gender stereotyping, grooming, pinkification

Colours and Gender Stereotyping

I went shopping two nights ago. I had my daughter in the wrap on my chest and she was dressed in a gorgeous bright blue coverall. I was buying her a new outfit that was white with pale blue dots on it and I had the following conversation with the shop assistant:

SA: Aw so it’s a little boy?
Me: No, actually, a little girl
SA: *concerned, quizzical look* But you’re buying her blue!
Me: *looking at her just as quizzically* Well, it won’t make her grow a penis *shrug*
The couple being served next to me crack up laughing and give me the thumbs up, lol.

It’s interesting how much belief we have in cultural myths. In this culture only boys can wear blue and only girls can wear pink. Somehow, magically, if you dress a boy in pink his penis will drop off and if you dress a girl in blue she’ll grow one. Or they’ll ‘turn gay’ because it’s all to do with colours, not genetics, you see.

Now I don’t mind the occasional boy-ish outfit for my son, and now that I have a daughter I don’t mind the occasional girl-ish item either. My daughter has a couple of cute dresses alongside many other clothes. But in general, I refuse to buy a uniform for Boys and a uniform for Girls simply because of our cultural mythology (which is reinforced by the companies who make money out of it). Large department stores are a sea of blue for boys and a sea of pink for girls, with ‘girl’ products costing more. We’re given the illusion of choice because of how many items there are, but we don’t really have that much choice. Except of course for the choice to walk out and shop elsewhere.

Conversely, if you do buy into the blue for boys and pink for girls then that can indeed have a great impact on our children as well as reinforcing socially-set stereotypes for girls and boys. Colours on their own are just colours, but when those colours are afforded cultural meaning then they do bear some weight. When you combine the pinkification of girls with princesses, good girling, etc., then we are buying into the cultural notion that girls and women need to place the most value into their looks and that they need to be subservient and acquiescent. For boys, parents are given the “choice” of dull colours like blue, grey and brown (because appearance isn’t as important for boys and men), skulls, trucks, cars, and camo gear – all reinforcing the strong and aggressive stereotype for boys and men.

By showing a colour bias children begin to get the message that their gender identity is tied up in that colour and what is printed on their clothing – sexy-looking/demure princesses and fairies, or aggressive/strong-looking fighters and builders. How we dress our children then indicates to others how to treat our children. As I’ve always kept Possum looking rather gender-neutral people often assume he is a girl, which I don’t correct them on because it doesn’t really matter, and it’s interesting to observe how differently he’s treated depending on whether they’ve assumed he is a boy or a girl.

My son has always had a range of colours to choose from – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, brown, grey, white, from bolds to pastels. He chooses according to his tastes at the time but I have noticed a slight preference for orange. He plays with a variety of toys from superhero figurines with angry faces and ripples of muscle to toy ponies that come with a comb for their long silky pink manes of hair (mainly though it’s neutral stuff like blocks and toy animals). At this age what’s between his legs is the only thing that makes him different to girls and until he develops sexual identity his and other people’s genitals don’t really matter, do they?

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