Pink Is Not the (Whole) Problem

Whoever is doing the PR for the color pink is doing one heck of a job lately...

Whoever is doing the PR for the color pink is doing one heck of a job lately…

 

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My relationship with the color pink is a mixed bag. I’ve never been much of a “girly girl,” instead opting for more muted tones for much of my wardrobe (save for that period of neon during the late ’80s/early ’90s). Lately, however, I’ve come to embrace it somewhat. Blame it on this never-ending winter that has brought cold, dreary, grey days and has essentially forced me to wear some pink to brighten up my spirits. Last winter I even dyed my hair pink and purple!

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I say all this because pink has been in the news lately (this color will *never* get a break). Over at NYMag’s The Cut, Yael Cohen asks, “What’s the Problem With Pink, Anyway?” Cohen takes a look at the backlash to the “pink aisle” – aka the girls’ aisle in toy stores or clothing stores where everything is saturated in pink. Cohen pushes it further asking what’s the problem with being girly, as if it’s something to shun. But here’s the thing, nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with being girly, and certainly nobody is saying there is anything wrong with liking the color pink.

Pink is not the problem. What I do have a problem with, however, is the co-opting of pink for all things girly. The issue for me is two-fold.

1. It boxes girls in. 

2. It boxes boys out. 

Pink is a cool color – I get it. Flamingos are pink and flamingos are awesome. What’s not to love? And many, many girls love pink. Also awesome. But when all we offer them is pink? That’s when the trouble starts. By taking “boy” toys (Legos, Nerf guns, etc…) and turning them pink in order to sell them to girls, we’re offering up two messages – the first is that the default for toys is that they’re for boys. The other message is that the only way to get girls to play with them is to drench them in pink. That’s completely insulting to the diversity of girls out there that have a range of likes/interests/tastes. Not every girl likes pink. And even the girls who are all Pinkalicious enjoy other colors. When we automatically push pink on everything made for girls, we’re saying that if you don’t like pink (or “girly”) then there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t think that’s a problem, then look at the recent story of Sunnie Kahle, who was forced out of her private Christian school for dressing too much “like a boy.”

What’s interesting is that Cohen never mentions the interesting (to me at least) history of the color pink. Historically, pink was a masculine color. It wasn’t really until clothing and toy stores needed to make more money that we started to see the gender divide of boy=blue and girl=pink. That way, folks with more than one child were discouraged from using hand-me-downs, and were encouraged to buy all new things – toys, clothes, beddings, the works! The Smithsonian Institute has a really fascinating piece on the history of the color pink that delves into all of this and looks at how branding/marketing was really the push being this color divide.

pink_yoonBeyond boxing girls in and not providing them with an array of choice (and yes, please keep pink among those choices, but don’t limit it to *just* pink!), when we attach pink to all things girly then we box boys out, creating stigma and shame for those boys who happen to like pink. I wrote about the “Pink Scare” as it relates to boys and society for Bitch magazine back in 2011, and sadly not much has changed in the years since. Just type “pink” into the search engine for this blog and you’ll come up with a ton of posts about my son and his love of the color pink and the crap he’s gotten because of it. He’s not alone. Anything deemed girly automatically makes boys targets. Just look at the story of 9-year-old Grayson Bruce who was told that *he* was the problem (not the bullies) for bringing a My Little Pony backpack to school.

So, excuse me when I get a little cranky when folks say that “pink isn’t the problem” without diving into the actual, very real issues. The color itself is not the problem: It’s all of the ideals and stereotypes we’ve attached to the color that is the problem. And those deserve a lot of attention, a whole lot of unpacking, and even more thoughtful critique.

*Speaking of thoughtful critique on this subject – check out Melissa Atkins Wardy’s new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween

141 thoughts on “Pink Is Not the (Whole) Problem

  1. The difference between being anti-pink and anti-limitation is precisely why I wrote my book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”. http://bit.ly/RedefiningGirly

    Pink is not the issue. The stereotypes and sexualization wrapped in pink and more pink and then marketed to young girls is the issue.

    Great post, Avital!
    Melissa Atkins Wardy

      • It’s worse than this really. It’s not just strict notions of gender, but also assumptions about superior gender. We don’t offer “girls” toys painted blue to boys. Skills traditionally in the purview of girls aren’t pushed. They are to be avoided. Every time we have a pink engineering, tool, whatever, kit we not only insult girls by assuming they are swayed by mere packaging, but we are also setting them up to believe that certain skills are superior. We are setting them up, in Friedan’s phrase, to ape men. Take male whatever–toys, careers, fashion (remember the 80’s), life arcs–give it a pink gloss to attract women, and supposedly this is the path to female success. Found yesterday via BlueMilk, an insightful article on feminism now from Australia:

        “How do we then counter the slowdown and failure to change the gendered distribution of power and influence? The shift to market models meant many women’s groups focused on raising the status of women via access to power in current macho terms. More women in male-defined areas of power – in politics or on boards – was erroneously claimed to be the route to feminist change. But we failed to see they were promoted because they posed no threat to the system that allowed them into the tent to share some of the power that men controlled.”

        The whole thing, relatively short, is here. http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2014/03/29/has-feminism-lost-its-way/1396011600#.UzrDx9xzKxq

  2. Pingback: Feminist Fare Friday: Edition #20 - The Stay At Home Feminist | The Stay At Home Feminist

  3. Yes! This reminds me of a very frustrating incidient involving a little boy(6) I used to babysit. His mother once brought him home, livid, because he’s choosen a pink feather as part of a costume and she “hadn’t raised him to be like that.” Later, we talked about colors and why it’s okay to be different. She eventually relented, but it was a very eye opening expirience.

    Pink isn’t the problem, but people can be.

    • “Pink isn’t the problem, but people can be.” <–YES! You nailed it. Glad you were able to open that woman's mind! Amazing the fear people attach to allowing boys to wear pink (not so latent homophobia anyone?)

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 4:50 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  4. It’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s not pink’s fault.
    My 6-year-old son is very liberal, can talk intelligently about why a colour’s just a colour, and why it’s a shame that there are boy-toys and girl-toys.
    My (nearly) 4-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is devastatingly heteronormative. I don’t know where she gets it from; she just likes pink things, and fairy princesses, and unicorns. I hope she realises soon that she doesn’t have to let them do that to her; I hope she realises soon that everything can be for everybody.

    • Exactly. It can be easy to blame a color and ban it from a home with girls – but that’s not the solution, eh? It’s about changing the system that defaults pink to only for girls. That’s great that your daughter loves pink/unicorns/etc… and it sounds like (given her brother) she will definitely grow up understanding that she can like whatever she wants to – and that’s a-ok!

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 5:06 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  5. It’s sad that it’s even an issue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a girl who loves pink, frilly things and hates all things blue or a boy who loves fishing, bugs and hates pink. However, there is also nothing wrong with a boy who loves pink and frilly things and a girl who loves to fish and loves bugs. Point? Be who you are.

    • Exactly! And I wish it were that easy. Yet the messages being sent (whether via media or marketing) don’t support that notion, sadly – limiting both girls and boys:/

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 5:20 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  6. A little girl in the church nursery was so excited about her pink shoes, her pink tights, her pink dress, her pink hat and coat, and her pink umbrella, that she told the Pastor her name was now “Pink”. Seems like some colors can lift you self-esteem, while others can lower your self-esteem. I wonder what Pink (R&B singer) was thinking when she changed her name?

    • The story that I heard was that it started as a nickname. I forget how, I read about it so long ago, but I think it had something to do with embarrassment or blushing.

    • I have to say, tossing on my bright, neon pink shirt the other day certainly lifted me up. Wearing something bright amidst all the winter gray was great. I also wonder about Pink the singer (especially b/c she doesn’t present herself as overly feminine – I think it’s a great contrast to the name Pink!)

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 5:30 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

      >

      • Yep, you’re right Mamafesto, but I think she calls herself that because on occasion she dyes her hair “pink”. So pink hair on the brain must be a self-esteem mane.

  7. Reblogged this on Quinbee's Castle and commented:
    I love the color pink. But that did not happen until I was an adult. In grade and high school I thought wearing pink was too girly and therefore threatened my tomb-boy image. This article is very interesting and explains so much about the color that I had never even thought about.

  8. I shunned pink and everything it stood for as a teen. My grandmother tried to give me pastel colours to wear and all I wanted was to wear black and blue.

    Having said that, I also played with that Iconic pink doll, the Barbie, but I also played with lego: like the regular bricks, and transformers and K’Nex.

    It’s interesting thinking of the next generation. I know a woman who loves skulls and black gothic, who has a daughter who instinctively gravitated to all thinks pink and shiny. I say let kids be kids. Let them pick and choose. We like what we like, whether we’re told to or not.

    • I agree. But it’s also a much different world now than when we grew up (well, when I grew up in the ’80s, not sure when you did!). The pink/blue divide is even more entrenched, making the idea of choice much more limiting:/

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 6:34 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  9. The idea of pink being the “best” or “prettiest” color for girls did hurt me growing up, but not in the way you might think. I went into adult shoes early, and it so happens that my last pair of kids shoes was pink. Because I didn’t think I’d ever see a pair of pink tennis shoes in and adult size, I didn’t tell anyone I’d outgrown the pink shoes. I just kept wearing them until my toes began to grow curled. They still are!

  10. Yup, it’s all the cultural baggage with pink colour. I do have and wear less than 5 different pink pieces of clothing. Only certain shades. I have no problem. One thing for certain, I just don’t want to buy a pink bike. I have 4 bikes.

    I can imagine some macho guys freakin’ out to even have pink frosting on their cupcakes, cakes ..and not even buying it. Unless they knew it was cherry, strawberry flavoured.

  11. Fascinating, I’m an artist but never appreciated the history of any color let alone pink. You’ve got me wondering about other color histories too. We are creatures of habit and need anchors to ground our choices when we’re fearful of making poor decisions. When we don’t know if it’s going to be a boy or girl we are supposed to choose yellow. Pink and blue makes a merchandiser’s job so much easier like ties in the men section and pocket books in the women’s. I agree though, with everything you’ve said and appreciate the history you’ve collected.
    Funny, as a kid with 3 sisters, for many years come Xmas time my Aunts always purchased clothing for all the nieces (11 in all) – my eldest sister got purple, the second got pink, I got brown and my youngest sister got baby blue…I disliked brown for the longest time and now it’s one of my very favorite colors…
    AnnMarie
    great blog concept

  12. The red, white, and blue Legos that I played with as a child were bought for my brothers, but I didn’t feel less feminine playing with them, and neither did any of my friends.

    The problem isn’t the color or the gener in whic the toys are marketed. The problem is the adult mindset. This post kind of reminded me of a poem that I wrote a few years ago.

    Dear Father in Heaven,
    How can it be
    that my beautiful Kevin
    won’t listen to me?
    Oh, how can my son
    see all that much joy
    in staring at websites
    not fit for a boy?
    If he’d been born a girl –
    now, that I could get,
    but my boy with a Barbie?
    I’m not ready yet.

  13. I didn’t realize the history of pink started off with men wearing it. And man, I do not buy into the whole pink is so girly stuff. In fact, I try to stay away from it as much as possible when buying my daughter clothes. However, I still get family members buying her pink outfits. And when I buy toys for her, I steer clear of any of those overly pink and overly girly toys. Blech.

  14. Wonderful! I want options for my little girl and for myself in the male dominated sport of fishing. It is what pink represents for me. Limits, which I reject. Awesome post.

    • I could definitely see how pink options in traditionally male areas (especially sports) could be empowering for sure. It’s just when pink is the *only* option for girls – that’s when we have some problems!

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 9:25 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  15. I’m a guy who has 1 pink shirt that I wear often and I’ve only had compliments about it. No one has told me I’m too feminine or anything. So I think pink is in for guys and girls now.
    dailyquizquestion.wordpress.com

  16. Yes! I have been having debates (arguments, really) with people about this since my son was born, and even more-so since the My Little Pony backpack incident. Happy to see others out there with the same views. I recently wrote a blog post about how harmful it can be for children to be raised according to gender standards, hope you don’t mind if I link to it here, check it outif you have the time=]
    http://tempestadore.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/your-childs-first-bully/

    • Thanks for sharing! I think the more parents speak out and speak up for their children, the more chance we have of changing the current status quo when it comes to these stagnant gender norms!

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 11:40 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  17. I’ve always noticed this “pink” dilemma, but especially now since I have two daughters. I don’t want to totally exclude pink, but I also have to consciously avoid the pink aisle in all toy sections. In fact, recently we were looking for different Lego kits for my oldest daughter. We noticed that all of the car Lego kits only had colors like green and blue and red, and the garden/home Lego kits were pink! That’s too bad… boys would love those garden home building kits too, but many parents won’t buy them for their boys simply because of the pink! I would also like to add that when looking at vintage toys from the 50s and 60s and 70s you can immediately notice the absence of pink in girls toys (google toys of this era). Instead there were wonderful oranges, browns, reds, etc… A wonderful diversity of colors! Now, this saturation of pink has made toys lack a “real life” quality (how many people REALLY have a hot pink mansion and car). My sister and I were handed down Barbie toys and accessories from that time period, and none of it was pink. Looking back, we were very lucky to not be indoctrinated with this pink marketing scheme you have pointed out in your blog post.

    • Exactly – it’s only gotten worse over time. A lot of the marketing can be tied to branding as well. Most Lego sets today aren’t simply the bricks and suggestions to build cars or trucks, etc… (except for Lego City), but rather tied into TV shows (Chima, Ninja Turtles, etc…) or movies (DC Comics, Marvel, etc…). And since many of those are already strictly divided among gender lines, it filters down to the toys. A couple years back I had a guest blog series for Bitch magazine on parenting/pop culture and traced the history of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys – and it’s amazing how gendered they became the more branded they were: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/mom-pop-culture-mcgender-unpacking-the-happy-meal

      On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 11:45 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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      • As if I needed another reason NOT to eat at McDonalds… but, yes the question for Happy Meals of whether my child would like a boy or girl toy is ridiculous. On one occasion that we experienced the girl toy was a mini pink shoe key chain and the boy toy was a book. ???? When it comes down to it, these are just some of the very bad side effects of Capitalism.

  18. Have mostly hated pink – because it’s not my colour, not for gender reasons. Still not happy with this colour. I sometimes do think it should be forbidden for boys/men and girls/women alike. But then I just look the other way and the pain lessens.

    • Ha! I mean, I loathe pastels, but I don’t think they should be banned (although it would make the world a prettier place >_<)

      On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 1:39 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  19. Excellent point, well researched and evidenced! I was never a particularly ‘pink’ girl either and occasionally felt I didn’t ‘fit in’ because of it. You’re right that what I like has no bearing on my gender, and no wonder there are so many confused young people today being force fed this stereotyping! I’m so glad that you are writing about this for other young girls, men and women out there, to try to redress the balance. Good job!

  20. It all comes down to taking that meaning, and simultaneously, power away from pink, which will only work with shifting the perception on the generation to come, but its a tough one I mean I have known very educated people, who would otherwise agree on this topic, and the moment they had a son, subconsciously, it was trucks, cars, blues, sports, balls, very stereotypically boy stuff, and that is another side of the problem, how girls define themselves, how boys and eventually men define them. It’s a collaborative shift of mind, and its going to be a hard one. Great post!

  21. If the shops stopped ‘genderising’ (which, by the way, I would argue doesn’t change anyone’s life) by colour then people would start saying that “girl’s” and “boy’s” stuff shouldn’t be separated into isles either.. then we’d have masses of parents complaining about how long they spend in toy shops trying to find something they went in for. It would be a never ending conga-line of complaints and moaning.

    If you want to buy something in pink, you can, no matter your gender. If you want to buy something in another colour, you can, no matter your gender. If you don’t want the “girl’s” version, go get the “boy’s” version. Problem solved.

    I got a Barbie when I was little because there wasn’t an Action Man who did a zip-wire. My parents didn’t even flinch when I asked. Why? Because they realised I have free will and with free will I can buy what I want.

    • That all sounds great in theory – but tell it to the little boy who was bullied (and then blamed!) for bringing a My Little Pony backpack to school. Or the little girl who was targeted for having short hair and “dressing like a boy.” So while it would be wonderful if everyone could be all kumbaya and let kids be kids, reality just doesn’t follow suit, unfortunately!

      On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 3:11 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

      >

      • That’s true. In my reasoning, we are animals at the end of the day and therefore motivated as such. I think it’s well embedded into our DNA for survival reasons.

        If a small male rhino decides I’m not going to learn to fight, it’s either going to be punished into rethinking or be killed.

        Such is civilised society.

    • Yes, it all boils down to the attitude! Thanks for reading and sharing your own post (especially as it includes a Hugh Laurie picture!!!).

      On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 3:54 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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      • I am ready to give a shake, a huge hand shake?. Why couldn’t we change this?. If we could unite we can?, can’t we.
        Let’s begin with a facebook page or something similar, what do you say?

  22. “Pink” is an abomination. Straying slightly from indignation’s path, I offer this “pink” poem written by my mother in the 60’s….

    The summer I finally got laid, was a summer of pink lemonade.

    With pink geraniums in the gin,

    Pink fireflies flitting out and in.

    Pink planets plunking banjo stars, with Jupiter as pink as Mars.

    When rosy Venus opened up, my blushing petals like a cup,

    I laughed like strawberry jello to think,

    Even the panther invader was pink.

    We combed our hair with pink shell combs, sunrise was pink when we went home.

    I write it all down with my pink pen, because pinks been my colour ever since then.

    And yes – she purposely wrote this gag fest of “pink prose”
    🙂

  23. You make a good point. Outside of color coding purposes, I got tired of having ‘pink’ forced down my throat as a kid. I’m attracted to cool colors, you see.

  24. Well said. I have an upcoming blog post on something similar. Our six month old daughter gets a lot of ‘he’s cute’ when she is wearing blue. And I have a pink aversion, so clothing gifts for our daughter are almost always preceded by ‘I know you are not a fan of pink/are trying to avoid pink, but this pink outfit was just too adorable to pass up.’ Pink really does dominate the clothing and toy department for girls. It would be nice to see expanded options for boys and girls and not have such strong gender associations tied to colors.

    • Yes! The options for boys clothes are so limited (or $$$). It’s been heartening to see a few smaller companies coming out with more gender neutral/colorful clothes for all. H&M is one of the more larger companies that offers a better array of affordable choices for both boys and girls, from what I’ve seen.

      On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:37 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

      >

    • Oh, how interesting! What’s funny is that even when I was going through a distinct dislike of pink phase, I still had hot pink flowers as part of my wedding. Just something about bright gerbera daisies…

      On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:46 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  25. Throughout my adventures in parenting my son, I always tried to instill in him the understanding that there was no gender bias. He too could embrace a broom and a dirty dish that needed washing. I surrendered the duties of clothes washer to him once his head cleared the top of the machine. I taught him to ride a bike and had him help me re-tile the bathroom. Ahhhh but the day I knew I was successful.. wellll… first, my son is a 6 foot tall 24 year old now. He looks like a cross between a Portland grunge rocker and an Alaskan mountain man with wavy hair to his shoulders and a full beard 2 inches past his chin. He is a big kid probably close to 225 lbs. He came to visit me in Mexico and I saw my wonderful boy turn the corner wearing cotton candy pink straight leg jeans and a matching set of pink sunglasses. His knit cap was a lovely lime green. Yes, he has no problems wearing what ever strikes his fancy. And yes he still washes dishes (His live in girl friends thanks me regularly).

  26. While I agree with you and pink is not the problem…pink is an attitude and not a color, but if you insist it is more than that’ it’s just a lighter shade of red

  27. Pink is not the problem, It’s the judgement.
    Tradition,Culture and Faith clouds the eyes, so we cannot see the truth.
    People judge others to feel better themselves.
    People think others are stupid, because they cannot see past their own ego.
    Sometimes people even think others are better and create nonsense standards for themselves.

  28. I love pink, always have done, but you are right – it does box girls in, and boys out. Funnily enough, I saw a Nerf advert today for pink weapons, and thought WTF. Even more so, that they were given super sickly names, like sweetheart, or something equally as ridiculous!

    • Yes! I remember writing about that a while back and really appreciated them noticing the issue and actually taking steps to address it. It definitely hasn’t seem to hurt their business at all.

      On Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 12:13 AM, The Mamafesto wrote:

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  29. Pink Is the (Whole) Problem

    Girls solely reflect the colour pink as this colour only suits them well. Pink never comes with the boys, for it is made for girls only. I have never been so much judging person but, truth to be told, pink makes the boy girly. So, when I see any boy wearing pink costume, I feel very awkward about that. I have seen girls looking gorgeous on pink dress and beautiful on dyed pink hair. So, I think, pink is only made for girls as mustaches are only made for boys….Contd. Reading on
    http://kegarchaslifema.wordpress.com/

  30. Really enjoyed reading this great post. Thanks.

    I remember a cartoon series my daughter used to watch, “Blue’s Clues.” Blue is the female dog, and her pink friend is the male. And somehow, this was explained quite briefly but clearly that pink used to a man thing. My daughter told me that (I didn’t have the guts– and time– to watch these cartoons!).

    Anyway, I think the real problem with the color pink is when a mom pampers her little daughter with all the pink stuff there is in the market… to the point that the little girl does not appreciate any other color than pink. Pink is always associated with being a princess. But all Disney princess tales show how weak a princess is. I’d rather nurture and raise my daughter as the evil stepmom who becomes a queen, no matter what! LOL

    Cheers!

  31. Love your post !

    My favourite colour is purple , needless to say my room walls are different shades of purple. Every time relatives would visit , I would get a condescending ” you’re so girly , your room has pink walls ” !
    Firstly purple is not the same as pink , and even if it were , it’s just a colour .
    never undersood, how does liking a particular colour make you girly or manly!

  32. Pingback: Sometimes, I Don’t Want to be Beautiful | theauthorwhoknows

  33. I think this boys against pink issue is an American thing… I grew up in Brazil and boys (and men too) totally rock pink all the time… The interesting thing is that I feel people are way more homophobic in Brazil then here in the USA… but pink doesn’t seem to be associated with that at all.. Brazilian guys are “allowed” to do their nails too (no color please)! Hows that for girlie? That just goes to prove that these assumptions and judgments we pass (such as pink is for girls) as kids or as adults, are just culturally accepted norms that pass from generation to generation… It’s a good thing you’re teaching your son that it’s OK to like pink and that this doesn’t define him.
    XO

  34. Pingback: Girl’s Dreams and Boy’s Worlds. On early gender stereotypes. | zesyra

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