What about boys? Part 1

Sunday 20 November 2011

Pinkstinks often gets asked ‘What about the boys?’ Well, we care very much about boys.

What about boys? Part 1

Boys obviously receive their own conditioning through toys and media - dominance, violence and aggression are often the themes. There’s a lack of exposure to any nurturing concepts, for example, dolls, pets and horses (sorry, ‘ponies’!) are routinely marketed at girls.  The love-heart, used ad nauseam on ‘girl’ items, is notably absent for boys. No ‘love’ for boys then…

Their designated colours are often unfairly darker. ‘Let’s just offset the bright red in that jumper with some grey stripes, in case Max mistakes himself for a wee girl/homosexual.’ It also seems anything that might represent serenity, gentleness or beauty (read: varying levels of twee-ness) is the girls’ domain. Butterflies, birds, deer, etc. are therefore out. 

On the other hand, perhaps boys are less infantilised and vulnerable than girls – at least they get strong messages about practicality, activity and strength. But they also get a huge dollop of ‘agro’ marketing to help render them emotionally stunted, uncaring, aggressive and hyper-butch. Lad-culture clearly starts here. So boys do need their own corresponding campaigns (please feel free!).

But it seems that people assume Pinkstinks is only about girls. Pinkstinks is by no means exclusive. We think pinkifiying girls affects boys greatly. Indeed, how is empowering girls not also empowering boys? Our priority is what we see as the pressing need to promote activity, intellect and confidence to girls and therefore, by default, boys. It’s about children and choices.

Pinkifying? Qué?

Pink has become the trademark colour that represents modern girlhood. It seems no ‘girl’ product/item of clothing is safe, with just about anything being able to be pinkwashed in order to perpetuate the myth that girls have an innate love for the colour – they don’t, it’s a construct. The stuff is endemic; the marketing is aggressive, insidious and inescapable. Girls’ toys are now predominantly about prettification (modern, artificial beauty ideals it should be noted), and the toys that aren’t primarily about being cutesy, imply the same archetypal messages thanks to the often blanket use of pink. Pink is an umbrella concept, succeeding in creating one, sexist, damaging, brand-like image of girl. Instead of playing Barbie, girls are to be Barbie!

Yet boys are not immune. Here are two Pinkstinks reasons as to why pinkifying girls is bad for boys:

First, boys are excluded from toys and activities that are overtly gendered to girls.

It is more culturally acceptable for girls to ‘gender-deviate’ than it is for boys. The worst thing for boys is often to be perceived as taking on the attributes assumed to be more innate to girls (being shy, gentle, emotional etc.). However backward, sexist, misogynist and inaccurate that may be, being like a ‘girl’ is to be less of a man. Chances are that Dad, Mum or friends at school, just won’t be that impressed when Billy wants a pink pooch toy with braidable ears.  Boys are being denied certain aspects of normal play. Play that is so gendered-up, if a boy engages with it people have instant concerns about homosexuality. Craft, dance, dolls, home play, and various animals and symbols now occupy an unattainable category for boys because they’ve been pinked with hyper-feminine connotations.

There are some visible and documented inclinations in boys and girls to play with the ‘official’ toys of their sex. However you can’t raise your kids in a vacuum, so assuming it inborn is questionable, whilst assumptions about the sexes even having that difference is still – hey presto – sexism! Kids will generally not play with a toy they have been told is for the opposite sex, so severe colour-coding pushes children down paths of limited choice. The boy will restrict himself from play assigned to girls, subconsciously, consciously, or others will do it for him. Consequently children, whose play would normally cross-over, are pigeon-holed. To prescribe such constraints is oppressive.

Secondly, boys are increasingly divided from girls themselves because of pinkification.

Society continues to peddle the myth that boys and girls are fundamentally different to each other –they aren’t as much as is thought. The real difference is slight and needlessly exploited. Surely there’s nothing more powerfully affirming of the message of difference to a vulnerable child than the excessive segregation of their toys and clothes. Toys and media tell children they can’t converge freely.  

Non-inclusive play encourages antagonism between the sexes. Excluding so-deemed girl’s play from boys, implies girls’ play constructs (and therefore girls themselves) aren’t worthwhile and by default must be undesirable (as peers) to some degree. Glorifying power and aggression whilst excluding and thus disparaging girls has repercussions. Pink culture and its different faces continue to reduce girls to one-dimensional, sexualised beings. Boys’ exposure to girls/women is predominantly an overtly-sexualised representation. Psychologist Linda Papadopoulos, amongst many others, has linked this to abuse now recognised in teenage relationships:

‘It comes in the way we teach girls to value themselves - it comes from the hyper-masculinity of boys and teaching them how to react to girls.’  

She describes the ‘learned helplessness’ of girls and how society’s messages teach girls that their ‘dominant desire is to be desired.’   

Pinkification skews boys’ conceptions of girls.  Second-hand exposure to twinkle-toes, fluffiness and little miss giggles means boys come away with a distorted view, on some level, of what it means to be a girl. A girl might have an idea that her toys don’t represent her, but can boys see that too? Are boys more at risk of misunderstanding due to being ‘the other’? Exposure to girls with narrower definitions of themselves will eventually perpetuate these misconceptions. Pinkification sows the seeds of misrepresentations of women. Cultural trends define boys’ relationships with girls and the results are certainly not pretty.


Elaine Johnson

Click here for Part 2 – why the solution to gender-segregation is NOT to give boys the pinkstuff.


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