Words || Shannen Broun
“I feel like this bag is too girly for a newborn boy,” is a comment I often hear from behind the till.
“Do you have anything more boyish?”
Time and time again, I find myself asking the following two questions: why is pink a widely accepted marker of femininity? What if a boy doesn’t like the colour blue? Working in customer service, the customer is always right. But it’s difficult to agree to disagree with your own family, let alone a stranger. Recently, a man with large, round glasses walked into the shop in search of a stuffed toy for a seven-year-old girl. “We have unicorns and seahorses,” I said. The man didn’t jump at either of those suggestions. “We have a shark also,” I added. This caught his attention. Bored of the sparkly pink display he said, “A shark would be really cool”.
My little brother loved dressing up in high-heels and carrying a handbag around because he wanted to be like me. Gender expectations are irrelevant to children, so why do we, as adults, expect ‘boys to be boys’ and ‘girls to be girls’? He loved Dora the Explorer and wanted the pastel yellow and pink bags with her face on it because he was a huge fan. He loves football but also plays string instruments. Individuality and acceptance help people grow. In school I was bullied, my individuality was not accepted, and that was difficult because I felt blocked and alienated from the rest of the grade. This was shattering for my self-confidence. Let kids be kids and encourage other kids to be kids with them.
Schools have uniforms. All the children follow the same colour scheme. They wear blues and greys and greens, and the girls aren’t concerned about wearing ‘boyish’ colours. My favourite colour is and always will be blue. Boys played with Yu-gi-oh cards and Beyblades when I was in primary school. Scattered across the playground were barbie dolls, dollies and various weird beloved stuffed animals that belonged to the ‘girl groups.’ If toys were less gender specific, would this encourage boys and girls to play more together on the playground? This could reduce gender-targeted bullying. The boys used to chase me across the playground, because they thought they had more power than the girls who had a problem with me.
I interviewed a friend of mine, Louise, on the subject and ran a survey to get a wider variety of opinions. “Comments about special development have some basis in psychology,” said Louise, mother of three. “Girl babies recognise emotions up to three months earlier and boys typically become mobile faster. It could be argued that the ‘cars vs dolls’ is influenced by natural strength rather than a natural weakness. The colour specification is something that we learn.”
Consciously or not, we teach ourselves and children colour specification. From blue or pink coloured baby spoons to bedsheets, as adults we influence how our siblings and children choose toys and items.
The survey’s purpose was to gain an insight from mothers as I have no children of my own. Some respondents argued that advertising, although a significant factor, does not stop their children from choosing the toys they want to play with. A girl might naturally choose a doll to play with while her brother might choose an action figure, regardless of what they’ve seen on television. However, the boy-dominated Hot Wheels advertisements and pretty-in-pink girls playing with My Little Ponies does make an impact. One mother pointed out the fact that Paw Patrol characters are divided by gender-specific colours. The male dogs wear primary colours and the female dogs wear pink or light green. I’ll argue that this was not the intent of the creators, because each dog is dressed in the appropriately coloured uniform for its service (i.e. Marshall wearing red to match the fire engine, teaching kids about emergency services and how to identify them).
A popular view is that children are learning from a very young age that blue ‘means’ boy and pink ‘means’ girl. The pull toward a doll or car isn’t natural, one mother argued, as this is something that a child learns from their surrounding influences. Boys who want to wear dresses and push prams to be like their older sisters should be allowed to play freely without being told they are not masculine enough. Another mum argued that boys clothing sections in shops should stock more variety. Girls have a larger range of colours to choose from, but boys are restricted to blues and dull greys. Why not have a unisex clothing section in every shop?
Why should boys have to prove their masculinity as they would have in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries; through rough sport or hunting? Girls do not have to prove their femininity by being a ballerina or a mother or riding horses in a side-saddle. Colour specifications are just as ridiculous.