I never thought the whole “pink for girls and blue for boys” thing was a big deal for the longest time. I had a wall painted pink in my room, half my wedding trousseau was in shades of red, pink and maroon because I just love that shade card.
The husband and I would pick up cute pink frocks and dolls and Barbie shampoo bottles for our nieces, because we love to pamper them. It was something cute and amusing, and I was pretty certain I wanted a reasonable amount of pink if I ever had a baby girl.
It had never clouded my belief in the fact, that men and women were entitled to the same rights and opportunities, or made me question my ambitions or lifestyle choices.
However, the plot changed as soon as I had a daughter. The flood gates of pink opened. Gifts, family hand-me-downs, and parental indulgences cascaded into our home. From a hot pink cradle to mosquito net, blanket, quilt, mittens, socks – you name it and I had it in a shade of pink. Except diapers, of course, those are fairly gender neutral till kids reach toddlerdom.
I had thankfully bought the daughter T-shirts in neutral shades of blue, green and yellow, partly because I expected a pink parade. And they had cute messages that helped me deal with the first three months that seemed like a medieval punishment of sleep deprivation.
As my daughter grew up and friends in my age group started having kids, I started visiting toy stores more often than usual, perhaps because every attractively packaged, genius baby promising toy was something I felt my daughter needed. As I browsed the aisles of the kids’ section, the whole pink and blue thing took on another dimension for me. It started making me very uncomfortable.
I saw academic practice books separately printed for boys and girls. The books for girls had fairies and princesses and pretty frocks as examples for counting, ‘match the following’ and ‘fill in the blanks’. The boys’ books were more generic, with animals and cars, and while there was nothing inherently offensive about them, why children needed to study differently puzzled me.
The vast pink and purple section of the toy store, supposedly with toys for little girls, seemed like a flashing hot pink warning sign for all the things we symbolise as unequal or wrong about gender in the adult world.
The options here were a vast array of kitchen sets, vegetable cutting sets, dress up sets including toys for hair braiding, princess costumes with purses and tiaras, faux lipsticks and nail paints and glitter. There were doll houses complete with all the toys that go inside, and the creepiest of all, doll babies, that wept and acted like real babies, and had a cheerful label mentioning a feeding bottle, cradle, and a diaper.
A human being is born unaware of gender, and what being a man or women is supposed to mean, what are the behavioural expectations from both genders, and how society perceives their role and place in a micro and macro universe. Segregating toys and more importantly options of make belief play, over a period of time, only reaffirms all the stereotypes we have fought so hard to break.
Pink and blue is not just about clothing options for babies. It creates clearly demarcated spaces for little boys and girls, establishing gender stereotypes and carving out spaces within the home and the outside world. Girls in pink will be gentle, cook and look after babies, all the while making sure they look pretty. Boys will drive cars, be aggressive, use guns and mock weapons, play outdoor sports with a bat and ball and show absolutely no interest in anything domestic.
In spite of years of activism, we still believe that domesticity, maternal instincts, and physical attractiveness are qualities women should have. Isn’t the plethora of real and faux make-up supply available for little girls, an early establishment of the gaze? Not the male gaze perhaps, but a far more harsh internal gaze where the woman spends a lifetime trying to look and feel good about her body .
At an age when they are exploring the world and beginning to establish their identity, shouldn’t we create an environment where they are allowed to choose and understand who they really are, instead of being lotus footed almost into who they are supposed to be? There is absolutely nothing wrong with cooking or child care, but making those the only option for an entire gender, and depriving another of it is unfair and regressive.
What if a future chef buys a cooking set because utensils and the smells and sounds of the family kitchen fascinate him? Maybe a little girl, like my own, will design automobiles or engineer next generation vehicles if she is allowed to browse and choose cars and battery operated vehicles. Who knows what the future holds for an innocent little mind so eager to make sense of this stimulating and amazing world around him or her?
As a student of English literature, one of the most significant and life-changing lines I ever read was “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” While one can debate Simone De Beauvoir’s philosophy, it caused me to question my life so far, and it haunts more so than ever today. It makes me conscious and aware of everything I say to my daughter. Do I expect her to be less hyperactive and mischievous because she is a girl? When she refuses to wear a hairclip why am I annoyed? How deep are these gender-related beliefs about how we must be as men and women?
We live in an age where traditional roles are being questioned more often than before. Those with power and influence are emphasising the importance of leaning-in to bridge the gap between pink and blue. Perhaps we need to travel back from the boardroom to the nursery. To birthday parties, toy stores, fancy dress competitions, and the other seemingly innocuous childhood realities that lay the foundation of the people we grow up to be.