Does Pink Inspire or Reinforce Stereotypes?


I have been thinking about the “pink” thing for a long time. I don’t like pink, never really have. I don’t look good in pink, especially that obnoxious bubble gum Barbie pink. At the same time, if you like it, it’s okay with me. When my daughter was growing up there wasn’t a selection of pink toys to inspire her interest in building, design and engineering. I never thought about it. We got toys that appealed, whatever their color. Of course they were usually in the primary colors. I didn’t even think about the fact that they may have been for boys. They were bright attractive colors that appeal to young children. I realize now that companies, through their desire to sell stuff, are making pink toys that were once made only in primary colors. There are pink and purple Legos, guns, marble runs, and the well-known Barbie and princess toys. I admit I haven’t looked in the toy aisle for what else. I know the princess theme is pervasive and that those “women” are often clad in pink.  And Barbie has a lot of pink, even though she has become an astronaut, engineer and an entrepreneur. Something in me doesn’t like this. Is it because I don’t like pink or because I don’t want to be pandered to because I am female?  I don’t need Legos to be pink to be interested and to play with them.

In part, I think it is good to encourage young women to be creative and explore and discover in whatever color. Role models are important and they come in a variety of forms. I don’t think gender should be exploited by sexuality and I am turned off by that for either gender. I am for equitable treatment for all. Plain and simple.

I explore my resistance to the pink thing because I wonder if by objecting to a stereotype, do we reinforce its existence?   Paying attention to it gives it credence and may give it validity, thus saying we need these pink things because we are girls. We are different and we need to be treated differently. If one accepts that premise, does it mean that one regards being female as a handicap for which we create specific toys to fulfill needs? The answer may simply be that pink toys are manufactured as another way to sell stuff and increase the audience. And, it has. I don’t know if it has increased total toy revenue dollars, but Lego sales are up. There may be additional reasons for this increase. They have expanded their products and are very involved in the STEM education push. Also, to note is the Pink Lego kits are slightly “dumbed down” with simpler structure and directions. (ARGH!!!) I admit I am turned off by the pink aisle but at the same time, children should play with toys that stimulate their imagination and creativity and are FUN. They should choose these toys from their natural interests. Again if we fight the pink stuff are we doing harm by drawing attention to the difference? Why shouldn’t boys play with pink stuff?

I come to this discussion as an advocate to improve gender equity in STEM professions. It is a cause and a passion for me. Here are the facts to consider:

    • We agree that girls are underrepresented in the STEM professions.
    • We agree that this is an inequity that should be equalized.
    • We understand how this situation came to be (past reinforced stereotypes, societal norms, assuming natural inclinations that may not exist).
    • Interest and ability in girls is equally distributed and not gender specific. They are graduating from college in slightly higher numbers than boys. Do we assume they are not interested in STEM subjects since the participation rate is half or less than half of boys?
    • Big Question: HOW TO CHANGE THIS?
    • Do we use pink toys to “right” or balance existing interest in certain toys and to appeal to a certain population? Is this okay?
    • We must give equal opportunity for all and to do so, does the end justify the means?
    • By supporting and purchasing “special” pink toys are we saying that natural interests are not there and we need to foster them through the use of color?

I don’t know the answer. I understand the problem and I admit a bias against the pink toys. At the same time, it is doing no harm. Is it better than not at all? Given that the brain is not different in a male or female, but other traits or characteristics are, what should we do?  Buy pink hammers and screw drivers? Does this separate but equal strategy end up to be separate but not equal?

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