Girl Colors.

As someone who teaches five-year-olds, who are notoriously the centers of their own universes, I tend to mediate a lot of conflicts over fairness and rule following and personal injuries, which are all necessary to the eventual development of a person with empathy and social graces, a person who can use words to vent frustration instead of smacking someone in the head when they take too long at the water fountain.  As tedious as they can sometimes be, especially when they happen frequently with the same child, these are all mediations that I genuinely really enjoy, because occasionally, you can actually see the seeds of kindness and compassion start to grow, like a tiny lightbulb flashing over a child’s head when they understand that other people have thoughts and feelings and wants that may differ from theirs and that’s okay.

However, the one issue I could gladly never hear about again is the discussion of what makes a “girl color” and what makes a “boy color.”  It is a cultural construct that makes me insane, 1) because it makes no sense and 2) because it makes no sense.  I’m a sharp tack, and I’d like think I understand the relative importance of teaching children what their roles in society are and that putting baby boys in “boy” clothing and baby girls in “girl” clothing helps code to others (and eventually to the children themselves) who and what they are.  This is sometimes helpful, specifically just when a stranger sees a baby in a gender-neutral onesie and is faced with the horror of having to ask the parent if the child is a boy or a girl, lest they use the wrong pronoun.

However, we currently live in a society that has taken gender coding to the extreme.  It is a society in which primary colors (you know, those pigments that make up all the colors in the universe) are off-limits to little girls.  If something is not pink or purple or covered in glitter, it is not a girl toy.  That, dear readers, is total bullshit.  It is one thing to provide gentle guidance to a child about what society expects, like, say, that you are polite to adults, kind to friends, and careful when climbing trees.  It is another thing entirely to strictly limit the experiences a child can have (or “should” have) simply on the basis of their biological sex.

This point has been argued exhaustively in defense of girls.  Girls should love all colors!  Girls should want to ride bikes!  Girls should be able to play in the sandboxes of the world without worrying that their fancy dresses and gorgeous shoes will get ruined!  And to all of that, I say: obviously.  However, I think this cultural preoccupation with what girls do and what boys do is equally damaging to boys, as it restricts them from being comfortable playing in kitchens or wanting to bake or having longer hair or painting their damn nails.  A child is only wild and carefree for a few years.  Let them be curious and fun and adorable for as long as they can be.

A friend of mine recently posted onto the internet a sincere question about her children, an older girl and a newborn boy.  The question was something along the lines of, “Do you buy your daughter things that are pink?  Even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with them?”

Just think about that for a moment.  There is so, so much wrong with that.  Do you allow your daughter to have “girl toys,” even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with objects that ARE THE COLOR PINK?  God forbid.

As if the notion that any deviation from a societally-gendered color could negatively impact a child is not ridiculous enough, the most ridiculous thing of all is that before the 1940s, pink was for boys and blue was for girls, a rule based on the equally sexist notion that pink, a subdued shade of red, was a stronger, more masculine color than the calm, cool blues alloted to girls.  (Read here and here.)  Marketing people at department stores decided this, you guys.  In order to sell more baby clothes.  Calm down and let your sons play dress up.

I’m currently upset by this, and therefore inspired to blog about it, because the other day, my husband and I stumbled upon an ABC wall hanging decorated with Eric Carle illustrations and were both horrified to discover that the one we were enthralled by, the one with the primary colors and creatures like lions and bears and frogs, was actually the one for boys.  The ABC decor for a girl’s room, which we found across the aisle, was awash in pinks and lavenders, and the orange lions and brown bears and green frogs had been changed to red ladybugs and rainbow butterflies and pink flamingos.

Exhibits A & B:


I am not hating on rainbow butterflies or ladybugs or lavender.  I like all those things.  However, I find it pretty terrible that someone felt there was something so offensively neutral about the alphabet that this design idea required two different gendered products.

Dear America: you are gross.


22 thoughts on “Girl Colors.

    • Totally. I know a few little boys who love dressing up in princess costumes and getting their hair braided. Why? Because it’s awesome, that’s why. Allowing them to do it makes them feel validated. Telling them it is wrong and weird and “not for boys” makes them feel bad and anxious and stigmatized.

  1. I agree as well. My favorite color is currently blue but there was a time when it was pink simply because that is what girls were supposed to like. I learned this way of thinking from my friends…who probably learned it from their parent. Even thought I didn’t quite understand it then, I felt a bit limited and confined by these interests that were supposed to define me as a girl. Thankfully my Mother was always open to buying me both G.I Joes AND Barbie Dolls…and all colored clothing and such. I think this way of thinking potentially leads to closed minds and stifled self-expression.

  2. Well said! My son’s favorite color was pink when he was younger. He used pink crayons. Liked pink things. Begged me to paint his half of the bedroom he shared with his twin brother pink. While his dad would not allow me to paint the boys’ room pink — the horror of a pink boy room! (I won’t even repeat what my husband said about my desire to honor my son’s wishes!) — I indulged M’s other pink choices.

    And then came the day I was expecting. He was a few weeks into pre-school when I picked him up and he announced that he hated pink — it was a girl color. Some of the boys were making fun of him. I thought it was such a clear example of how society pigeonhole’s us into gender roles and stereotypes, even at the tender age of 4!

    Thanks for calling America out on her flaws! 🙂

    • Oh, no! I fear preschool for my (as-yet-unborn) children for just that reason! That first exposure to needing to “fit in” is, I think, the beginning of the end of the magic of childhood – which is SUCH a dramatic thing to say, I know, but still a little true.

      Is he still anti-pink?

      • I agree! And I think it’s happening earlier and earlier. I almost didn’t want them to go to preschool because they would lose some of their innocence. That was nothing compared to kindergarten, though! 🙂 I still try to encourage them to like/dislike things because they like/dislike them and not because others do — and I stress how important it is for them to be their own people, but I often feel as though I’m fighting a losing battle. I can only imagine what it’s like to have teenagers! 🙂

        Yes, he is still anti-pink. Though if you read my blog, you might think I am anti-pink nowadays, but for different reasons! LoL!

  3. hahaha… I distinctly remember bringing something I got for my birthday in for show-and-tell in year 2. I said I didn’t like it much because it was ‘boy colours.’ My teacher had a very stern word with me. I never forgot it! But I still liked pink and purple the most!

  4. I always liked blue as a kid. Also, how obnoxious is it that when a woman is pregnant and she doesn’t want to find out what she’s having, everything becomes yellow or green. …Those colors may be “gender neutral” but pretty soon it looks like you’re living on the Easter Bunny’s ranch.

    • For some reason, the thought of the Easter Bunny having a ranch, all decorated in greens and yellows, is really calming to me. Maybe one day, when I’m making millions from my blog empire, I’ll buy some property in Montana and call it “Easter Bunny Ranch.”

      I’m sorry that this had nothing to do with anything. I got distracted.

  5. Growing up I was a “girlie” girl. I loved pink and frills and bows and glitter. My litter sister was the complete opposite. She didn’t want anything to do with anything that was for girls! Thankfully my parents were really good about it. Since my mom loved dressing us the same, we spent a lot of time in reds and blues and other primary colours. I still always wanted the pink stuff though.

    I’m glad to have been able to grow up in a family that allowed us to explore any direction we wanted. We both grew up having no qualms about who we were.

    Looking at the two pictures of the alphabet charts, I just know that as kids my Mom would have had to get one of each. There is no way my sister would have wanted one with dolphins, peacocks and butterflies on. She would want the dinosaur, the bear and the panda!

    And it’s not just America – I think the world needs to wake up to fact that we do this in all kinds of societies!

  6. Is it okay to be a girl and like pink? Sometimes, I think that we try to be so opposite of what we were before that we end up at the opposite extreme. So, we don’t want to “force gender colors” on our kids…we want them to be who they are…so instead “My little girl will have all “boy colors” in her room… Take that society! My little girl won’t be a sissy! She will have a so-called man’s job! No more supression here!” But, aren’t we still imposing our own ideas on our kids? No matter what you are still imposing something on them. As parents it is our right to raise our kids the way that we desire, and if that means an all pink room with a tea set at the age of 4, then thats okay. I don’t think that all of America needs to revert to “gender neutral” color schemes. I personally have known super nice “prissy” pink loving woman- and thats okay.

    Personally, I will impose a green and pink room for my girl and a green and blue room for my boy should I have kids. When they get older they can choose what they want.

    • I’m of the mind that it’s okay to be a girl (or a boy) and like whatever color or toy or game or outfit you want, and I hope that post didn’t read as if I thought waging war pink was the answer. I think it is at best silly and at worst damaging to demonize anything a child may be interested in (unless, of course, it is actually physically dangerous).

  7. Having a girl first, I had LOTS of pink, frilly, girly things around. When I had my boys, I thought, oh well, they are going to have to learn how to play barbies, and my little pony. Granted, we have lots of “boy toys” too, but my kids play with everything!! Yesterday, my son was carrying a purse around for hours. No biggie.
    What drives me crazy is shopping for a little girl that I want to just have normal looking clothes. Not ones covered in glitter and sequins and ever other hideous thing you can imagine. Just NORMAL please. Tone it down a bit is what I want to scream at these people that make these hideous clothes for young girls.

    • Oh, yes. The clothing makes me crazy. Sequins and glitter and the word “Princess!” are slapped on EVERYTHING. Also, I feel like recently, manufacturers have started just making adults clothing in tiny sizes. I am a fairly liberal, open-minded person, but seeing a child wearing knee-high black boots and a mini skirt and a tiny top is hugely upsetting. Just because it is a size toddler 5 does not mean it’s appropriate for a kindergartener.

  8. She should hope her son plays dolls and dress-up and that her daughter plays cars and wants to dig in the mud. All of these things are part of a wonderfully balanced childhood.

  9. Loved this. If you want to read more about these sorts of issues and laugh a lot, I’d suggest Caitlyn Moran’s How to be a Woman, and if you just want to read more and be worried, I’d suggest Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walker.


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