Sunday, 1 September 2013

The fight against pink

By OttawaAC, via Wikimedia Commons
All being well, in a few weeks I will bring a daughter into the world.

In the meantime, as I struggle with working out what I actually need to prepare for her arrival, I am beginning the inevitable battle with the colour pink.

I always knew this would happen, if I had a girl.

Hating pink

For as long as I can remember, I have rebelled against the colour pink. My aunt still reminds me of the time when, as a child, I refused to sleep under a pink blanket.

I can't remember how this started or where it came from, but basically my reasoning was (and is) thus:
  1. You are supposed to like pink because you're a girl. This immediately sets me against it - why should I like anything just because I'm female?
  2. It's a weak, wishy-washy colour that I associate with all the bad supposed traits of femaleness - soft, gentle, sugary loveliness - why must I be these things?

The origins of pink

Where does this insistence in colour coding our children come from? 

Apparently, it hasn't always been so. Victorian infants of either sex were traditionally decked out in white dresses. This 1840 American painting shows a young boy in what we would consider an extremely feminine pink dress. 

Anonymous American School painting (Honolulu Academy of Arts), via Wikimedia Commons
In 1918, America's Ladies' Home Journal decreed: '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 colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.'

And in 1927, Time magazine noted, after Princess Astrid of Belgium disappointingly gave birth to a daughter, that the cradle had been 'optimistically decorated in pink, the colour for boys.'

I'm not sure when the tide turned, but it clearly did, because today it is widely accepted that girls will be dressed in pink, to the point that it is difficult to find any infant-related product that doesn't use pink or blue to denote that it is for a girl or a boy.

Pink power

Over the years I have found the colour pink less offensive. I would even concede that some, dark, bright shades of pink are actually quite nice, although I still wouldn't wear it, on principal (bridesmaiding duties aside). And pink just doesn't suit me.

But this colour looks lovely on quite a lot of people, and liking pink doesn't make you any less of a person, woman or feminist. Nor is sleeping under a pink blanket a victory for the patriarchy.

When my friend bought her first flat, as a young single woman, she took great delight in decking it out in various shades of pink. The walls were pink, the utensils were pink - you get the picture. I mocked her, obviously, but actually what she was doing could be seen as a feminist act - stamping her own, chosen feminine identity onto the home that she'd bought and renovated for herself. If that's not female empowerment, what is?

Why does gender matter?

My problem isn't with the colour pink itself, but the fact that girls, at this or any age, need to be set apart from boys.

I explained recently that I used to think men and women were not so different, but I have now revised this opinion. OK, so we're miles apart. And maybe some of those differences do start to show very early in life. But is that really any reason to treat boys and girls differently, the moment they pop out into the world?

Surely if these gender differences are so strong, then children really don't need our help to display them? And nothing highlights a lack of equality more than telling them how very different they are before they can even talk back.

My daughter will have plenty of time to work out why she's different from the boys, does she really need me to colour code her? If she wants to play with trains, kick a football around or dress up dolls, that's all fine.

Equally, if she decides at the age of two that her favourite colour is pink and she wants to be decked out in it from head to toe, then that's OK (although I can't say I won't have a few feelings of sadness). It's her choice about who she wants to be. And it's important to me that she has time to work out who she is and who she wants to be, like I did. 


It turns out there's actually a campaign, 'Pink Stinks', to stop the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood, and reverse the trend in products, media and marketing of prescribing heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. So it's not just me. 

Hopefully, the tide will gradually turn and there will be more gender neutral options available for parents, or parents-to-be who don't want to pigeon-hole their children as soon as they are born.

In the meantime, I'm afraid I will be dressing my daughter in pink some of the time. A lot of lovely people have given me a lot of lovely clothes, for which I'm extremely grateful, and I will be using them. After all, it's not like she'll know the difference.


  1. As part of the groundwork into setting up my new charity, I've been doing a bit of research into gender-neutral baby clothes. If you need some recommendations, do let me know!

  2. That would be great - feel free to send them to me, or post them here

    1. OK, here are some manufacturers - they all stock unisex baby clothes and they're all UK based, and most actually make their clothes in the UK too. Some of them aren't terribly cheap, I'm afraid, but they'll last well and can be sold on at your local NCT Nearly New Sale!

      Frugi -
      Little Green Radicals -
      Tootsa Macginty -
      Pigeon (formerly Organics for Kids) -
      Lilly and Sid -
      Knitaboo -
      Garthenor Organic -
      Kite Kids -
      Green Nippers -
      Chunkichilli -
      Pili Pala -
      Waddler -

      That should be enough to keep you going. If you want cloth nappy, sling, mattress, bedding, toy, book, etc., etc. contacts, let me know!