Pink and the brain
Okay, first the photo at right. My sister Irene and me, circa some year I prefer not to reveal. I am about seven years old. The dress I am wearing, which came with a matching coat. It was a gift from my childless Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jimmy who lived in the US who would frequently visit us bearing all sorts of goodies.
I still have the Ponytail ''My Treasures'' box Irene and I each got. For once I got the pink one, because it wasn't clothing, I guess. Ponytail was THE thing back then. I also had a hair curler box, a diary and an autograph book, none of which came in pink. (This is relevant, believe me.)
Anyway, about the dress. It was baby blue. Irene got a pink one, which made me crazy with jealousy. (I imagine she's not wearing it in the photo as she was a tomboy and probably got it dirty.) Irene always got the pink outfits while I got the blue ones. This was because, as was explained to me, I was the fair one and blue was more flattering while pink looked better with Irene's olive skin.
Yeah. Try convincing a seven year old with an answer like that.
My mania for pink continues today, as anybody who walks through much of my house soon learns.
Seems that little girls' are now obsessed with pink -- as any modern parent can confirm. This, apparently, at least according to a couple of sisters in the UK who have launched PinkStinks.com. Here's The Guardian on their colour war.
For maybe the past decade or so, little girls have inhabited a universe that is, almost entirely, pink. It is made up not just of pink princesses and fairies and ballerinas and fluffy bunnies, but of books, bikes, lunchboxes, board games, toy cookers, cash registers, even games consoles, all in shades of pink.
This Christmas is no exception. There is a pink globe, specially for girls. Scrabble has been repackaged in pink (the tiles on the front of the box spell FASHION). Monopoly has gone pink, with the dog, thimble and shoe pieces replaced by flip-flops, a handbag and a hairdryer, houses and hotels becoming boutiques and malls, and utilities turned into beauty salons. In at least one major supermarket chain you can now buy slices of bright pink ham, cut into heart shapes and called Fairy Hearts.
Something, plainly, has changed. "There's been," says Abi Moore, a 38-year-old freelance television producer, "a wholesale pinkification of girls. It's everywhere; you can't escape it. And it needs to change. It sells children a lie – that there's only one way to be a 'proper girl' – and it sets them on a journey, at a very, very early age. It's a signpost, telling them that beauty is more valued than brains; it limits horizons, and it restricts ambitions."
Oh come on. For real?
As the Guardian explains, it used to be that pink was for boys, way back when. Blue was seen as more appropriate for girls, ''because of its associations, in art, with the Virgin Mary.''
It wasn't until after the second world war that the colour code was reversed. In 1948, as the author of an authoritative item in the Chicago Reader notes, "royal watchers reported that Princess Elizabeth was obviously expecting a boy, because a temporary nursery in Buckingham Palace was gaily decked out with blue satin bows".
Some claim the tide turned for innate biological reasons. Research into colour preferences in monkeys have apparently shown that females prefer warm colours such as pink or red, perhaps because the pink face of a baby primate brings out the mother's maternal instincts. A widely reported study at the University of Newcastle in 2007 asked 200 men and women to choose their preferred colour from rectangles on a computer screen. It found that women showed a distinct preference for reddish colours. The researchers speculated that the gender d ifferences may be genetically determined: "Evolution may have driven females to prefer reddish colours – red, ripe fruits, healthy, reddish faces".
But the study failed to take full account of cultural factors: the enormous combined impact, for example, of parental preference, peer pressure and, above all, consumer marketing.
Now I will not for a minute disagree that little girls are targeted by marketers in many more ways than boys. There's no doubt that, today, despite the fad for pink dress shirts some years ago, no guy would be in the pink, at least not clothing-wise.
But should pink be such a concern to feminists? Does ''pinkification'' determine gender roles and careers, futures and psyches?
Why, though, does pointing this out, as Abi and Emma have done, strike such a raw nerve? "Guilt," says Sue Palmer, education writer and broadcaster and author of Toxic Childhood. "The obvious reaction is denial. When you don't buy into the whole competitive consumerist status quo, you have to be dealt with – and that's done by either bullying you or mocking you into submission: you're either mad, or a lesbian."
Commercial marketing, Palmer insists, is behind pinkification. "When you're two and a half or three,' she says, "you have two key instincts. The first is towards inclusion: the overpowering need to be part of the group. And at the same age, children become aware of gender. So there's this deep emotional need to be part of a group, and the group you want to be part of is your gender group – so that's how you capture them. Quite simply, the medium for catching girls is pink. The marketers have been at it, driving gender stereotypes, for 20 years; it's immensely insidious and it's mostly gone on under parents' radar."
The only reason our ''Proud Member of that Left-Wing Fringe Group called Women'' tees turned out black was because black is more flattering and goes with more colours. Based on the feedback, all of us define ourselves as feminist. Pink didn't screw us up.
After all, the colour has many positive associations. "In the pink'' is to be happy and healthy. ''Rose-coloured glasses'' denotes optimism, although perhaps naively so. The opposite? ''The blues.'' ''Black and blue.'' Okay, I am stretching it a bit. But I loved how Canada was always coloured pink on our classroom wall maps, and that public healthcare was ''a pinko'' concept, somewhat socialist but not quite ''Red.'' This is why I like to call our home and native land The Great Pink North.
The real problem is not pink, or lilac which is another little girl fave. It's the insidious way that corporations make girls become women wracked with with insecurity and self-loathing over body image -- and PinkStinks.com does recognize that.
It took a lot more than pink to convert us from the Our Bodies, Ourselves confident women of the feminist movement of the 1970s to a culture where botox and fake boobs have become a $15 billion a year industry.
As Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK, former head of the National Consumer Council and co-author of Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for Profit, tells The Guardian: "It's as if the women's movement had never existed.''
Being pretty in pink is the symptom, not the cause.