What about boys? Part 2

Sunday 4 December 2011

Pink, it's not for boys.

What about boys? Part 2

A somewhat tiresome thought-train that often appears on the subject of pink and boys is, ‘Yeah, why shouldn’t they wear the pink stuff? Why shouldn’t they like princesses and fluffles and sparkles…?’ These well-meaning voices have moved on from potential homophobia, and some feel angry that their boys are denied the pink experience, should they want it. Here's an example.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire this woman’s approach; she’s letting her child be what he wants to be. It seems logical in a tolerant and progressive society, that if girls can be Daphne, then boys can be Daphne too.

However, offsetting gender-segregation by endorsing Barbie values for boys is missing the point – excruciatingly so. Allowing damaging notions of femininity to infiltrate girls’ lives is perhaps understandable in the shadow of mass corporate endorsement and centuries of patriarchy, but pinkifying boys does not equal equality. Of course, pink - as a colour - should be for boys too. A pink toaster or tutu is debatably harmless, and if you don’t see the problem with the stuff for your girls, then you aren’t necessarily going to see it as a problem for your boys. But it is a problem, and here’s why:

First, there’s the obvious issue of how boys end up viewing girls (as discussed in part 1). A boy who plays with pinkstuffs at a gender-aware age, does not see them for him as such – they are girls’ toys – moulding and skewing his perceptions of said girls. The current dominance of pink and its connotations force me to ask, is it really desirable to give children even a snippet of pinkstuffs - stuff so inextricably linked to misrepresentations of girls? Excessive pinkwashing has become thematic - pink scooters now link to pink tiaras, pink ponies to pink make-up and pink jigsaws to pink high-heels. For the majority of children, pink can’t be abstract. Even alone it witlessly endorses and accentuates pinkification and its associated facets.

Second, boys too are at risk of crisis of ‘self’.  This is the important part. Sexist and damaging values are fundamental to hyper-feminine constructs. Said constructs remain harmful to the ‘user’ whether you give them to girls or boys.

Of course pinkification is proving attractive to some little boys, because it’s essentially nothing to do with being female! Girls weren't half-finished until glamorisation made them whole. It’s a glitzy, fabricated lifestyle that might well appeal to anyone, but is sold primarily to girls. Parents clearly love it - they’re buying it, so is a boy liking it really that weird? Beautification for men is nothing new. What we now perceive to be effeminate has been embraced by men in various periods of history, but today boys who enjoy hyper-feminine constructs are often labelled homosexual or transgender.

But guess what?  Even boys - transgender or otherwise - need empowerment and self-esteem. They don’t need to learn that (as) women (they) fulfil a purely sexual role. They don’t need sexualised, colour-coded, passive-princess crap to dominate their lives and limit their view and experience of what it means to be a woman. Boys embroiling themselves in the ‘girl’ experience are not somehow immune to the messages that girls receive.

So what does happen to some of the boys that take on sexualisation and infantilisation on the same level that women do? I expect parents who are loath to take away modern concepts of ‘femininity’ from their little gorgeous girls would baulk more at the idea of their boys growing up to be sexually dominated, passive, consumerist, anorexic and/or objectified - but a few of the documented side effects of the girl experience. Hyper-femininity is problematic for either sex that performs it. Boys shouldn’t be exposed to it, it should be noted, not because of sexual orientation issues (gender-deviation in childhood has been shown to be occasionally symptomatic of homosexuality, not causal), but because the fetishized prettification of girls and the excessive commercial promotion of limiting, sexualised stereotypes is damaging and should not be the domain of children. Period.

For example, transgender child Jackie, appears to embody a highly sexualised and artificial ideal of girl, with tiny strappy clothes, mini shorts and layers of make-up at the age of just ten. Her idea of what it means to be a girl is clearly part of her desire to be one. Maybe unconsciously it isn’t that she wishes to be ‘female’, but that she enjoys being hyper-feminine. Society, with its simplistic gender binary, tells her that she can only perform this as ‘female’. Of course she may be transgender, but she obviously thinks that an inherent part being a girl is to be decorative, to be pink, to be made-up and bare-limbed. It seems irrelevant to me what gender Jackie feels she is, because being unwittingly hyper-sexualised is ultimately disempowering for anybody!

Swapping the pink toys around is not only counter-productive – it’s just as, if not more harmful. So, let’s not advocate equality by exposing boys to highly artificial representations of female attractiveness (huge doe-eyed, cascading-haired, stick-with-a-bust); infantilisation (a lifetime of stereotypes about shopping, hair, make-up and fashion); sexualisation (Feather Boas and Bratz); backward messages (girls are inactive and concerned only with being decorative) and, of course, the connotative colours (because pink means glamour these days - sorry folks). Let’s get rid – for both sexes’ sake.


Elaine Johnson

Click here for Part 1 - boys and the effect of second-hand pink exposure.

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"Girls are becoming increasingly disillusioned about the media's portrayal of women. Over half of those aged 11 to 21 disagree with the statement that 'girls and young women are portrayed fairly in the media'."

The Girls’ Attitudes Survey, Girlguiding UK, 2011