Ada A., Katrin, Filip S., and Missives from Marx all let us know about PinkStinks, a campaign in the UK that “challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls’ lives”.
The aim is a worthy one: the webpage discusses concerns about girls’ body image, self esteem issues, the sexualization of young women, and so on.
They link to this video, which I thought was neat:
While I totally get the idea and support the effort to provide girls with a wider set of images of what they can aspire to do or be like, the “pink stinks” name, and some of the t-shirts on the site, give me a some pause.
If you read different parts of the site, it’s clear that pink is a stand-in for the socialization of girls into a particular type of femininity, and the campaign is attempting to combat the narrowing of girls’ aspirations and role models. But it brings up an issue I face whenever I’m trying to pick out clothes for my 3-year-old niece: how do you reject the trappings of that socially-approved version of femininity without devaluing femininity, girls, and women themselves? All things equal, I’ll usually pick a green t-shirt instead of a pink t-shirt for my niece because I feel like giving her a pink t-shirt signals to her an approval of all the things we associate with “pink culture”–valuing looks over smarts, worrying about boys, and so on, and because I know she is frequently encouraged to declare pink her “favorite” color by those buying her gifts.
But we often see that in the attempt to provide girls with more options, those who accept elements of mainstream femininity are devalued. My students who are trying to distance themselves from ideas of passive femininity often disparage “girly-girls,” those they see as unambiguously accepting pink culture. Thus, wearing a sparkly barrette or painting your nails pink becomes inherently problematic, a sign that you must be boy-obsessed, dumb, superficial, and so on.
I don’t think this campaign overall is doing that–if you read through it, the message is more complex and clearly about giving girls a wider array of options to choose from as they construct their identities. But much of the online discussion of it seems to miss the nuance and veer more into the simplistic interpretation of “pink stinks” as “empowering girls means rejecting and devaluing everything currently associated with femininity, as well as those who do it,” and the t-shirts seem to play into that a little.
Many of the things associated with femininity–being nurturing, say, or liking to cook–are, in fact, quite lovely, and problematic only when we say that only girls can/should like them, that all girls ought to, and that they’re less worthwhile than things boys do. Adding to the devaluing of women and femininity in an attempt to resist gender norms is, ultimately, counter-productive.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Modern Girl — March 20, 2010
I really like the campaign! Sure, there'll be people who take it the wrong way and see it as the promotion of androgyny or the masculination of girls. But the website doesn't assert that blue is better than pink - it sort of shows that it's important to embrace the entire rainbow, and allow people to be how they want to be, and that there can be many different types of girls.
thewhatifgirl — March 20, 2010
It's really hard to achieve that nuance. So far, I've just refrained from really mentioning it to my niece but tried to treat it as just another one of those things that you can do, and she mostly seems to take it that way. Most girls that I've known in recent years have a little of both traits, but I do wonder if they realize themselves how many other girls are like that too.
I know that I rejected anything I saw as girly when I was younger, including girls themselves for a long time, and it's only been in recent years as I've become a stronger feminist that that has changed - and only because I have made an effort to change it.
kb — March 20, 2010
I hate that this has happened to me, but after several annoying conversations about whether my daughter was a girl or a boy if she didn't have something clearly pink on, I've just started dressing her in more clearly "girl" clothes. It seems like unless you have some pink, people assume boy. It's amazing, my daughter could be wearing a completely gender-neutral outfit of jeans and a t-shirt and everyone goes right to BOY. While it's not a huge deal if a stranger in the mall says "he", I just hate having to constantly have the internal dialogue about whether I should correct them, whether they'll be uncomfortable if I then say "she", etc.
In general though I think whether or not girls actually wear pink is irrelevant. What matters is how people, and most importantly parents, treat them, and I don't believe that I'm treating my daughter at all different than I would treat a son.
KD — March 20, 2010
Good article. I think this is an unspoken struggle that every feminist, and more and more every woman, has to go through. At the beginning of that journey, it's hard to recognize that there are more than the two paths laid out for you by society - be a woman or hate women and prove that you're stronger than them. The third option, to reject conformity to gender roles without devaluing yourself and others that feel differently, isn't always easy to find.
Pink products get a lot of flak, but it's interesting that, by virtue of being the badge of femininity, they can be an empowering statement when it comes to male dominated areas. I used to roll my eyes at pink power tools until I accompanied my sister to a hardware store in search of one. She left pissed when she didn't find one and loudly told them that she was taking her business elsewhere, and I don't think it was coincidental that the middle-aged male employees gawked at us the entire time. I realized that she was looking for some reflection of herself amid all the maleness; something to make her feel like being an adult woman that fixed her own shit was normal. Never mind that we'd grown up the daughters of a carpenter and had no shortage of experience using "normal" tools. She was looking for a statement. (I find it interesting that the same store has since hired female employees and now carries pink tools.)
I bought my Nintendo DS in metallic pink for the same reason. As opposed to the clumsily made "pink" games companies have been producing for years in an attempt to capture a female market, the pink DS available in every game store is a sign that women have made it. After two decades of being told we don't exist, we've got a way to make a statement that we do. I couldn't pass that up.
Jared — March 20, 2010
I'm a man in my early 20s, and this is one of my greatest fears about having a daughter.
sarah — March 20, 2010
Haha, If this had been around a few years ago I would have been all over it. Right now, though, I'm ambivalent about using a colour as a stand-in, like you said, for the socialisation of girls, and rigid gender roles.
I think this raises greater questions about femininity and masculinity that you mentioned in the last paragraph, about devaluing what has been seen as feminine in an effort to resist gender roles.
When I was little, like maybe three or something, my parents allowed me to choose what colour I wanted my bedroom to be painted. Being at the age where gendered socialisation of children is in full swing, I had absorbed the blue is for boys, pink for girls message, and chose a super bright pink colour (with a blue panda border). A few years later, in an effort to rebel against girly things I completely rejected all things pink, (and had to put up with my pink walls for the next decade until my parents decided to redecorate).
I can remember my rejection of the feminine pretty well, and it's actually something I see in some antisexist women now. In my preteens I considered myself a 'tomboy' which was sort of part of my early growing awareness of sexism. My idea was to rebel against girliness precisely because it was devalued and seen as silly, and less important, (at least, those were the messages I got) so being a tomboy was kind of an effort to resist that. So I can see what this campaign is trying to do. I totally would have loved this as an eight year old :)
My attitude was the same as that of your students, an attempt to reject passive femininity and I continued like that well into my teens. In my view, though, I was trying to fight against gender roles, but I had basically internalised the idea that women's work, and 'feminine' traits were of no value or importance. It's possible that this campaign might reinforce that idea.
Another thing I think is problematic is that being nurturing, and liking to cook, are being seen as things for females only, even though are quite lovely, why are they seen as feminine traits? The fact they are socially viewed as such essentially blocks males from embodying those traits.
Antisexism has been pretty successful in gaining women more social acceptance when doing/being something that is seen as masculine. When I wear baggy pants and take an interst in boxing, it's okay. (Of course, there's still sexism when trying to access the top jobs, women are still called bitches, or shrill when voicing an opinion etc).
I think this is evidence of sexism; of course women want access to 'boys' things, of course women have to act like 'men', (aggressive, dominant) to get leadership positions, masculinity is superior, and desired.
The focus, in discussions of sexism is always on the role of women, obviosuly this is necessary, women historically have had the short end of the stick, and are still negatively affected by sexism today (less pay, sexual assault, feminisation of poverty, to name of few). I think though, that putting the focus on what women are doing, has resulting in the role of women being overanalysed while the role of men goes undiscussed. Rather than entirely rejecting/devaluing nuturing 'womanly' traits, I think they need to be expanded and for it to become socially accpetable for men to display those traits. There's nothing inherently female about being nurturing. I know plenty of women who aren't, and a ton of my male friends with kids, who are.
In my experience, many parents who consider themselves enlightened around gender roles, will have no problem with their daughter playing with cars, will encourage their daughter to work hard in science, and will allow her to form her identity along the entire spectrum of gender, she can be a girly girl, or tomboy, and they'll accept that, but they will have a problem with their son doing the same. The little girl can dress in dungarees, but they'll steer the boy away from the dress, if the girl falls over and cries, she'll get hugs and kisses, when the boy does, he'll get hugs and kisses, but also get told to be a 'big boy'.
From what I've seen of the site I think it's pretty cool, and probably needed unfortunately, but I think that while we are widening the ideas of what's acceptable for girls, we need to do the same for boys, the role that has been traditionally female is important, and should be accessed by boys and girls, not completely abandoned.
Argh, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, I didn't mean to ramble so much :/
Rosemary — March 20, 2010
One thing I recently realized was that my parents did a relatively good job at keeping me away from this considering it was the late 80s and early 90s, and I thank them for it. Most of what I wore when I was a little kid is either white or some shade of blue, though there was a bit of pink in their occasionally. And while I had a few Barbies (most of which I ignored) I mostly had stuffed animals and things like blocks and legos.
Unfortunately this type of argument can sometimes veer into the "Real Women Never Wear Dresses" idea outlined by TvTropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealWomenNeverWearDresses) which isn't good either.
Chenoa — March 20, 2010
I agree especially with your misgivings about rejection of femininity... I am a lesbian and like to toy with gender norms (I wear skirts but have my hair buzzed very short, for instance) - but, on the other hand, one of the (many) reasons I left medical school was because I knew medicine wouldn't be very compatible with my desire to have a family. I want to have children in the next 3-5 years (I'm 24 now, and would be starting my third-year rotations in April if I had not quit school), but I'm almost afraid to admit that to my friends in medicine or academia because it's so frowned upon to change your career goals in order to be a mother. I still plan on _having_ a career, but I definitely consider the mother role when I consider which way to go. For instance, I'd like to be a midwife, but I wonder if I should wait until my kids are older so that I'm not leaving my family in the middle of the night when my kids are very young.
Of course, being feminine is also a touchy subject within the lesbian community... when I meet my partner's few lesbian friends, I wonder if they'll take me seriously because I dress more femininely than they tend to. Skirts don't mean I'll leave my partner for a man, they just look nice to me.
Lisa — March 20, 2010
While I agree with the mission behind this campaign, I really don't like the negative language of saying "stinks" in the title. It reminds me of bullies who feel the need to put someone else down because they don't feel good about themselves. Why do we have to say that something "stinks" in order to get our message across? And I do feel like that slogan leads into the disparagement of traditionally feminine things like the color pink, dresses, makeup, etc which are not inherently bad but as you said "problematic only when we say that only girls can/should like them, that all girls ought to, and that they’re less worthwhile than things boys do". I think I would be more behind this particular campaign if the wording of their slogan was not so negative.
ptp — March 20, 2010
Is this really a concern? I know plenty of women who I would describe as empowered and dismissive of rigid gender roles without being dismissive of the individual qualities that may be associated with them. Obviously this outlook takes a bit more nuance than a young child might be expected to have, but all of them seemed to grow into it fairly naturally, so I'm not sure it's a problem that needs solving so much as it needs time.
With that said, I'm a man, and I'm not a parent, so I'm completely open to the possibility that I'm missing something here.
Mark — March 20, 2010
Great post Gwen. It is these very intelligent posts that look at all aspects of the issue that keep me reading. Keep it up!
Anny — March 20, 2010
Just a little add on that some might find interesting. When I was applying to colleges a few years ago I was looking at Sweet Briar (an all women's college in Virginia) and their slogan, at least at the time, was "Think Pink". I'm unsure if it's still the same.
Maria — March 20, 2010
Okay... there's no way to sanitize this, so I'm just going to say it: when I read "Pink Stinks", I immediately went to the old "frat boy" addage "two in the pink, one in the stink". I understand this is a UK/European campaign, and they may not be familiar with that charming saying, but still... I really don't think I'd want to name anything pro-feminine that can in any way relate to a smelly vagina.
I've recently started to embrace the color pink, in a "yeah, I'm a girl- go ahead and assume that I'm a delicate, whiney, flowery princess just because of a stupid color, but I'm going to kick some ass wearing this pink shirt and weilding this pink cellphone and prove you and your stereotypes WRONG" kind of way.
Kat — March 20, 2010
Check out some of the comments to that YouTube video (the Swedish kids one):
"Speaking of of girls and politics: They should rather address asylum bimbos with tricks and perfumes. It's shameful that THAT is NOT addressed in politics."
"I'm sure stinkpink knows a lot about 1984, the policy of the cock intrudes even in children's games, but fuck off, frankly."
"this is a pretty stupid campaign in my opinion. I was born in 1985 and growing up i've seen little boys playing with sailor moon toys and girls playing soccer even though the marketing is aimed towards the opposite gender, it really seems like yet another 'p.c. gone wild' campaign, there are far more important issues to be adressed in the world."
"These are proposals for bored people looking for a reason to live, the main purpose is to break the balls of the others who feel alive.
It's bullshit that we live by clichés, in the end what decides is the market, and if the girls want pink toys, then British parents will buy foreign "pirated"pink toys online."
"Pink Stinks is a really stupid campaign! Think of all the girls that love pink! Stupid bitches!"
There are these 5 negative comments (one sixth negative comment was deleted) and only two positive ones.
Jayn — March 20, 2010
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pink. I love the darker shades, and hate the lighter shades, which make me think of flowers and lace. (I also despise being called 'cute', for the same reason.)
The way pink has been co-opted into meaning 'everything girly' bugs me to no end. I hate looking for bras and finding everything in my size is white and fuschia. Even though I like the colour, wearing fuschia has gone from me expressing myself to me blending in, and I don't like that. Wearing my favourite colour is meaningless when there are no other options :/
Helena — March 20, 2010
On a totally unrelated note, but these girls are 13 and *from Sweden*. And yet they're speaking English like native speakers.
Go go go girls! They are so ready for the global stage :-)
napthia9 — March 20, 2010
I would not have liked PinkStinks as a kid, because all those t-shirts have PINK or PRINCESS emblazoned on their front and there's pink all over the website. Kid!Me would rather look at things I did like- like Xena, dinosaurs, or UFOs.
As a young girl, I loathed pink because I felt other people expected me to like it simply because of my sex. People who assumed I would like pink or that girls liked pink received reactions of violent disgust. (BOYS who said -they- didn't like pink were subject to equally strenuous pink prosthelytizing, because how dare they not like for being associated with girls!) As an adult, I sometimes do feminine things, but most days I don't see much point. It's not harder to be a feminine feminist than a woman who refuses to perform femininity at key moments, so I'd rather challenge myself to be exhibit my feminist principles more obviously.
My rejection of pink has never been about hating femininity or the color pink. It's always been about thwarting unfair expectations of women. If I suddenly became a man, I'd wear pink and shave my legs.
A.O. — March 20, 2010
Some girls totally love pink and all the things that come with the normative standard feminine roles. Go absolutely the other way and dislike everything about them. There should be enough room for both types and everything that is in between these polar opposites to exist in society.
I would like to question on who´s terms these pink stinks kids are building their feminine identity. They are modelling their behaviour based on some other roles than the conventional "pink" femininity roles. To me that seems like another set of pretty strict gender-oriented rules that are just different than the normalised ones. Hopefully better roles still? For some they are, for some they are not, I guess. But I guess there is no real freedom in terms the expression of gender identity and children in the end of the day, there is just different sets of rules.
Mac Mintaka — March 20, 2010
This article was helpful to me. I'm a man who makes the mistake of rejecting so called "traditional" femininity out of hand. I see it as oppressive and limiting but not as choices to pick from.
I guess I see that it's a mistake because in reality *I* want to participate in aspects of that femininity without the barriers that are in place now. It's true that much of what is traditionally assigned to womens roles are valuable traits that should be open to all of us.
As a man, I adorn myself and I would wear skirts and makeup if they weren't so far outside the pale of traditional masculinity. I'm not ready to reject that masculine role but I sure wish it had a lot more choices that it does.
Boy I sure like this site. I learn a lot about myself from reading it.
Jenn — March 20, 2010
Look, I'm all behind opposing the compulsory indoctrination of femininity into young girls. But this just reads as promoting a trendy "tomboy" identity that doesn't reject femininity at all -- it merely vilifies traditional femininity and women that are presumed to embody it while embracing alternative femininity that is just as limiting.
Take, for example, burlesque dancing. Sure, it's a "rejection" of stripping, which is seen as traditional, low class, and exploitive. But at the end of the day, it's still something that promotes a very narrow vision of femininity (albeit slightly wider than the model promoted by stripping) that is only available to certain girls (class priviledge for the win!) by having women basically objectify themselves, claim it's empowerment, and then take off their clothes. It's stripping in new clothes, available only to those that vilify the old stripping without rejecting any of its implicit premises. At the end of the day, women are still taking off their clothes for an audience -- an audience that will reject more and more of the "progressive" trappings of burlesque until it becomes stripping with rainbow hair and tattoos or goes out of business.
This is the same damn thing: trading in pink for black and then caging women and girls in a new role. It's not designed to do that, but that's what will happen in the end. It pretends that the forces that put women in very specific roles are gone, that the only thing holding them back is themselves and their allegiance to pink. That's crap. There's still a massive system of patriarchal values that remains unquestioned -- no matter how many pink tutus and princesses you throw under the bus.
This will slide into devaluing the traditional feminine and embracing "alternative" feminine that is only accessible to those with additional priviledge (white, class, able-bodied... it will be something) and only if they continue to meet certain patriarchal guidelines and vilify women and girls that don't.
More of the same divisive crap.
Becca — March 21, 2010
Does anyone else find it weird that the t-shirts and logo have pink in them?
Kat — March 21, 2010
From The Guardian, "The Power of Pink"
Abi and Emma Moore of the PinkStinks campaign have been most shocked, though, by the emails. There's been support: "I am nine years old," wrote one girl, "and I think PinkStinks is my voice. Girls like me shouldn't be forced to like pink. Can you think of a good name for girls who don't want to be girly girls but aren't tomboys?" Please, said another, "carry on and make it easier for girls like me to try different things without feeling like an outsider." And where, a young mother asked, "are the toys I remember from my childhood – non-gendered, and educational? Well done for raising this issue and giving us parents a focus for change, to raise our daughters to aspire to dignity, goodness and equality rather than big boobs and tiny waists!"
But there has also been vilification; hatred, even. "Do you sell campaign T-shirts in pink?" one respondent writes. "And do you have any with 'I am a leftwing communist loony trying to brainwash girls'?" Another calls the sisters "lesbians" who "can't leave normal young girls alone". A third "pities your children". Another: "So much going on in the world and yet you start this crap. Amazing. Sorry, white coats needed for you."
The sisters are at something of a loss to understand why an innocuous, low-key campaign should spark such vitriol. "We've tapped into something that's clearly very deep and very powerful," says Emma. "Some people plainly feel attacked."
Pauline — March 22, 2010
This makes me laugh a little. When I was about 4 I was already pretty independent and when all the girls said their favourite colour was 'pink & purple' I would proudly declare that mine was 'dark blue and green spray painted together' (I'd seen someone spraying tshirts and thought it looked amazing).
I refused to wear pink and be like the 'girlie girls' for all of my teenage years.
It's taken all the way until quite recently, when I started higher ed, for me to accept that dressing nicely doesn't mean you're being hypocritical. I've finally been able to come to the realisation that this article discusses - that by wanting to do everything a 'man' could do and turning my nose up at things women might do I was actually no better than the men themselves. I was devaluing my own sex.
But today I can say that I'm proudly wearing a pink top (and look nice in it, actually) and am happy to wear clothes that flatter my figure, and I don't feel like a hypocrite because of it :)
Jen — March 24, 2010
"the t-shirts seem to play into that a little."
There seems to me to be nothing about those two t-shirts which plays into that. "I'm no Princess" "I think PinkStinks!" They're about what the person -wearing- them thinks, making a statement that the wearer is not a girly-girl, not that girly-girls are bad or wrong - there are enough t-shirts which say "I am a princess" "future supermodel" - these tees are the opposite.
To be honest, I think you're just looking for something to criticise about a brilliant campaign. (But then, 'look at this great campaign' wouldn't make a good blogpost, would it?)
Jen — March 24, 2010
I think some people commenting here are just focusing on the name 'PinkStinks' and not actually bothering to read about the work the campaign has done.
I'm from Britain and I'm really proud that something like this is going on, designed by feminists in my country.
Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners | Link farm woman — March 29, 2010
[...] addition to being a horror fan, I am also a girly girl. Which is why I am annoyed with the “Pink Stinks” campaign. We don’t empower women by disparaging femininity. This campaign reminds me of a bizarre [...]
adrenalectomized — July 13, 2010
I sometimes like to wear violent neon pink, lol :) But I am as revolted as you at the current norms of femininity. Modern femininity seems to be based on two things, both of which are very unsavoury. One is not taking up space - being thin, focusing on pleasing others... The other is LOOKING sexually attractive to please men but not actually BEING sexual yourself. Never mind every other part of being human - intellect, dignity...just who has the biggest boobs. It's nothing for society to be proud of.
So yes..it's great to see a movement that encourages girls to grow up into full human beings, not just to be thin and pretty and sexy and please men.
Ida — December 26, 2010
I don't mind the fact that tools and hardware are advertised with boys while kitchen sets are advertised with girls. I mean, you can always get your kid whatever they want and let them play with it. So what if there's a little role-teaching in the commercial? As long as you don't shove it down their throats, if you let them bend these rules, the kids should be fine (my personal oppinion).
Partly because of my upbringing and the world I live in, I don't see that much harm in the existance of gender roles, as long as they are flexible. I don't think the world has cheated me if my sister and I played mommy to our dolls while our brother had a toy lawn mower and built Lego robots. We often played together and shared our toys, anyway.
The thing that's bothered me when I was little is the fact that certain items seem to come only in shades of pink. For example, toy strollers and ironing tables don't seem to exist in yellow or blue anymore.
The world I live in seems to be a place where girls can't be girlie without being pink. It forced me to use my mother's old toys (doll clothes and strollers) because, despite being slightly worn-out and out of fashion, they looked like something I might actually see in real life. I wanted to recreate reality when I played, not live some über-pink fantasy. And maybe it's just my imagination, but toys that exist now seem to be even worse than 15-20 years ago: more pink, more glitter.
So if this campaign is going to enable girls to feel girlie and feminine without having to see pink all the time, I'm all for it. Pink in excess is kind of sore on the eyes, anyway. And hot pink is actually a very irritating color.
Ravenclaw Borg — January 5, 2011
I understand what the "Pink Stinks" campaign is trying to do here, but honestly, little girls don't care. They aren't saying pink is their favorite color because they've been pink items--the other way around is more accurate. If you present a young girl with two items, identical in all aspects except for color, she will choose the color she likes best. Many girls, particularly under the age of 8, simply *like* pink, purple, or whatever. My teen friends and I tend to favor blue, purple, and green. This doesn't have any connotations--it's just that my favorite color is blue. That's it. At age 5, I liked pink. Then I liked rainbow, then blue. That's all. I know several young girls who like pink and several who don't. Ditto for boys, believe it or not. Colors are colors, and although older teens and adults see negative connotations and stereotypes of the color pink, the average six year old doesn't care--she just thinks it's pretty.
P.S. One of the shirts reminded me of an awesome ThinkGeek shirt with the words "Self-Rescuing Princess". I like this better than not being a princess at all. Being a princess shouldn't mean you can't be the one on the adventure!
Children’s toys, gender role socialisation, and research methods. | helenbowescatton — April 21, 2012
[...] Pink Stinks- UK website campaigning against ‘the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls’ lives. There’s a review of this website on Sociological Images here. [...]
Explaining Sexism 101 to Ali Velshi | Caroline Heldman's Blog — September 3, 2012
[...] with damaging baggage, but it’s also not okay to publicly disparage it as this equates to disparaging the values girls and women are raised to embrace. This is what Mr. Velshi did. I tweeted him to say his words were “demeaning to [...]