Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pink Aisle Politics

Interesting story out of the UK this past weekend, about the pervasiveness of colour-coding within children's - and particularly girls' - culture. As reported by Sarah Harris in the Mail Online, Sue Palmer - educator and author of Toxic Childhood, is trying to raise awareness about the massive gender segregation that continues to occur within toy aisles and children's product design. Calling it a "pink plague", Palmer and other child experts question the hyper-feminine ideals that underlie girls' toys and consumer goods...from lip-glosses to princess dresses, to pencil cases emblazoned with the Playboy logo (yikes!). Looks like a much-needed attempt to revive an old, but still extremely pertinent, issue. Here's an excerpt:
Stores have been accused of pandering to stereotypes by making girls' products almost exclusively pink. Experts claim a 'pink plague' on the High Street is deliberately widening the gap between the sexes by putting undue pressure on youngsters to conform to traditional roles. Many are becoming 'hooked on the girl colour' from a young age and are being duped into buying products that encourage them to grow up too quickly, such as lip-glosses and Playboy pencil cases.

As a result, young girls are discouraged from thinking for themselves or rebelling against the 'princess role', according to Sue Palmer, a literacy consultant and author of Toxic Childhood. She said the marketing drive to force the colour on girls has been so successful that speech therapists in Durham report that children can easily identify the colour blue, but say 'Barbie' when shown something pink.

'I'm worried about the "pink plague",' she said. 'You can't find girls past the age of three who aren't obsessed with the colour.

'It's just so insidious and it shows how commercial forces can get under their skin even by that age. You can't seem to get anything that's not pink for girls, whether it's clothes, books or toys.

'To me, the real danger is the extent to which marketers influence and infiltrate young children's minds. They have managed to infiltrate playground culture where peer pressure is so strong.'

Harris also describes that a "fierce debate" about the role of "pink" within girls' culture is currently unfolding on parenting websites such as Mumsnet (see here for example).

The article goes on to describe that the association of pink with girls is a fairly new (post-WWII) phenomenon - as a shade of red, pink was historically considered to be a "masculine" colour. On the other hand, a recent study conducted out of Newcastle University found that girls and women from various cultures around the world demonstrate a shared preference for reds, which extends to pink and reddish blues. Meanwhile, the universal favourite colour is apparently blue. Not that I promote biological determinism, but even if girls do have some sort of natural affinity for pink (I know I always have), that hardly excuses the children's industries' decision to consistently limit girls' culture to a pink monotone. The lack of variation (lack of alternatives, lack of diversity, lack of colour!!!) alone is a valid reason for concern about the state of girls' commercial culture.

The story also reminds me of The Pink & Blue Project by JeongMee Yoon. Her pictures are pretty consistent with Palmer's argument that the pervasiveness of pink within girls' culture extends far beyond the toy aisle, becoming such an ingrained part of children's lives that it becomes impossible to believe that this isn't a commercially-induced phenomenon.

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