The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Pink Stuff Is For Girls

Posted by Mel Campbell on November 27, 2008

We’ve had debates on this blog before about princess culture, and to what extent the toys and pop culture that little girls grow up with determine their values as women. South Korean photographer JeongMee Joon has dramatised this stuff in a portrait series of girls and boys with their stuff. She calls it Pink And Blue.


Startling stuff, eh? In an interview with illustration blog Lost At E Minor, Joon says:

“The project began from my five-year-old daughter, who loved the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea, and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it’s the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise that has developed into a modern trend. Girls train subconsciously, and unconsciously, to wear the color pink in order to look feminine’.”

Asked whether the kids themselves demand pink stuff, or whether it’s the parents, she says: “Some children are just obsessed with pink things, and some children just like the color pink as their favorite. Some parents did not want pink colors, but the kids want it. Also, most boys did not have obsession about blue colors, but our society already divided their thoughts about gender for color’.”

Personally I don’t think the colours themselves carry damaging cultural meanings, although I’m aware of arguments like, “Pink is a watered-down version of red – how come boys get a strong primary colour?” A lot of the colours given to children are pale pastels anyway; and hot pink is arguably a more powerful colour than baby blue.

It’s the way these colours are coded to feminine and masculine stereotypes that is troubling. Also troubling is the sexist assumption that women are so nuts for pink that they can be persuaded to buy anything in that colour. Hence we see pink razors (same as men’s version; just different colour), pink power drills, pink mobile phones…. and of course, the orgy of pink consumerism surrounding breast cancer research.


16 Responses to “Pink Stuff Is For Girls”

  1. bri said

    I tried to avoid pink for my 2 year old but it is very difficult to do so. And now she wants everything in pink. It makes me cringe inside because she is obsessed with pink and barbie dolls (she didn’t get them from me). I try to balance it out by making sure she also has cars, trucks, tools and all the “boy” toys as well. Yet she still seems to gravitate to the “girl” toys. She is right into baby dolls at the moment, I think partly because she copies the things I do for her (nappies, feeding, nursing etc) and does the same things for her “baby”.

  2. Rhiana Whitson said

    Some ideas on the gendered meaning of colour…

    Pink and blue are highly coded colours, loaded with gendered meaning. It was Judith Butler who spoke (now this is not an exact quote, but rather, the general gist of what she was saying, my memory isn’t that good!) of how gendered identity is constructed from the moment the doctor or nurse pronounces you a ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’ From that moment, an entire life is created in the minds of parents and society, most often, baby clothes are pre-bought and given as gifts at baby showers; pink for girls, blue for boys. Of course gender ‘neutral’ colours such as green and yellow are also popular, but largely these colours are only given when the sex of the unborn is unknown. Thus, sex and gender become inextricably linked from the first pronouncement of sex. Sex signifies gender, and gender signifies desire.

    Female = feminine = male attracted. Male = masculine = female attracted.
    So you could argue that the female attraction to pink is a socially constructed choice, capitalized on by marketers and blindly followed by society at large… But what about personal agency, you might argue? Personally I think the obsession some girls have with the colour pink is too widespread for it to be anything but social conditioning…

  3. Nat said

    The pink marketing thing is weird and lame. But I think what the “pink product” does is send a signal rather than play on colour preference (which is probably obvious to everyone). Say with a traditional male product, power drills etc – pink says I am the non-male friendly, simple, version of the product. It is stupid. It is stupider that it works.
    Remember all the bullshit about the “pink-economy”(gay economy) – now that was just confusing!

    In terms of colour preferences, studies tend to indicate that females have a preference towards tints, as opposed to shades, of red. Accounting for cultural influences, researches have put this down to biological evolution on two possible counts. 1 women as traditional gatherers needing to distinguish between colours of berries etc. 2 – the part of the brain that detects emotions and facial expressions is more developed in women and determining shades of red/pink could help detecting emotional changes in the face.

    But whatever…barbie pink is a terrible, terrible colour!

  4. Clem Bastow said

    The first time I saw those photos I had a hard time finding the children amongst the masses of stuff! Surely the conspicuous consumption in the portraits is more concerning than what colour is preferred by the child/parents!

  5. Bearded Lady said

    @ Clem

    Exactly! Frightening stuff. Been to a baby-shower lately? It starts while the baby’s still a foetus in the mother’s womb.

  6. lauredhel said

    Nat, when you say “studies show”, I’m guessing you mean one study, the Hurlbert one. That study has an enormous amount of problems, some of which I outlined here. The hypotheses you outline are pure handwaving on behalf of the authors, nothing more.

  7. Steven said

    I found this article on the history of lego’s foray into ‘girl toys’ and toy gendering in general – its feministe via Jezebel

    the section at the end on how children play when an observer is present vs when one is not was interesting too (IMO)

  8. I came up against this one in an interesting way last week. I’ve been buying my gifts to give to charity. I buy for both genders and a few different age groups. As I do for my niece and/or friend’s children, I attempt to buy items which aren’t squarely in the gender stereotypes of their sex. When buying for total strangers and their children however, I struggled.

    My beliefs on challenging these stereotypes are universal. They come under consideration in all aspects of my life. When it comes to buying for kids who are unlikely to get exactly what they want for Christmas though, because their parents don’t have the money to buy whatever it is (and the rest of us are just guessing what kids might want), should I keep trying to buy items based on how they fit with/against stereotypes? I hope that these kids like what they get. I want them to get some of the joy I took for granted every single year of my childhood on Christmas morning. And whether I like it or not, a huge proportion of those little girls would love a Barbie, and a huge proportion of the boys would love some Thomas the Tank Engine. Isn’t it more important that they have a huge smile than me feeling like my world view is being affirmed. Gender neutral toys are often not on the most ‘wanted’ lists of these kids, so I don’t want to get something just for the sake of them having something to unwrap.

    I ended up doing a bit of both. I bought a lot of books, got neutral baby clothes and some general stuffed toys… but I also bought dolls (and marked them as being for girls) and a few Thomas books and toys (which I marked as being for boys). I’ll keep my campaign for gender neutral (or jamming) toys for kids I know have the luxury of already having toys… of any kind.

  9. […] An idea of what you’re up against when you fight this ‘pink is for girls’ thing. […]

  10. kate said

    The bit that shits me the most is that (as with so many things in grown up land) there are “toys” and there are “girls toys”. Toys come in a range of colours, and they do all kinds of stuff. You can make stuff with them, drive them around, push, pull, cart, assemble and make believe. Then there are “girls toys”, which are variations on the one colour and involve making yourself pretty or pretending to do housework or looking after a baby.

    The other thing is that the toy iron/kitchen set/doll’s house is almost always pink these days. So aside from searing our daughters’ eyes with pink and more pink, we code all those things as “not for boys”.

  11. breedermama said

    I agree with Kate. For boys, who are told from preschool on (most much much earlier) that pink is a “girl color” what kind of msg does it send when a male child wants a play kitchen but can only find them in “girl colors”? Thankfully Target offers their kitchen in primary hues.

  12. Natasha said

    I know of an adorable little boy who for the last few years has had an obsession with pink. He doesn’t want to know about clothing or toys if they aren’t pink, and his parents oblige him (although it’s been suggested to me that his Dad squirms about it a little – but still they oblige him).

    So this has meant that this little boy has some ‘girly’ toys, and will hopefully grow up to be a great cook and housekeeper(!), but his love of pink things is free from gender stereotyping.

    I agree that the marketing of pink to girls is rubbish, but I do think that the way kids make their preferences is more complex than this. It will be interesting to see if this little boy stands by his commitment to pink as he gets a bit older (he’s only about 2 now) and becomes more social.

  13. Pia said

    Oh mutch Pink 🙂 ❤

  14. Kate said

    Not sure if I agree with Madeinmelbourne – if you don’t know the kids, and you say you don’t, what makes you think their dream presents are Barbies? My dream presents as a kid were gender-neutral animal toys, dinosaurs and science-y toys, so I don’t think you really need to agonise and imagine that you’re breaking some kid’s heart if you don’t buy a particular toy – you can’t know what they want! When you say that you’re keeping your campaign for gender neutral toys for the kids who already have toys, you make it sound like you think gender neutral toys are inherently worse and less fun.

  15. omg

  16. kimbely said

    i think that is a lot of pink but that is ok. i mean a kide should play because when they get older they gat play.But i wish i could of had that much pink when i was yunger. pia i lkie yours if you read thins. good bye!

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