Wednesday, 19 November 2014

In Defence of Pink (AKA the blog post I never thought I'd write)

This article by Jessica Valentini was recently published in the Guardian, I read it, thought it made some good points but wasn't brilliant and then largely forgot it.  Later it cropped up in my time line on facebook posted by the PinkStinks campaign and triggered quite a lively discussion.

To be honest I don't know much about Jessica Valentini, like most commentators sometimes I agree with what she writes, sometimes I don't.  I have long been a fan of PinkStinks having come across them when my eldest daughter was very tiny and I was panicking about stemming the tide of pink that threatened to overtake my life.

Back then I was very concerned about the effects of indoctrinating little girls into a belief that their lives must be dominated by one colour, a colour that stands for femininity and weakness.  A colour that must be applied to anything before girls or women can use it. (Bic pens, cooking toys, wellies, gardening equipment etc etc).  Girls can't possibly use the same version that boys use, it has to be prettified, appearances are after all important.  I didn't want my tiny daughter's life to be channelled into such a narrow view.  I banned pink from the house and set about bringing up my mini me.

Of course life isn't always so cut and dry.  This small person who is now nearly five turned out to have a personality of her own which was nothing like what I expected.  She is wilful, stubborn, opinionated (OK OK, I get where that's all from), she's also funny and bright and very very into princesses and pink (and space and science incidentally).  For a while I struggled against this but I have learnt to just go with the flow.  If I give her a choice she will go for the stereotype girly stuff every time.  Sometimes I get things for her without giving her a choice and I'll deliberately not buy the pink girl's option to get some variety.  This usually backfires spectacularly when she just refuses to use it.  That fabulous denim jacket that was a Christmas present last year has been worn about four times, each time under sufferance.  Also I always feel a bit guilty for going against what I know her choice would be.

The thing is how can I tell her or imply that the choices she makes are wrong?  How can I consistently tell her that the way she chooses to express herself is wrong?  Surely that goes against everything that a good feminist parent should be doing.

I sometimes feel that in some parts of the feminist online community mothers who let their children wear pink are looked down on as being substandard.  We can't possibly be properly offering our children choice or they wouldn't choose to wear that completely impractical pink flowery dress to the play park.  I commented on the PinkStinks thread about this and how my eldest hasn't worn trousers for the last two years.  This attracted a slightly aggressive sounding comment which didn't really articulate anything very much but seemed to imply that it had been my choice and not my daughter's to limit her wardrobe to skirts and dresses.  Cos obviously I just love putting tights on a pre schooler every bloody day.  I also got a slightly patronising comment about keeping her options open.  Yes, thanks for that.  It's much more useful if the campaign against pinkification is directed at manufacturers, not the parents of children who conform to gender stereotypes.

Part of giving our children (of both genders) choice is respecting their decisions.  If we do that we can teach them that they don't have to conform to a whole mind set if they are a girl who loves pink and princesses or a boy who loves blue and dinosaurs.  We can still help them to explore the world and their options while respecting their autonomy.  Banning pink was a simplistic way of dealing with what I now realise is a very complex issue.  From now on I pledge to let both my daughters be who they choose by giving them as much choice as possible (including all the pink rubbish).

My fabulous daughter proving that you can still climb a climbing frame in a pink dress and fake lelli kellis.