As the Principal of a school with its roots in girls’ education, my attention was drawn to PinkStinks this week: www.pinkstinks.org.uk. Firstly, I would like to say that pink most certainly does not stink, it is merely a colour. Indeed a quick check back through history will reveal that contrary to modern belief, pink is for boys and blue is for girls! Indeed, anyone over the age of 100 will be thinking we’ve got it all wrong – the June 1918 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal states clearly (as also reported by the Guardian in 2007): “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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.”
Colour aside, however, the purpose and ethos of PinkStinks resonates strongly with me and the team at the Stephen Perse Foundation. In an age where information is so readily available to impressionable young people, it is deeply disturbing to see the continuing proliferation of sexist images and text in everyday life. Our use of colour may have changed but the fashion, cosmetics and ‘beauty’ industries seem not to have moved on at all and this affects girls and boys profoundly.
For this reason it is extremely important that children learn to distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, and that they are guided to aspire to real things of value and worth.
Part of the battle is engaging children with sexist material in a safe and controlled environment, so that they learn to distinguish and judge for themselves. As an example of how this can work, the Foundation’s Year 9 English classes have been analysing and discussing sexism in the case of the toy retailers reported to be battling with the ethics of marketing dressing up outfits specifically for girls and boys: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/dec/13/doctor-sexist-toy-selling-hamleys. Here’s what one of the students said, a view echoed by her peers:
“We live in a society where men and women are equal, so surely we should not sell gender specific fancy dress, for example boys dressed as doctors and girls dressed as nurses – men can be nurses and women can be doctors, so why make children believe otherwise?”
In examining the arguments presented by Pinkstinks, I’m heartened to read other Year 9 students comments which engage frankly with the issues :
“Personally I agree with PinkStinks, it’s wrong for young girls to be wearing make-up. Of course every girl has tried on their mum’s makeup at some point, but PinkStinks is right when they say that there is a huge difference between playing with make-up and actually wearing it.
“I agree with the campaign to a certain extent. I don’t think that young girls should be pressured to follow the ‘girly’ stereotype, but at the same time I think that this issue is slightly over exaggerated and that most young girls do not care about the colour of their toys or feel as if they have to wear make-up. “
“I quite strongly agree with the website and feel that as a girl, I have been pressured into trying to make myself prettier by wearing nicer clothes or wearing make-up.”
“I accept the fact that not all girls are girly but a large majority are, just like me, I lived for dressing up as a princess with high heels and pretty dresses and glitter. When girls are young and then experiment with make-up it is almost always to see what it looks like not to impress anyone or hide themselves. “
“I think girls’ products should have other colours other than always pink, for example orange or red. Pink products should still be in the market, but the products for girls shouldn’t all be pink.”
“I think there is more pressure on boys not to have girls’ things than there is on girls not to have boyish things and that it is considered stranger for boys to have pink or ‘girls’ toys’ than it is for a girl”
On that note, I’d like to leave you with this clip I discovered on the internet of a 4 year old’s view of sexism in the toy industry: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1878488