The Pretty Pink Girl Thing

Sometimes, the universe seems to steer me towards a subject. Then it clobbers me over the head with it, repeatedly. (It’s not subtle, my universe.)

In this case, a Facebook friend shared a link to a terrific slam-poetry performance. Then I read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter. After that, generous friends gave us 3 enormous bags of sweet, tasteful, hand-me-down clothes.

And you know what? Our girl isn’t even born and I’m already experiencing Pink & Pretty overload. I avoid the pink aisles in children’s stores. I know that Barbies, Bratz, and yet more bumptious dolls await. And I’ve noticed that clothing for small girls is relentlessly – even furiously – feminine: pink and purple, frills and tucks, flowers and hearts. Depending on the day, I sigh, shudder, or rant.

What I’m less certain of is why this bothers me so. Little boys are equally stereotyped: blue and more blue, trucks and dinosaurs, “action figures” (can’t call them dolls, or society will collapse!) and toy guns. But to me this seems less dangerous, less toxic, less generally loathesome. Also, less compulsory. Am I under- or over-estimating boys, or being unfair to them in some way?

These questions churned in my brain as I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The pretty/pink conundrum torments Orenstein, too, as you’ll see if you read her book (I recommend it). And here’s where I think Orenstein really gets it right. She says:

It would be disingenuous to claim that Disney Princess diapers or Ty Girlz or Hannah Montana or Twilight or the latest Shakira video or a Facebook account is inherently harmful. Each is, however, a cog in the round-the-clock, all-pervasive media machine aimed at our daughters – and at us – from womb to tomb; one that, again and again, presents femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, and each of those traits as available for a price. It tells girls that how you look is more important than how you feel. More than that, it tells them that how you look is how you feel, as well as who you are.

That’s it, right there – the core of my anxieties, uncovered.

And the slam-poetry performance I mentioned earlier? It’s Katie Makkai’s “Pretty”. I think all girls should hear it – as mine will, one day. (Thanks, Coco.)

On a completely different subject, The Agency: A Spy in the House was recently shortlisted for an Agatha! These are readers’ choice awards (yes, named for Agatha Christie) and the members of Malice Domestic will vote for a winner at their April convention. (Check out the full shortlist here.) I’m so very honoured. Thank you, mystery fans!

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7 Responses to “The Pretty Pink Girl Thing”

  1. Colleen says:

    P!nk, ironically, seems to agree with you, in a much more low-brow and amusing fashion:

  2. I agree on the infuriating-ness of it, although I personally go further by being equally infuriated by the sexism in boys’ clothing and dolls, which I think is in some ways actually even more compulsory (after all, girls CAN choose to wear jeans and camouflage and play with dinosaurs without getting beaten up for it, unlike boys who want to wear pink frilly stuff, etc).

    Both sets of stereotypes are really awful and tooth-grinding, and the weird thing is, according to both my mother and my MIL, things have actually gotten so much WORSE and MORE sexist in kids’ clothing and dolls since the 70s – boys’ and girls’ clothes, in particular, never used to be so clearly segregated at such an early age. Garhh.

  3. Ying says:

    @Colleen: The alternative to being a stupid girl is to be one of the boys? Am I expecting too much subtlety from a pop video? (Probably, yes.) @Stephanie: I’m part of a self-selecting alternative universe where boys enjoy play kitchens as much as trucks. But you make a great point about boys who want to wear frilly pink. Did you see this piece about “pink boys” at Salon? And yes, it seems to me that infant-toddler gender roles are more rigid than ever – perhaps a reactionary consolidation to cultural inroads made by 2nd-wave feminism?

  4. Steph Burgis says:

    Wow, Ying, that’s a fabulous article! Thanks so much for the link. And you may well be right about the reasons behind the rigidifying of those roles.

    (Of course, as a mom, I’m furious at all the stuff put off limits to either sex – seriously, it goes SO far that at the local bookstore there are books of “stories for boys” and “stories for girls” on prominent display – and they’re aimed at toddlers! What difference does their gender make??? But as myself, remembering what I was like as a kid, the thing that made me most insanely angry recently was seeing that the dinosaur toy set MrD bought and loved was classified as “BOYS’ dinosaur set”. Needless to say, there was no equivalent “GIRLS’ dinosaur set”, because everyone knows girls don’t like dinosaurs…GRR!)

  5. Philipp of Upper Canada says:

    Stupid girls? I hardly think girls choosing to conform to society’s norms are stupid. It’s their choice whether they wish to lead or be led. That’s a point of character not everyone thinks like you. And I don’t see girls brooding over the fact that they have to wear tights as fashion dictates. They seem to actually like being part of the normal fashionable crowd. And from what I’ve heard from a teacher and girl, they wear it to attract boys. I’m a brainwashed Catholic so it doesn’t work on me.

    And yes, I’m not a woman I can’t really speak about these things with certainty. What I say come from my observations. But that Katie Makkai person seems to be going through PMS, because I don’t see why the faults of a single mother should indict our society and media as brainwashing the youth. I’m young and I can see through it. Were educated enough to see through it, if anything my one blaring memory of high school was our teachers warning us about the evils of media. Were well informed to make our own choices, if some girl or guy decides to start obsessing about attaining some picture of perfection in her head then that’s her fault for not having the sense to see through it. I’ve seen plenty of girls who don’t give a damn about what they wear.

    But I’m kind of envious of women, you certainly have more choices that us guys that’s for sure. Straight women and Lesbian women aren’t look at with scorn, most guys actually think “Lesbians” are hot(Lol my friends think that). Men on the other hand well…you can say the days of male domination are at an end. Were more restricted than ever to show our true self’s. Though I don’t mind homosexuals I’m just not comfortable with them, which I think is the norm among men. It’s just not natural(And hence why I’m a part of the bigger problem too, lol). I can see my ignorance but I can’t deal with it, its just the way things really are. It’s like Communism it will never work, you can try tackling the issue head on, but it just gets deeper.

    Well that’s the end of my tirade. Sorry for offending anyone, particularly Kattie Makkai.

  6. Ying says:

    Hey Philipp, nice to see you here. You’ve raised some really important points that I’d like to reply to in detail. I think I’ll do this as next week’s blog post. Talk soon, Y.

  7. Becky Earl says:

    Great video, I always hate being asked if i consider myself ‘pretty’ or ‘attractive’, who decides what is attractive or pretty? Besides ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ remember. Of course if someone says I am pretty, I take the compliment – it is nice to hear I admit, but it’s not all I think about, I don’t worry about my looks, when i was at school other girls would comment on my clothes and the fact i didn’t dress up to impress everyone, I wear what I am comfortable in, and make my style work for me. My inner beauty shines through and that should be enough.
    That isn’t to say I don’t like to dress up occasionally, i think we all do, but it’s not the most important thing in the world.
    This ‘perfect image’ we are presented with. – No one looks like that, not even the models themselves look like that most of the time. It’s all airbrushed and fake, and that’s just it isn’t it, focusing just on looks and worrying about how you are seen, does make you fake. What happened to childhood dreams of being something more!
    I, like you it seems, would rather focus on what’s on the inside, what you have to offer the world, what difference you will make, not what you look like or what you wear.

    Hope you and your family are doing well. Best wishes to you all.

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