The Pink Problem

By Danielle Veith

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When I was little, my mom’s relationship with my grandparents was bad enough at times to include years of silence. I think my parents had three kids before my dad convinced my mom to bring us to see them. It felt tense, being in their home. For me, the quiet pleaser, it was all about keeping the peace, hoping no one would explode.

That was the backdrop of my first memory of the color pink—my grandmother asking me if it was my favorite color, assuming it was my favorite color. I think she was giving me a pink dress. She didn’t know much more about me than that I was a girl and so obviously I liked girl things, pink things. It wasn’t my favorite color, not that I know now what my favorite color was (as shocking as my kids find it that I don’t know what my favorite color was!). What I do remember is looking into my redheaded, feminist, not-pink-loving mom’s eyes that seemed to say, “It’s okay to do the easy thing, even if it’s not true.” So, yes, of course pink was my favorite color. I was a little girl and thank you very much for the dress.

I’m not sure I thought about pink again until 20 years later when my best friend, a mother of two girls, showed up one day in pink running shoes. It was one of those memories you look back on with great humility after you become a parent—I actually judged my friend for changing as a parent into someone who would wear pink. Gasp! As I sit here typing, I’m wearing a) a dress, b) purple tights and c) pink ballet flats. Pink and purple are my daughter’s favorite colors and I like when my outfits delight her.

Did you know that Pantone declares a color of the year? This year it’s radiant orchid (purple). When my daughter was born it was Blue Iris (a shade of blue), and for my son it was Honeysuckle (oh so pink). If she knew, she’d be so jealous and really want to trade. The room they share now is blue. When we painted my daughter’s baby room, it was a very pale color called Milk Glass Pink. There was also a little pink in her floral bedding, even if it was mostly some neutral brownish color.

When I think about my daughter’s early love of pink, I have to admit that I picked that color for her walls. And then there’s the catalogs.

When she was little, my daughter liked to read while she ate. It was the easiest way to keep her at the table. After ruining a few board books, we switched to magazines, disposable and constantly everywhere. She used to go through them and point, “Is this a girl? Is this a boy? This is a girl, right?” So, I blame Pottery Barn. But we also got a lot of hippie wooden toy, no faced doll kinds of catalogues, which may have had girls playing with trucks and boys in the toy kitchens, but the layout still told you: This is the girl section. This is the boy section.

So why was I so surprised when she was the first two-year-old in preschool to don the pink tutu and tiara?

My daughter asked me to spell out these words so she could write them.

My daughter asked me to spell out these words so she could write them.

A brief history of pink and gendered clothing for kids— It wasn’t until my parents’ generation (those baby boomers!) that children were raised in gender specific clothing. Before that, there was a long period of easy-to-bleach white baby dresses for both genders until age 6 or so. You can read more in this interesting piece from the Smithsonian (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/?no-ist). To quote the author, Jeanne Maglaty, around 1918, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

That’s right—boys in pink, girls in blue. For many years, “appropriate” went back and forth from one color to the next. Frankly, I think it’s pretty bizarre to get so riled up over a single color. If we can agree that pink is lovely on certain roses and peonies, why is the color itself so awful?

Feminists have had a huge impact with their ideas about feminine dressing. Catherine Hepburn’s pants were scandalous! I agree, there is a freedom in wearing pants, a seriousness to gender neutral clothing for the business world. So thanks for that.

But somewhere things got a little out of hand and anything feminine, especially anything pink, became negative. Quick! Everyone! Go neutral! But what’s neutral? Over time, it’s come to mean that pink (and femininity) is lesser than, and gender neutral started living in boyland.

It's just a color!

It's just a color!

Pink. Girly. How awful. Just as pink was once rejected for it’s very femininity, I feel the need to defend it and all things feminine. I think it’s time, my third wave friends, that we put on our lipstick, dress our daughters in frilly pink tutus and let them free. We have better washing machines now, and being in a dress no longer holds little girls back.

What about our boys? What happens when a boy puts on a pink dress? Or when their favorite color is purple? In some places, even today, it could be literally life-threatening. As long as pink is limited to girls, we limit our boys, too. Men in pink are only ok, the thinking seems to be, when they are wealthy men on vacation from their very.important.jobs. Their pink shirts say something like, “Look! I’m not working! Pink! I would never wear pink at the office! I’m so relaxed and chill!” If you’re wearing pink, you’d better be within a mile of a beach or golf course.

Melissa & Doug and other toy companies pandering to progressive parents tell us that girls can to anything. There’s a girl and a boy on the packaging of every dress-up outfit they make—engineer, surgeon, even firefighter. But nurse? ballerina? hair stylist? That packaging is all girls, every time. So, to translate: girls can do anything, but boys are limited to boy things, things they will later be paid more for later in life, not coincidentally.

It’s great that my generation was raised to believe that girls can do anything. I hope the next one realizes that boys can too. Even girly things, even if they’re not gay.

That’s our job, fellow mamas, to raise boys who can, if they want, wear pink.

 

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Crazy Like a Mom

Crazy mom Danielle Veith has two kids—a 5 year-old daughter and a 2 year-old-son—who are happier than she could ever have imagined. Being a stay-at-home mom for almost five years makes her feel totally insane, but also lucky, constantly amazed and full of wonder. Before the babies, she lived in Brooklyn and had a real grown-up life that included working in the Creative Writing Program at NYU, at The Nation magazine and at Viking-Penguin Books. With her ever-loving husband and children, she now lives in the Washington DC metro area, and puts her MFA in poetry to good use writing in her head when no one's screaming.