model of beauty.  I want the clothes that they wear, the hairstyles they choose, and the body art they sport to reflect their inner selves instead of a social ideal.

In that effort…

1.  My children and I do not shop in retail stores for toys.  In general, I don’t want to cast my monetary vote for a system I believe is unjust.  If I need to purchase a toy at a store, I go by myself.  The toys in our home come from largely from second-hand sources or online stores.  And frankly, most of our “toys” aren’t actually toys, but items in the “cardboard box” family of materials.

2.  I address issues of gender inequality head-on.  When I hear comments like, Those toys are girls toys! and Boys can’t wear dresses!, I always offer, “That doesn’t seem fair” or “Clothes show what a person loves and what feels good.”  I try to point to counterexamples that would challenge cultural stereotypes.

3.  I resist commenting (excessively) on outer beauty.  My daughter was very excited about the outfit she was wearing when she came to get me from the airport.  Instead of “You look so cute/beautiful/lovely/etc,” I said, “You love to wear that shirt!  It feels so good when we wear clothes that make us feel good.”  She heartily agreed.

Two very helpful resources:


Do you have thoughts about “Pink”?   Do you have strategies for working with your boys and girls to counter the strong gender bias in early childhood?

Categories: Anti-Bias Education, Caregivers, Community Support, Emotional Development, Social Development | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Why I Hate “Pink”

  1. Pingback: 4 Strategies For Raising Children With Healthy Body Images | Abundant Life Children

  2. Rachel P

    Agreed about commenting on how the shirt makes them feel – I’ve also been wondering what to say when my girls ask if they look pretty in something. Thank you for that tool for my tool box. 🙂

  3. jaymarie

    Have you made a decisive move away from some cultural gender norms for the sake of your children? For example, I wear make up which never bothered me until I saw my girls watching me and asking about it… I don’t care if they, or my boys, want to wear it someday, but I worry that my choices are such a heavy influence on them that they won’t have the freedom to easily move away from this, and other gender biased propensities of our culture…

    • Hi Jaymarie – that’s a really interesting question. No, I have not moved exclusively away from gender norms for myself – I still enjoy dressing up, putting on makeup, etc. Though I did shave my head for a while, mostly for ease, but the reality of challenging common understandings of femininity was certainly part of my decision. I try to minimize the role of makeup. When my girls see me putting it on and ask about it, I usually say things like, “Sometimes I like to wear makeup. You might decide you like to someday, or maybe not.” I don’t wear it everyday, and if my girls ask to wear “eyelash” (they call it eyelash instead of eyeshadow), I have a very light color that I sometimes brush on their lids. I don’t want to make it a “forbidden” because then I think it becomes more enticing. Mostly, I try to challenge notions of certain items belonging exclusively to certain genders. For example, to “Only girls can wear makeup,” I might respond with, “Everyone is in charge of making their bodies feel the way they want. Everyone chooses clothing, shoes, hairstyles, etc., that make themselves feel good.”

  4. Just shared an article today on my facebook page about a French store toy catalogue that decided to ignore gender biases in its marketing images. check the pictures in the article,(:http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/964003-catalogue-de-noel-bravo-super-u-d-horripiler-le-printemps-francais-et-les-autres-reacs.html )
    Looks so natural and yet it is still such a rare sight. Hopefully a change is coming. Here in the UK there is also a recent new ‘movement’ led by parents trying to de-genderise toy store isles, pushing to remove groupings of toys displays based on gender.

  5. Lauren

    I like the idea of commenting on how it feels to wear a favourite shirt rather than the shirt itself. I struggle when my daughter says she´s “making herself pretty” or asks if she looks pretty in something – I usually say she looks tidy or fancy. I have wondered for a while what it is about hypersexualized, hyperfeminine images that attract children. The first time my daughter saw Dolly Parton she said, I like that pretty lady.

  6. Karen

    I agree! I try to keep my daughter and son’s clothing and toys as neutral as possible. This article was written in March, but I just came across it last night. I thought you’d appreciate it; it reflects many of the same values that you express in this post.

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