Boys and Girls, This Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game

The "war on pink" is a war on limitations and stereotypes, not shades of a color that has become woefully gendered.I’m no mathematician, but I do not see advocating for childhood to be a healthier place for our children to be a zero-sum game. We need people supporting breastfeeding just as much as we need those who are focused on getting kids active and eating right. We need school and literacy advocates just as much as we need anti-poverty experts. Sadly, there are enough issues facing our kids to keep all of us very, very busy. Overall, we need people supporting girls just as much as we need people supporting boys. We don’t abandon one group in order to serve another.

So when an article came out yesterday telling people like myself and my colleagues to stop focusing on girls and Pink Culture because “what about the boys?”, I was hesitant to share it. I did share a quote from the end of it that I agreed with, but I suppose that was an odd thing to do because I disagreed with the rest of the article. Or better said — with the way it was written.

I advocate for both boys and girls, but my work does tend to skew more towards girlhood because that is where I see the bulk of the problems with children’s media. Maybe that is because I am female, maybe that is because I’ve been a parent to a girl longer than I’ve been a parent to boy. Maybe it is because I see some level of violence to be a natural part of childhood development (read “Killing Monsters” and “The War Play Dilemma”) and I see the sexualization of girls as completely unnatural and encouraged by the corporations who profit from it.

I will continue to write about, advocate for, and care deeply about our boys. But in so doing, I don’t have to abandon our girls. Neither do my colleagues. We wouldn’t think of doing that, not for a minute.

A must read on this:
( Rebecca Hains)

( Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker’s Operation Transformation)


The in-your-face sexism is easy to see, and for the most part easy to speak out against. It is the subtle, barely noticeable, should-I-even-say-something sexism and gender stereotyping that is harmful, and far more likely to directly touch our children. The subtle sexism is everywhere in childhood, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. But you can speak out against it, and teach your kids to do so, too.

Here are some great examples sent to me this weekend from our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook Community:

“At Payless Shoes today the saleslady was giving out stickers. I heard her ask several girls if they liked princesses, and boys if they liked cars. So I was pleased when she asked my 4-yr-old daughter if she wanted Hello Kitty, and then surprised when my daughter walked away with the sticker, very upset. Turns out she wanted spiderman, but that wasn’t a “girl” choice. So of course, we went right back up to the counter for spiderman.”  -Sarah B


” So earlier today I was at my little brother’s birthday party at a kid’s gym (I’m 20 and he just turned 7. I know, big age gap) and I was watching the kids get their goodie bags. My mom and I had packed them with fairly generic things (slinkys, stickers, toy lizards/frogs, gooey hands that stick to the wall, etc) and no bag was meant for any particular person. There were pink, blue, and purple bags.

I didn’t see them all being handed out, but what I DID see was a girl going up to the gym employee, asking for a blue bag, and the worker telling her no, she could have the pink one. Looking around the room, I don’t think a single girl got a blue bag. If that wasn’t bad enough, I heard one of my brother’s friends complaining to another friend about getting a purple bag. I interjected myself into the conversation and asked the boy what was wrong with the purple bag. He explained to me with disgust that purple was a “girl color”. I quickly replied “Well that sounds silly. How can one color be for a boy or a girl? Everyone likes colors.” He stopped for a second and pondered that, like he had honestly never heard anything like that before.

Being a college student, I don’t really have a ton of day-to-day interaction with kids. But it’s days like today that remind me why the work you do is so important. The funny thing is, when the kids opened their bags up, they were all having a blast playing together with the frogs and flinging their sticky hands around the room. Not a single one cared anymore about what color their bag was. I guess kids will be kids. We just need to learn to step back and let them.”  -Ellisa B


While at a community event this weekend, I ran into a good friend who told me what she had observed in the children’s area at a craft table: A father and son were about to start the craft that the children chose, either a crown or a shield. The boy wanted to make a crown. The father said no, crowns were for girls, and the boy would make a shield. The boy then tried to choose a pink crayon to start decorating it, and the father said no, pink was for girls, and switched out the crayon for another color.

At this same event, this happened to my family:
The lady volunteer announced who each of us would be, telling Benny he was a knight, Amelia a princess. Amelia’s shoulders fell.
“I wanted to be a knight.” -Amelia
“Girls weren’t knights. You can be a princess because you’re too young to be a lady in waiting.” -Volunteer
“Huh?” -Amelia
“I think she’s suggesting you go inside and rewrite history, Smalls.” -Me

Thankfully, when I posted this story on the facbook page, several commentors left names of women like Joan of Arc, Boudica, Grace O’Malley, Nicola de la Haye, and the children’s series Jane and the Dragon so that I have evidence to show her to the contrary.

In this post, my colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker does a great job showing how really easy it is to get kids thinking critically about their media! Click HERE.

We also need to get kids challenging the stereotypes they face day to day, usually completely unintentionally by the other person. But therein lays the problem — the sexism is so engrained it is invisible.  

Jane and the Dragon

Pinkwashed Preschool

I had some parents share their experiences with me on Facebook, and wanted to share them here.

“My daughter’s pre-school just repainted their rooms this weekend and in the two’s bathroom they had removed the Elmo potty pictures and put a princess (guessing) and Dora over one potty and spiderman and a dinosaur over the other. My daughter asked where’d Elmo go, and then was super excited about the dinosaur. I am worried she will be discouraged from using the toilet with the dinosaur because now it is for boys.” -Natalie

” I picked up my 4 1/2 year old twin daughters from pre-school today & they were both carrying pink plastic firefighter helmets. Their teachers told me that they had had a visit from the local fire dept. & got to check out a firetruck. While I was buckling them in their seatbelts, I casually said, “Cool hats. You both chose pink ones?” The response I got was “Mom, we’re girls so we get pink hats. Th…e boys get black hats.” My heart sank but I mustered up an upbeat tone & said, “Well, you can always choose whichever color you like best. Some girls might like a black hat & some boys might like a pink hat. Its your choice.” One of my daughters said matter of factly, “A boy is not gonna want a pink hat.” I said, “Some boys might & thats perfectly ok. Everyone has his or her own choice, their own likes & dislikes and thats cool.”
Arrrgh, have you ever seen a real firefighter wearing a pink helmet? Would a firefighter in a pink helmet be taken as seriously or viewed to be as competent & experienced or be paid as well as a firefighter in a black helmet? Why the heck do they even make toy fire helmets in pink? Arent actual firefighter helmets either black, red or yellow? I guess I’ll never know whether the girls were given the pink hats or if they chose pink…but sure felt that the pinkification process was bearing down on us hard today.”  -Diane

And on the way to preschool:

“I’m writing you about is your choice of morning commercials. See, we don’t teach about dieting in our house or about when people are “fat” or “skinny”. We try to teach our daughter to respect everyone regardless of what they may look like. We teach her to love and respect her body, eat healthy foods to power her awesome brain, and exercise her strong muscles. We teach her to be proud of the body that she has and remind her of all the amazing things that she does and can do with her body. This morning on the way to her school, after listening to endless commercials about diet pills and filling shakes and ugly fat, she pinched whatever bit of extra she could find on her 4 year old, 30 lb body and said,”Mom, this makes me ugly??”. My stomach dropped. I wanted to cry for the ideas that had just invaded my daughter’s head. For the girl in her class I saw a few weeks ago when I volunteered who pinched her very own precious cheeks and said,”These are just too fat”. I know that your commercials are set to earn money for your show, I am not ignorant to the ways of advertising. But commercializing this constant need for perfection, to be pretty, to fit the norm… it’s doing a great disservice to our children and to ourselves. I pulled the car over in the school parking lot today and reminded my daughter how beautiful she is. How smart and funny and full of awesome. I made sure she understood that she is BEAUTIFUL because of her kindness and her gentle heart and her amazing sense of humor. I reminded her of all the outstanding things that her body is able to do. And I changed the radio station.”  -Stephanie

And around town:

“My going on 5-year-old daughter have an on-going conversation about the colour pink. And the last few months she has been espcially focused on the idea that pink and princesses are for girls, therefore, she loves pink and princesses b/c she is a girl. Today at a playground, in response to me asking, “But aren’t colours for everyone?” she said, “Yes.” (And I silently breathed a sigh a relief for the breakthough.) Then she continued, “Except for boys. Colours aren’t for boys.”   -Laura
“Today we took our 2yr. old to buy some hiking shoes for our summer camping and the salesperson said “ummmm, this is all we have.” One pair (and yes they had pink on them) . We went straight to the boys section to see a variety. Obviously girls don’t hike. We did pick out a great pair with fish on them ! She was so happy with them she wore them home and for the rest of the day!”  -Marney