whoever you want to be…

Are pink toys bad for boys?

I talk to my sons about gender a lot, questioning stereotypes wherever we see them (which is, you know, pretty much everywhere). I let them choose their own clothes and don’t steer them away from anything pink or particularly girly: 8-year-old Harry recently picked out a pink jumper from the girls’ section of a shop because it looks a bit like his favourite Nintendo character, Kirby; 3-year-old Joe has had a series of Peppa Pig tops from the girls’ section in Asda (and whenever he wears them, people think he’s a girl).

I’ve tried to do the same with toys – I’ve never prevented either of them from getting a toy because it was ‘for girls’ but a few toys have made me wonder whether that’s the right move.

Harry recently asked for The VTech Secret Safe Diary, which he’s seen advertised on TV. Fine. But then I looked at it in the shop and on the side of the box found that one of its features is: ‘Girly activities teach words maths, logic and creativity.’

Seriously? What exactly is ‘girly maths’? If a man and a woman do the same job, why is the woman paid 23% less? There is no way on earth I want that nonsense in my house.

But when I told Harry I really didn’t want to buy it for him, he got very annoyed, not even giving me a chance to explain. “Just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s just for girls!” he said, adding, “You should know that!” for good measure. “I know,” I said. “That’s not my problem. It says it’s got ‘girly activities for maths’ and that’s just annoying and wrong.” He rolled his eyes at me and said, “Girls can do maths too!” And so I wonder if I’m just confusing him. God knows, I confuse myself. If I buy him this am I challenging gender stereotypes and teaching him to do the same? Or am I just perpetuating this kind of offensive marketing. Apart from anything else, VTech would neither know nor care that I’d bought it for a boy, to them it would just be another sale and more proof that gendered toys sell well.

I recently read a couple of brilliant posts on Pinkstinks about why pinkification is as bad for boys as it is for girls: What About Boys: Part 1 and Part 2 . I’m sure they’re right and that ‘Swapping the pink toys around is not only counter-productive – it’s just as, if not more harmful.’ What I can’t yet work out is how I explain that to an 8-year-old. If anyone has any advice, I’d be delighted to hear it.

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About K

YA writer. Voracious reader. Feminist. Home educator. Addicted to tea and Twitter.

6 comments on “Are pink toys bad for boys?

  1. thegreatantagonizer
    October 26, 2012

    I’m living in Korea now. Here, men wear pink, carry handbags (and carry their girlfriends’ handbags) and get perms. 🙂 Ironically, this is a man-centred society. So…. I doubt that there is much connection with these things and so-called patriarchy… but what do I know?

    • Keris
      October 26, 2012

      That’s interesting, thanks. I don’t know much (um, anything) about Korean culture – is pink considered a masculine colour there (as it used to be here) or are Korean men just in touch with their femininity? You say it’s a man-centred society – are toys gendered there? Is there a strong gender divide?

      The problem, of course, is not the colour pink itself, but the association of pink with limited gender expectations/behaviours and the promotion of the resulting products as ‘for girls’.

      • thegreatantagonizer
        October 26, 2012

        I think you’re over-analyzing it. Pink is just a color like any other. We’ve associated femininity with it; Koreans have done so to a much greater extent. Ironically, the girls’ toys sections are blindingly pink. I have no idea if that’s a recent thing though.

        There’s a huge gender divide. I feel like, when I go back home, if I hear any women complaining about how bad Canada is for women, my head might just explode 🙂 They just don’t know how great they have it in comparison to the rest of the world. But, I’ll admit, it was pretty rare to hear a comment like that from Canadian women…

        Boys toys are gendered also… guns and trucks and stuff like that. Although, I wonder how much of that is created by the toy companies imposing their beliefs and how much actually comes from childrens’ demands… My only friend growing up who didn’t play with those toys turned out to be gay. May have been just a coincidence, but coincidences make me suspicious 🙂

      • Keris
        October 26, 2012

        Thanks. I was actually going to say at the end of the post that I’m not questioning whether or not it’s a problem, I’m simply asking how best to explain it to an 8-year-old. Because I’m not over-analysing – there’s plenty of research that shows it’s a huge problem. Yes, the gendered boys toys are also a problem – for exactly the same reasons. It’s created by the toy companies and by society in general. If you’re interested in knowing more, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine is a great place to start.

  2. diane
    October 26, 2012

    Yes, it’s not the pinkness that bothers me (that’s what always bothered me about the Pink Stinks campaign, the idea that a colour traditionally associated with girls and women is automatically a bad thing — I know the campaign has larger implications, but its name is pretty clear…) but the idea that buying something gendered promotes the idea that parents and kids want more of the same. On the other hand, if I had a lovely little 8 year old pleading with me, I might weaken. 😉

    • Keris
      October 26, 2012

      Well, if by “traditionally” you mean in the past 70 or so years. It used to bug me at first too – the name – but it doesn’t bother me so much now because the pinkification has become so overwhelming… and it’s a v handy shorthand, I guess.

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This entry was posted on October 26, 2012 by in Bea Family, Bea Feminist and tagged , , , , .
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