Saturday, February 23, 2013

Think About Cultural Values and the Color Pink

I greatly dislike the color pink. Maybe it's not the color so much, though, as what it represents. I hate that the color pink is equated with girls and all things female. And I want to know why that came to be, and I want to know why so many people buy into society's obsession with it, and--most of all--I want to know how it can be changed.

In a recent online discussion, a classmate of mine made a statement about cultural values (and their associations) being part of our "adaptive unconscious." Someone else asked when and how we learn our "cultural values." Yet another classmate offered that we begin learning these cultural values from the very beginning, when we are introduced, for example, to gender-specific color schemes and themes.

My classmate wrote it a little differently, but I read it and felt my blood start to boil. . .because my classmate was right. See, repetition normalizes certain ideas for us (both individually and as a society). We internalize them; we accept them.

No questions asked.

Therein lies the problem. It doesn't matter how illogical an idea is (e.g., pink for girls; blue for boys), we accept it and perpetuate the irrationality of it, simply because we don't know any differently and don't think to wonder why. Among other dreadful things, our culture seems to constantly be shouting that pink is for girls and blue is for boys.

But here's what I think: I think that if we don't understand something, we shouldn't blankly accept it.

A couple of weeks ago I set out to buy a birthday card for a 7-year-old boy. In the kids' birthday cards section, there was a distinct division between boy cards and girl cards. I honestly don't remember ever seeing such an obvious separation before. There could have easily--and logically--been just one sign for all the kids' cards. Instead, though, pink signs denoted the girls' cards section; blue signs denoted the boys' cards section. It was sickening. The girls' cards were mostly pinkish and "girly." The boys' cards were mostly shades of blue (some red) and "manly" (trucks, superheroes, trains). Not one gender-neutral card! 

I did not buy a card there. The boy I was buying a card for is a very smart and perceptive boy; and, last summer, I (inadvertently) taught him the word "sexist." So, he definitely deserved better from me than a card that perpetuates gender stereotypes.

I went to one other card shop. I took one look at the nauseatingly pink section and that blasted blue section and was out the door, dismayed at what our society has become.

Distinct boy culture and distinct girl culture seem much more defined now than they did when I was a kid. And there are many reasons for this, not the least of which are the prevalence of mass media and technology. Up there also is the consumer-driven materialistic culture we live in. I certainly had a lot of "stuff" when I was little, but being the youngest of four siblings, as well as the youngest of all my cousins, I had a lot of hand-me-downs, both in toys and in clothing. Additionally, my mom was fond of secondhand stores and garage sales. Up until I was a teenager, I had only been to a mall a handful of times, and I don't ever remember going to a (specifically) toy store. I was never exposed to this pink princess-oriented hoopla which seems so prevalent today. Did it exist back then? If not, where did it come from? How can we get it to go away?

And can we, please, just let kids decide what their own interests are without influencing them with market-driven ploys? Don't color-code the toy sections (or card sections). And don't gender-code. Certainly some girls will embrace the pink princess culture regardless, but when it's their own choice, that's acceptable. Let the child think for him or herself. Because a child who thinks for him or herself will likely become an adult who thinks for him or herself.

And we could certainly use more of those around.

I do have to confess that my favorite toy when I was little was a pink stuffed dog (whom, I must add, I considered to be male), but I didn't like him because he was pink; I liked him because he was a dog. That he was pink was irrelevant. (He also didn't stay pink very long--he was dropped in more than his share of mud puddles.)