The Problem With Pink

Pink is everywhere, and it’s a problem.

Let me clarify. There is nothing actually wrong with the colour pink. I’m not personally a fan, but I don’t have anything against the colour itself. I have an issue with how it is being used. It’s being used to tell children that certain toys are for girls and certain toys are for boys.

Often it’s as simple as taking the same toy and making one pink and one blue. But more often than not toys are also separated into certain play “scripts.” These scripts teach children that different behavior is appropriate depending on if you are a boy or girl. While little girls are sold kitchen sets, little boys are sold mini tools kits.

The following video by Feminist Frequency examines several ways that LEGO has marketed two different play “scripts” to young children. In fact, the recent LEGO set aimed at young girls, LEGO Friends, has figures that are completely different and incompatible with the regular figures in the sets marketed primarily to boys.

Splitting toys into genders is actually an incredibly brilliant way to increase your sales to children. If you can convince cross-gender siblings that certain toys are for girls and certain toys are for boys it suddenly becomes possible to double sales of the same type of toy within one household.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, argues that the problem with advertising to children is that “research has shown that young children—younger than 8 years—are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising.” This means they can’t filter out the B.S. in many of the messages media pushes upon them. While countries like Sweden have banned advertising to children under 12 in order to protect their kids from the barrage of marketing, here in North America our kids are still fair game. “In 1983, companies spent $100 million marketing to kids. Today, they’re spending nearly $17 billion annually. That’s more than double what it was in 1992.”

Because unfortunately, temper tantrums really do work.

According to the American Academy for Pediatrics “Television-activated toys interfere with the [creative] process.” By teaching kids that certain toys are for them and that those toys need to be played with in a certain way advertisements actually reducing children’s creative play. Rather than imaginatively creating a world of scenarios in their play, children with high levels of media exposure will limit their role playing to the scripts they have learned through advertising.

In her book, Cinderella Ate my Daughter, Peggy Orenstein focuses on one specific play script that is marketed solely to little girls and how it dictates the way little girls view themselves.

Pink and Princess have almost become inseparable in the world of marketing. Princess toys, designated as being “for girls” by almost always being pink, are associated with a very specific play script. Unfortunately, almost all princess stories tell little girls one message: the beautiful girl wins the guy.

Even the few Disney films that do not conclude with the female protagonist winning a man are threatened by the princess marketing script.

Brave’s Merida may need a makeover in order to be marketed as a Disney Princess.

So what happens when little girls grow up internalizing the script which tells that that being pretty is the most important thing in life? Well, when they get older they will still try to be the prettiest girl around. Unfortunately, once a girl reaches a certain age being cute isn’t enough to retain the attention of the world around them. She is going to need to be sexy too.

According to Dr. Gail Dines, author of the book Visible or Invisible: Growing up Female in a Porn Culturemedia presents only two options for young women who want to be noticed. You either become sexy, or invisible. 

“Today’s tidal wave of soft-core porn images has normalized the porn star look in everyday culture to such a degree that anything less looks dowdy, prim and downright boring. Today a girl or young woman looking for an alternative to the Britney, Paris, Lindsay look will soon come to the grim realization that the only alternative to looking f***able is to be invisible.”

As evidence for this pressure to appear sexy, both Orenstein and Dines refer to the sexualization trend visible through Disney Channel starlets, the majority of whom start out their careers by being presented as innocent, cute, and virginal but almost without exception exit their Disney Channel career by doing something either borderline or actually pornographic.

It’s not a coincidence that at a certain age children’s actors begin to be highly sexualized. It’s smart marketing. Cute only sells stuff to kids for so long. Eventually kids want to start acting grown up. And since sex has been the most effective method of advertising to adults for quite some time now, the best way to start making kids feel grown up is by letting them become just a little more sexy.

While selling “sexy” to little kids may seem atrocious to most of us, there actually is a market for it, as is visible with high heels and even lingerie being marketed to preteens.

Both Orenstein and Dines contributed their research regarding this process of sexualization to the CBC Documentary Sext Up Kids. The documentary takes a look at how exposure to pornographic images through advertising and easy online access has affected the way youth view themselves and each other.

While I believe this sexual bombardment affects both boys and girls negatively, it seems to me that the message behind sexualization has been most dangerous for young girls. As is discussed in the Sext Up Kids documentary, girls have taken the message of advertising to heart. They really believe that being sexy is the only way to get a boy’s attention. Some have even sent explicit picture to the boys they like in order to get attention in the way they see all their favorite pop stars doing it.

Unfortunately, these pictures are not easy to take back, and can often be used to blackmail the girls for a considerable time after. Most people are probably familiar with the incident of this kind of blackmailing that eventually led to the suicide of Vancouver teenager Amanda Todd.

So here is my problem with pink. Marketers use the color pink to assign certain toys to young girls, and along with those toys comes a certain set of behaviors. The number one “script” or behavior assigned to girls is to be “pretty as a princess.” While this idea seems innocent enough when they are small it seems to directly correlates to the push young women are feeling to appear sexy to their male peers.

So here is my challenge for you. Call out the advertising around you. Stop assuming it isn’t affecting you, or more importantly, the kids in your life. Because it’s not really pink that is causing all these problems, is it? It’s the way we are letting advertisers use pink to shape, divide and eventually, sexualize our kids.

12 responses to “The Problem With Pink

  1. I’m legitimately surprised that this video didn’t pop up anywhere in your post:

    “Out of the mouths of babes” and all that jazz.

  2. A good resource for to combat the pink-power is The Mighty Girl website. They’ve got tons of non-gendered toys, excellent books, and lists of activities and programs in different places as well as tons of fantastic testimonials from parents and kids about real life stories. 🙂 Inspires me everytime!

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