(Not) In The Pink

English: Shelves with pink girls toys, Canada 2011

Gee, which aisle am I in? It’s so hard to tell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In general, I am not an Angelina Jolie fan. I see her face far too often in the tabloids at the grocery store checkout, and usually the news about her has been, well, weird.

One Jolie headline, however, raised my estimation of her a notch.

Supposedly, she offended her in-laws by refusing to dress a daughter in the pink clothes they bought. I’m not advocating offending your in-laws (this will only come back to bite you at Christmas), but I’m glad to see someone else striking a blow against the The Pink Conspiracy (TPC).

I’ve been aware of TPC for some time now, but have only just worked out how big it is, as I have children to shop for.

Let’s start with children’s clothing. Early on, you have a choice of blue, green, or even white sleepers for a newborn son. For your newborn daughter? You have a choice between pink, light pink, and lighter pink. Frankly, I’m not sure why manufacturers bother wasting dye on newborn clothing — making them all spit-up coloured would be far more practical.

Fast forward a year and the boy’s range expands to include red, khaki, tan, plaid, brown, black, and even dark purple. On the girl’s side of the rack, there’s still pink, light pink, and lighter pink. Oh yes and the odd pair of blue jeans, but these must include: A) pink stitching, B) embroidered flowers, C) embroidered hearts, or D) all of the above. Also rainbows and unicorns.

The girl’s clothes are also decorated … with bows, frills, ruffles, beads, ribbons and sequins. I think this explains why all the great masters of painting throughout the ages have been male. Mothers have been too busy hand washing their daughters’ togs to have time to learn the art; girls avoided it because oils and acrylics really mess up good beadwork.

Toy stores are just as bad. In the boys section, you have cool things like Lego, and action figures, train sets, and athletic equipment. A boy will, from an early age, gain an intuitive understanding of building and engineering principles, geometry, motion and systems design. And possibly light sabres.

In the girls section, you will find dolls, tea sets, miniature appliances like vacuum cleaners, and makeup and hair care kits. A girl will, from an early age, gain an intuitive understanding of … housework. Of course, all of these toys will be various shades of pink. Unless they’re intended for the 9-11 year old set, in which case they will be pink *and* sprinkled with glitter.

It’s around this age that researchers begin testing boys and girls to see what cognitive differences there are between the sexes. Most will point to the results — which show boys scoring higher in math and science — as proof that males are biologically hardwired to be better at them. I figure that girls have the same abilities at birth, we’ve just had our fuses blown by too much exposure to pink. Seriously — try walking down the Barbie aisle of your local department store without sunglasses, and see what it does for your retina.

TPC carries on into the teenage years and adulthood, only by this time clothing and makeup (the only toys left for women) come in a wider variety of colours, such as coral, rose, peach, salmon, blush, carnation, and fuchsia. Progressive retailers, hoping to compensate for, um, biology, attempt to design “female friendly” products, such as pink computers, pink cars, and even pink power tools. The most common element in the universe is supposed to be hydrogen, but given the seemingly limitless supply of the stuff, I think it really must be pink dye.

In many ways, The Pink Conspiracy is just as restrictive as corsets and foot binding, just more subtle. It’s still all about being dainty and gentle, dreamy and perhaps even vapid.

Of course there’s one sure fire way to halt TPC — and that’s if all of us moms stopped buying pink things for our daughters.

And if that ever happens, I’ll be tickled, well, you know… pink.

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Must we apply it to everything? (Photo credit: fabrice79)

You’ll have to forgive me if there are a lot of typos in this week’s column. I’m suffering from severe retinal burnout.

It happened about a week ago. I had just received the Christmas catalogue, and since I have wee ones to shop for, I went straight for the toy pages. And suddenly, without warning, I came to the “girls’ section.”

How did I know it was the girls’ section? Because it was absolutely ablaze with pink. There were pink dolls. There were pink clothes. There was pink print and even the page was pink. I had no idea there were that many variations of a single colour. I expect the catalogue printer went stark raving mad on this project, having to pour pot after pot of Fuchsia Temptation, Crafty Carnation, and Potted Petunia #3 into the press.

After I’d stopped writhing around on the floor, screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” I had another look through the catalogue. I was prepared to forgive the retailer (which I don’t want to name in this space, so we’ll call it Shears) that one lapse into bad stereotypes.

This is, after all, the 21st century. Surely my children could look forward to way cooler toys than I had? Robots and holograms and computer games? So I kept turning pages. The girls were shown with … kitchen sets. Sewing machines. And… baby dolls with strollers. The boys were shown with power tools. Cars and trucks. And in one amazingly bold bit of gender crossover, one piece of cookware — yes, wait for it — a toy barbecue.

Waa. Hoo.

I know what you’re thinking: here she goes with some feminist rant pointing out that we’ve had female prime ministers, space shuttle pilots and national security advisors, and that our girl toys need to be updated accordingly. But no, smug reader, I’m not, because 1) I have three sons, and so actually I’m more concerned about what this does for them and 2) I snuck in those points just a minute ago and now don’t have to resort to a rant. So, ha.

Am I worried about the effect that pink catalogue pages will have on my sons? Well no, although I do plan to hand them sunglasses before they open the catalogue, just as a safety precaution. I worry because the gender thing doesn’t stop there.

We now have girl drinks — usually refined cocktails, and usually pink, and boy drinks — cheap beer by the keg full. There are men’s razors and women’s razors, because clearly the colour of the handle makes a tremendous difference as to how close a shave you get.

Movies are classified as either “chick flicks” or um, “Richard flicks.” Chick flicks are those that have dialogue, emotion and possibly even complex plots. The other kind involves cars and trucks, and things blowing up. We’ve even had a men’s movie star recently call people of a certain political persuasion in the US “girlie men.”

All this means that my sons are going to grow up in a world where the media image of the ideal man depicts someone who only understands power tools, and loud explosions —

the kind you make with dynamite, or the kind you make after drinking a lot of beer. So I’m thinking… getting them to apply themselves in English class might be a bit of a struggle. Heck, even math class might be hard work.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying from this catalogue any time soon. I want toys that will make them think, make them use their imagination, that will prepare them for gender equality and life in the 21st century, and of course most important of all, that I can play with too. Er, just to make sure they’re okay of course.

And meantime, I’ll tell my sons: if men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, it’s because we’ve worked very hard to put them there.

I’m just not sure why.