We’re on the way to school, hand in hand in the rain.
“The Ninjas drop from the zeppelin,” I say. “The Purple Princess draws her sword—”
“The Sword of Fate,” adds Morgenstern, my five-year-old daughter. “The Sword of Fate. And she says, ‘They are after the Crown of Power.’ With that, the Pink Princess draws—”
“—the Sword of Destiny,” completes Morgenstern, who has become the Wiki-like guardian of the canon of our shared stories. “Then Adventure Girl draws her two pistols. BANG! BANG!”
Where did the pistols come from? Some of the other parents look our way…
Yes, my little girl and I have woven a world of princesses and pandas who dwell in the Pink Pagoda Palace high up in the Himalayas, a sort of Dungeons-and-Dragons influenced Steampunk utopia—
—and it’s one that Morgenstern thinks is worth defending. (She particularly likes the multi-barrelled fusion gun with which I later equipped Adventure Girl so she could storm the caverns of Pluto to recover the Crown of Power.)
Nobody, it seems, has told her that princess dresses and unicorns are incompatible with kicking-ass and laying down suppressive fire.
As you may have gathered, in our household, there is no War on Pink. Rather Pink Goes to War, or is otherwise empowered.
As a parent of a little girl, I am sympathetic to the underlying urge behind the Pink Stinks: let’s not gender stereotype children at an early age, let’s not paint everything pink and make it nice.
However, I have several problems with it:
#1. Lazy Parenting
Ditching pink and gender-marked toys, that’s easy.
Bringing up a little girl to be her empowered self is hard work.
You have to engage with her, listen to her, play with her, dig out role models – Thank you Amelia Earhart! – locate and read the right books to her, raise any male siblings to be non-sexist (while at the same time comfortable with their masculinity).
It’s not for the faint-hearted, not for the trendy helicopter parents with the high-powered jobs and the wrap-around childcare.
You bought your little girl a khaki schoolbag?
Congratulations. Mine has a pink Hello Kitty schoolbag.
However, I sat and watched the entire Walking With Monsters, Dinosaurs and Beasts series with mine, read her book on dinosaurs, and cleared up after she and her friends constructed dinosaur world on our living room floor. The other night I found her asleep over a stars and planet book.
No, the War on Pink is just box-ticking.
#2. Means are not ends
Child-rearing is not about showcasing our values, it’s about what’s best for the child, and the measure of that is what’s best for the adult the child will become.
Suppose your little girl is so immersed in traditional gender roles that she won’t touch “boy toys”? Or suppose she’s more interested in role-playing social games or princess adventures than building and inventing? Suddenly “Girl Lego” is a godsend. Who cares if she’s building a “Princess Castle” and populating it with princesses and their pets as long as she’s building?
So, I’m glad your daughter has a Lego construction kit. I’m impressed that she plays with it. Mine sometimes uses her (mostly pink) Lego to create hyper-feminine environments and populate them with whimsy, or act out Princess Weddings. However, if I sprayed it all with grey paint, I think you’d be impressed by her ingenuity.
And that’s the thing; I’d rather be right in 20 years than “right-on” right now.
#3. It is misogynistic to dismiss female culture
Imagine a male anthropologist studying a Polynesian tribe dismissing the woman’s rituals out of hand? Malinowski actually did this. It took a next generation anthropologist, AB Weiner, to notice this neglect and expand our understanding.
Now think about the “herstory” movement – the desire to tell the story of the women previously rendered invisible by male-centric history. Or the fury we feel at the relegation of modern female literature to “Chick Lit” and “Romance” while modern male literature gets to be just “Modern Literature”.
Generally, we regard it as wrong to dismiss traditional female activities and obsessions as “just girl stuff”, even if we regard them as social constructs.
So go ahead, dismiss your daughter’s intricate world of princesses, princes and fairies, and to tell her by word or deed that it’s wrong for her to explore the aesthetics of her gender.
But, are you sure that when you say “it’s not OK to be pink” then you are not also saying “it’s wrong to be a girl”?
#4. Masculine agency isn’t the only kind
Yes, women are underrepresented in traditionally masculine professions, especially in the story-friendly pursuit of war and big engineering. And yes, it’s good to put that right and tell stories of barbarian princesses building bridges and then defending them… (Oh that’s a good idea…. )
However, in your urge to get your daughter to play at quantity surveyor, aren’t you also implying that the traditionally feminine professions offer no agency whatsoever? That nurses, primary school teachers, doctors, homemaker… none of these make a difference? That only the traditional masculine roles have any real significance?
What if, by some quirk of personality, biology or cultural exposure, she is actually best suited to design pretty clothes? How will she feel then? How will her life pan out?
* * *
So if Morgenstern wants to grow up to be a fashion designer, then that’s fine with me…
…as long as she’s also an assertive hard-headed negotiator, strategic thinker, effective manager and reality-based planner able to bring her sense of self to all her relationships.
And the pink? That will pass anyway since her role models are multi-hued.