The pink reconciliation

In a moment I’m going to say something that could be taken as critical of the Pink Stinks campaign, and that would be a shame because I both support Pink Stinks’ assault on the gender segregation of childhood and have huge admiration for how much they’ve achieved. So: Pink Stinks is brilliant, except for the name, which I hate.

The tag line for the campaign is “there’s more than one way to be a girl”. Perfect, if the name of the campaign didn’t make it clear that one of those ways completely sucks. Ending the remorseless pinkification of girlhood? Excellent. I am down with that like you wouldn’t believe. Telling girls who have already given their tiny souls over to pink that the things they like are horrible? That’s just mean. Like, make-a-child-weep mean.

When she was four, my daughter started to be interested in magazines, so I began to let her choose one each weekend. To my great aggravation, the magazines she wanted were inevitably pink. I urged her to pick “normal” magazines – Cbeebies licences, Doctor Who, that sort of thing. Things, incidentally, which have much higher internal production values than the glut of “girl” titles such as Katie (no, not the Price one) and Sparkle World, marginally less crappy cover mounts, and not many girls in starring roles.

Not that I noticed that last part as I stood at the newsstand, fuming at my daughter’s wilful embrace of stereotype. “No you don’t want this magazine,” I snapped. “It’s rubbish.” Of course, she cried, because she didn’t care that the editorial content was woeful and she couldn’t see past her overwhelming desire for the little pot of lipgloss and plastic playphone to imagine the moment two days later when I would pick up the broken, sticky bits and put them in the bin. She just knew that this was the magazine for her, and mummy didn’t like the magazine, and by extension mummy didn’t seem to like her much right now either.

There’s a lot to pick out of this: where does the affiliation for pinkness come from, why are magazines aimed at girls so horrifically shit for the most part, and why are kids’ magazines gendered anyway? But the lesson for me right then – the be-a-better-mum, raise-a-happier daughter lesson – was that demolishing the things your children like is a pretty poor way of encouraging them to explore the world and discover who they are. She likes The Beano now. It’s funny and well put-together, and the only active female character is Minnie The Minx, a sideline in a world of boy. I’m not going to fight her about it – but really, is it better than Sparkle World just because it isn’t pink?

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2011; photo by Pink Sherbet, used under Creative Commons

9 thoughts on “The pink reconciliation

  1. I totally agree about the name. I don’t think they had very good advice about it. If you put ‘stinks’ in your name, people are going to associate that word with you as well. And, as you say, it’s the rubbish content of this stuff that’s concerning, not the colour.

  2. Poor thing, let her have Sparkle World for God’s sake if she wants it. How can you be ‘letting her choose’ thus giving her some independence when all you do is reduce her to tears while you angrily ‘moderate’ her choices?
    Let the little girl be a little girl. It doesn’t mean she’s going to grow up into something from TOWIE. How can she, with ‘Millie Tant’ for a mum? And also, the stereotypes are reversed. I remember being a little boy fascinated and excluded from pink ‘girls things’ as I had no sisters. (I’m a single dad of a 6yr old girl too btw)
    James

  3. I’m approving this mostly as an example of how amazingly rude and ignorant its possible for people to be. Go back, read the post again, grasp the fact that I’m being explicitly critical of the way I dealt with this moment of parenting, grasp also that equating “let the little girl be a little girl” with “give her pink stuff” is pretty sexist (inexplicably so, given what you say about being interested in pink yourself as a boy), and finally refer yourself to the part about crappy editorial and cover mounts that come as part of the pink package. By the way, a big part of parenting is moderating our children’s choices – does your child really “choose”, say, what she eats and what she wears? How we moderate these choices, and to what purpose, is the really important bit.

  4. I thought you were being insightful and open to discussion until I saw your reply to James Lewis (above). Don’t write something that’s published for the world to see if you are not willing to take comments from readers. I am parent of a similar-aged child and thought this might be worth a read but I’m now disappointed. Save it for your FB friends if you want this to be a closed discussion. And, honestly, I don’t care if you publish my comment or not. I just wanted you to know your response was out of order.

  5. Great post Sarah. I recently started reading Tintin and loved it. At first I couldn’t understand why I had failed to get into it as a child – until I flicked through and realised that the only female character I could see was the concierge for Captain Haddock’s building. There is so much fuss about how we must get boys reading with books about boys (I’m not even going to go there) but it seems pretty basic that children look for themselves in books/magazines and films and a basic way to identify is with a character who is the same sex as them, so why is the stuff aimed at girls so trashy?

  6. Well I thought this would be an interesting, insightful comment, and instead I’m arguing about whether I should be more polite to someone who called me Millie Tant, so we’re all disappointed, pickle.

  7. There is a strong female character in Tintin: the Milanese nightingale herself, Bianca Castafiore!

    (But the mind boggles as to what would happen to a small girl who over-invested in her as a role model.)

  8. I loved Swallows And Amazons, and I remember the mixed cast of boys and girls being a big part of that. Not sure if I’m just spectacularly vain or if identitification is as important to everyone, but the closer I felt to the hero the more devoted I’d be to a book. So I enjoyed The Secret Garden, but I *really* enjoyed A Little Princess, in which the main character was called… Sarah.

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