All These Girls In Pink

Girls are not the problem.
Pink is not the problem.
Limiting girls to pink and to a narrow definition of what it means to be a girl is a HUGE problem. 
 

We went up to the cabin this weekend, located in the vast north woods of Wisconsin. Within thirty minutes of arriving we had set out on our first adventure with the kids. I took this photo of Amelia as she made her way down the steep, rocky drive and it struck me how much pink she was wearing. This is something not common for her and it seemed like an odd color to wear to go explore the muddy, early spring trails.

Heading out to explore the woods in pink and more pink.

Heading out to explore the woods in pink and more pink.

She had marched out of the cabin happy and confident, so I bit my tongue over telling her to change into pants she can get dirty and muddy. She howled for wolves on her way down to the meadow and creek. As we threw rocks and snow into the water Amelia and her best friend who was our guest for the weekend begged to trek across the road to the neighbor’s house where a team of sled dogs live in order to ask the neighbor if she would take them mushing. Dog sledding? I don’t know the term for that one.

After the girls finished shooting their bow and arrow they hauled rocks out of the woods to make benches near the fire pit.

After the girls finished shooting their bow and arrow they hauled rocks out of the woods to make benches near the fire pit.

I do know this — Pink can get dirty and muddy. Pink can go on adventures. Girls wearing pink are not going to not get dirty and muddy because of the pink. Not unless we tell them not to.

Racing snow boats in the creek.

Racing snow boats in the creek.

Much thought and debate is given to such a simple color these days. The gender stereotypes so often packaged in pink are far less simple. I am frequently involved in these conversations and I often find myself thinking about what girls think about all of this pink. Do they see it the same way adults do? We definitely hear from girls who are tired of all the pink, but do they see the color as limiting or as presenting limitations like so many of their parents do?  As far as my daughter goes, the answer is no. Well, the answer is actually more like “sometimes”.

If you were to ask Amelia what her favorite color is she will sometimes say pink, sometimes blue, and sometimes “all of them”. She will rant for hours to anyone who will listen about the gendering and sexism of Legos. But when her dad presented her with her first red Swiss army knife this weekend she asked if they also came in pink. She is eight years old and seems to be going through a very feminine stage right now (on some days), but she is overall a very balanced and well rounded kid so I’m not freaking out over a little pink and princess. It is a small part of her total package.

I find myself wondering all of the time what girls make of all the hullabaloo about girlhood.

I find myself wondering all of the time what girls make of all the hullabaloo about girlhood.

Pink has become a sort of uniform for girls, and that does bother me a great deal. I dislike the loss of individuality for herd mentality. I dislike that gender has to be the most salient quality about our daughters. Have you been to a preschool or elementary school lately? Herds of pink little girls. My daughter and I are often frustrated at the lack of color choices when shopping for things like coats, boots, and outdoor gear. Such was the case when we found the coat in the photo above. Our choices were pink, pink, and pink at the time we needed to buy one. We bought the blue rain boots from the “boys” section. Though my daughter’s closet includes a rainbow of color, there are definitely days she trends towards the monochromatic look. The day after she wore all pink she wore all blue.

And here is what I was thinking as I watched Amelia, her little brother Ben, and her best friend Maddy explore the great woods of Wisconsin that hold endless adventures for them: I think it is important for adults to be wise to the gendering of children’s products and the stereotypes packaged in pink. But more importantly, I think we need to be very, very careful we do not package our girls in those same stereotypes just because they are wearing pink. 

The presence of pink does not preclude the craving for adventure.

The presence of pink does not preclude the craving for adventure.

 

I say YES to limiting gendered products and unbalanced media.

I say YES to dismissing the gender stereotypes.

I caution you about limiting or dismissing the girls in pink. 

"I gotta bail before I go into the drink!" Amelia screamed while sledding.

“I gotta bail before I go into the drink!” Amelia screamed while sledding.

 

 

 

 

Calling a Six Year Old Sexy Is Not Magic

*Names in this story have been changed.

This correspondence comes from a member of our PPBB Community and her story launched a big discussion on our page. This is the follow up to that story.

Magician hat

 

While attending a birthday party for a friend’s daughter, our PPBB Community member endured a sexist comic bit by the magician hired to entertain the children, and then watched as the man referred to her six year old child as sexy.

Thankfully, this mom didn’t let it slide and she stood up for her daughter’s right to a childhood free of sexualization. She did so in a way that hopefully educates this performer and encourages him to change his upsetting ways.

 

Mr. Magician,

My daughter and I attended a friend’s daughter’s birthday party last week with my child where we saw your very engaging performance. Generally, I found it to be very enjoyable. However, some aspects of it troubled me.

 My main concern is that you referenced my six year old daughter as “sexy.”  My daughter had no idea what that word meant; there is no reason she should.  Six year olds are not sexy. How does a parent explain “sexy” to a young child in an age-appropriate manner? I thought the actual meanings of the word would be troubling to her, as they were to me in this context.

sexy:

1.  concerned predominantly or excessively with sexual intercourse;

2.  sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality.

 I will give you the benefit of the doubt, that you did not truly mean you found a six year old girl sexually exciting, nor that you thought she was concerned excessively with sexual intercourse.  I believe that you thought it was just a joke; that it was funny.  Sexualizing children is never funny.  You never should have made such a joke at the expense of my daughter’s innocence. 

 Similarly, it was inappropriate when you put the fake lips to the birthday girl’s mouth and usurped her voice, pretending that she was talking about boyfriends and kissing boys.  Again, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and that you did not realize you were sexualizing a five year old.  Yet, that is precisely what you did.  I can assure you, that like most children her age, this girl is focussed on things like colouring, bike riding, and even doing magic trick with her friends – including the boys.

My other concerns about your show also relate to your depiction of women and girls.  When you rallied the children into a screaming frenzy, you then said something to the effect of, “Stop!  You sound like my girlfriend!” and the second time, “Stop! You sound like my wife!”  This unfairly characterizes women in a very negative way, as shrill and screaming.  Again, how do I explain that you thought it was funny to have both a girlfriend and a wife?

At this particular party, only two of the children were boys. You made them wait for a balloon until all of the girls had a balloon. Some of the girls had even had repairs made to their balloons before you would make balloons for the boys, who sat patiently waiting.  You set their expectations:  you singled the boys out and told them that they would have to go last as the girls should go first.  And then you told the boys to blame that situation, YOUR decision, blame it on the girls. What message does that send to the boys?  What message does it send to the girls?  The boys were also offered different choices than the girls. Why was that necessary? When you limit children, you limit children.

You had a lot of fun material in your act.  I was disappointed when you stooped to these levels for the hope of a laugh.  You must have performed  for close to an hour and all of these inappropriate “jokes” (with the exception of the boys waiting for their balloons) probably totalled less than two minutes of your act.  I ask that you change your approach in the future.  Don’t sexualize little children. Don’t perpetuate negative stereotypes. Don’t scapegoat others for your choices.  Don’t limit children based on their gender.

Sincerely,
Laney Smith

 

Reply from Magician:

“Hi Laney and thank you for your concerns. I’ve been performing my children’s show for over 20 years and have never had any of the complaints that you have made. I am, however, going to run your concerns by some of my magician friends and by some of my non-magician friends, as well, to get their input on this matter.

 Your complaint about the boys ‘going last for balloons’ does have me puzzled though, as I have many parents praise me for letting girls go first. As for the different (birthday party) balloon options, I always go flowers or puppies on a leash for girls and swords, space guns or puppies on a leash for boys. Boys do not usually want a flower, just as most girls do not want swords or space guns.

 Mr. Magician”

 

Mr. Magician,
I don’t know which surprises me more; that you have been calling little girls sexy for 20 years, that no one has ever told you it is inappropriate, or that having had it pointed out, you are not convinced there is anything wrong with it.

While I don’t appreciate my opinion as a parent and potential customer being marginalized, I do hope that your friends and colleagues are more educated and enlightened that you seem to be.

I have asked some of my friends and colleagues for their input as well.  While you apparently don’t consider my opinion valid, perhaps you will consider it more seriously if you hear it from more than one person in your customer base.

As far as the balloons, it is simple sexual discrimination.  I am sure, in the past, there were people who thanked restaurants for having different seating areas for people of color.  That doesn’t make it right.  When you treat people preferentially based on their race, it is racial discrimination; when you treat people preferentially based on their sex, it is sexual discrimination.

It’s beside the point, but did you notice how many girls actually chose flowers?  Zero.  My daughter’s all-time favorite balloons have been a sword, a bow and arrow and a mermaid. By not offering the boys a flower, you sent them a message that flowers are not for boys. By not offering the girls a space gun, you sent the message that those toys are not for girls. Are you the first person to send this message? No. But that doesn’t mean you are correct, sir.  Again, when you limit children, you limit children.

Sincerely,
Laney Smith

 

A few days later Laney Smith email me this:

“I know of at least half a dozen people who have emailed the magician to let him know that calling children sexy is not OK.  I have not heard back from him again.

After much deliberation, I also talked further to my daughter about sexy.  As with a lot of words that she is unfamiliar with, she didn’t really take note of it at the time.  She had no idea what word he had used; she just remembered he was being silly.  I wanted to give her the knowledge to understand that what he had said was not OK.  I explained that he had called her sexy and asked if she knew what that meant.  She didn’t.  I explained that it is a word that grown-ups use to describe someone they like a lot and feel like they might like to spend a lot of time kissing them.  She said, “my friends would think that’s gross and so do I!”  She understood it’s not a word that makes sense to use for children and said, “But, mom, he was just being silly.”  I told her that, yes, I think that was his goal, but there were other ways for him to be silly that didn’t involve using a very grown-up word for her.

I wanted her to know that I didn’t think he actually wanted to spend a lot of time kissing her, but rather he didn’t really think about what he was saying and what his words meant.  I told her that I have been explaining it to him, so that he doesn’t keep calling other children sexy.  I also reminded her that when someone, anyone, uses inappropriate words with her, it’s not HER fault.

If someone uses words like that with her again, I want her to recognize that they are not OK.  I want her to be able to say to that person, “You shouldn’t be saying that to me; that’s not OK.”

I also want her to know that I will have her back. Always.”

Parenting to Stereotype

Parenting to Stereotype: Yesterday I was chatting with a mom I recently met while we watched our kids on the playground. A little boy was going down the slide with one leg over the edge, at which point she asked him to be careful. Then she turned to me and said, “Boys! They are so wild!”  As if on cue Amelia and one of her buddies came running into our peripheral vision and tackled each other to the ground. I replied, “I think you mean, ‘Kids!’, because my daughter would go down the slide the same way and so would the other little girl she is wrestling with right now.”

The mom went on to tell me how different her boy and girl are from each other, that her daughter is so well behaved and her son is such a little dare devil. I asked if maybe it had more to do with individual personality vs gender, but she insisted it was gender. While she was speaking she literally had to stop herself to gasp as another little girl jumped from the platform of the play structure to an outlying bar so that she could dangle there ten feet above the ground. I looked around for my son and found him sitting underneath a different slide, quietly talking with another little boy.

I informed her that my experience as a parent has been the opposite as it is my girl who is the dare devil and my son is the *slightly* better behaved of the two. She again insisted she saw a huge difference in her boy and girl and that it was due to their gender. I just smiled and acquiesced with “Every kid is so different from the next, but you know your children and their personalities best.”   We said our goodbyes as it was time for us to go, and as her daughter walked over I noticed she was dressed head to toe in pink and her mother held out a princess backpack for her to wear for the walk home.

Maybe it is her daughter’s personality, and there is nothing inherently wrong with liking pink or princesses. But part of me wondered, is that her daughter being herself or her daughter meeting her parent(s) expectations for what it means to be a girl? Did her daughter have a choice other than pink or princess? When I saw her today after school I noticed that she was again wearing head to toe pink. I’m sure this mom is a great mom, I just found it unfortunate she was ignoring evidence right in front of her that not all kids fit the gender stereotypes she was literally insisting were true.

Let’s just let kids be kids, yes?

I know I’ve shared a similar story to this before, but a photo sent in by PPBB Community Member Penny Collins got me thinking about a book I read this past spring called “The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls” by Emily Kane. I hope you check it out, it is eye-opening to how parents parent to stereotype.

Oh, it is laundry day at the Collins’ house, and these pants belong to Penny’s daughter.

These pants belong to a hard-playing little girl.

Pink Pumpkin: Colors Are For Everyone

A little story from our home over the weekend to let you all know that even at PPBB World Headquarters I have to give my kids reminders about pushing out marketing/cultural messages on gender and encourage them to be their own people.

So we were decorating seasonal gourds…..

“Mom, Ben is painting his pumpkin pink. Ben, pink is a girl’s color.” -7yo Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Ammeereeuh! Colors are for ebberyone.” -5yo Benny Boy

“Smalls, pink is a great color. Benny chose it as one of his colors for painting. Pink isn’t a girl color, today it is a Benny color. Colors are for everyone.” -Me

“I know. I was just reminding him what people might say.” -OPP

“Ammeereeuh! You are headed for trouble!” -Benny

“Smalls, what other people say about Ben’s pumpkin is none of his business. Kids can choose whatever colors they want. There aren’t rules to follow.” -Me

“Well, anyway, I’m painting mine purple and yellow to look like monster guts.” -OPP

“I’m painting mine pink to look like a jellybean an den dey will bite an der teef will fall out!” -Benny

“Guys, sometimes there is a lot of pressure on kids to only like certain colors because of some ideas adults hold. But kids shouldn’t have limits like that and the fake rules about colors that adults hold are ridiculous. And then they teach those fake rules to kids, which is even more ridiculous.” -Me

“Yeah. Iss really ridiffilicous.” -Benny

 

Colors are for everyone.

When Gender Stereotypes Do Not Allow You To See

Every time I hear a gender stereotype said, I challenge it. I’m “that” person in the room. Hearing those words are like nails on a chalkboard to me. (For you whippersnappers, it would be like losing your wifi.) Those stereotypes alter our beliefs and how we allow our children to interact in the world. I am raising a boy and a girl, and their gender is not their most salient quality about their person.

The other day my friend’s son was standing on top of the high monkey bars. “Get down, you’ll hurt yourself!” she hollered to him. And then turned to me and said, “Boys!” I cocked my head to the side and made no attempt to hide my smirk as I pointed out to her my daughter was standing right next to her son. “Don’t break anything on the way down!” I hollered to my daughter as she jumped off. I turned to my friend and said, “Girls!” In reality, it was just two kids being kids, giving their mothers heart attacks as they launched their bodies off the play equipment from seven feet in the air.

And when a mom I know was going on and on about her sons bringing her gross things from the yard and how hard it is to raise boys, I directed her attention to my daughter and her girlfriend who were marching around the field with branches raised in the air like parade banners, cicada shells hanging off their ears and lips. I told her it was the same thing for moms of girls. In reality, kids will be kids and some have a propensity for bringing you bugs, snakes, frogs, and spiders. And the occasional dead bird.

And this morning, when someone at school mentioned how glad they were the kids got some playtime in the morning before they went into class. “These boys really need it”, she said. I looked around at girls running and playing tag in the field, another group of girls spinning in circles, and my daughter and her friends jumping around and squawking like chickens. “The girls do too, by the looks of it.”

In all of these instances the girls were doing EXACTLY the same things the boys were, but it was literally invisible to the people observing the situation because it didn’t align with their stereotypes.

In the twenty-some years I’ve been working with kids I have yet to have this belief discredited: When we limit our children, we limit our children.