The Pink and Blue Trap
The pink/blue divide starts before birth
I had never given much thought to how the toy and clothing industries manipulate parents and children until I expected our first child (and why should I have, it's not like there were a lot of children in my life back then).
There are certainly many ways to be a parent. That much became obvious just looking at the Baby Center forum during pregnancy. Before long, expectant mothers were asking if others were Team Blue, Pink or Yellow.
I remember being a little bit taken aback by that because to us, it didn't matter. We chose early on that we didn't want to find out the sex of our baby so technically I believe that would have sorted us into Team Yellow (although I still don't understand why a single colour would be attributed to either of these categories).
Of course, I understand why others want to know and it is not my place to tell anyone that finding out if they are having a boy or girl is wrong. For many people it is, after all, a way to bond with their unborn child and there is nothing wrong with that in the slightest.
However, what I am questioning is if there isn't a danger there that this knowledge goes further than bonding (see, for example, this article in Psychology Today by Mary C. Lamia PhD: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201612/knowing-the-sex-your-unborn-child).
In other words, should we "decide" so early on what team your child is on? The definition of a team means that the team member share some interests and work together to achieve their ambition. I guess parents are not doing this intentionally, but aren't we pitching boys and girls up against each other from the get go if we take it this far?
Chilren are almost blank canvasses when they are born (I say "almost" because a fair amount of their personality might be inherited rather than learned) but if we only expose boys to the colour blue, dinosaurs, trucks and maths and we expose our girls to nothing but the colour pink, fairies, unicorns, looking pretty and beautiful hand-writing, we are limiting their experiences and therefore how they see themselves.
Alas, newborns don't really do their own shopping and so it is left to the grown ups in their lifes to provide clothes and way more toys than they need at this early stage to them. Not knowing if we were having a daughter or a son, I ignored every garment that had some kind of boy or girl slogan on, I opted for primary colours when available but especially the newborn clothes that we got were predominantly white. Our push chair was, much like our nursery, forest-themed and mainly green with some red birds on it. So if you don't want to go for a pink or blue scheme, that is definitely achievable. (It is, by the way, also a very frugal and environmentally friendly choice: I still don't know if we are having a boy or girl this time round but I'm happy to re-use every single item I purchased for our son...)
Marketing strategies influence both parents and children alike
I have for some time followed @Let ToysBeToys and @LetClothesBeClothes on Twitter and often the experience other parents describe in their tweets I find puzzling and shocking at the same time.
Personally, when shopping for toys I try to keep in mind what my toddler is currently interested in. In the past, we have given him the typical boy-toys (toy cars, train tracks, balls to kick about in the garden...) but we have also given him (brace yourself, dear reader, because you might be shocked now) art supplies, a cleaning set so he can "help" around the house and a toy kitchen that we couldn't get him out of until he graduated to the actual kitchen with me (see my article: https://wehavekids.com/parenting/Cooking-with-toddlers-why-everyone-should-do-it).
What I find infuriating every time I buy him a present is that the packaging suggests in very clear terms who should be playing with this toy. Train tracks and trucks have pictures of little boys on, the kitchen and his cleaning set had girls on. So far, I have gotten around this problem because of gift wrapping and tidying toys away into crates rather than their original packaging.
But one day there will come a day where he enters an actual toy shop and chances are that subtle marketing strategies will lure him into one aisle and not the other one.
What scares me is that it doesn't seem to matter how carefully I keep him away from adverts and certain TV programmes (the ones that come with lots of merchandising): he spends seven hours a day at nursery with other children who influence what he perceives as interesting. At our nursery, children are allowed to bring their own toy in once a week and so he sees lots of the girls bringing in their Disney Princess-themed outfits and boys with trucks and diggers.
It is the same with clothes: wearing the colour pink is something girls do all the time but rarely do boys see another boy dressed in "a lighter shade of red". Go to H&M or another clothes retailer of your choice and look around the children's department carefully. Even if we overlook the colour schemes going on, fashion for girls and boys looks radically different. Boys clothes haven't changed as much since I was young but garments intended for girls start to look a lot more like "grown up" fashion really early on. Witty slogans often tell us that boys are heroes or clever whereas girls are pretty princesses (one of my favourite examples shared by @LetClothesBeClothes probably was the "Too pretty for maths" tshirt).
My big concern is: nobody needs to actually spell out that certain toys are marketed to only half the market, indirectly children will pick up on this.
Why is this a problem?
Obviously I can only talk from a female perspective on life but, ladies, how many times have you gotten together with your friends over dinner or cocktails and somebody (either you or at least one of your friends) really, really complained how useless their significant other is around the house?
If not that, was it by chance communication issues because the man in question wasn't showing the degree of empathy that the woman in question expected at that point in time?
Or maybe, were you talking careers, and shocked how a female colleague who has been with the company for ages still hasn't been promoted even though the guy who joined last year has already been booted up?
We can't truly address equality if we bring our children up with the same stereotypes that we have been exposed to as children ourselves. Men aren't going to voluntarily stay at home with the children if they are brought up being told that dolls, kitchens and cleaning sets are for girls. Women are not going to suddenly sign up en masse to become engineers if they are told that the way they look is more important than maths and physics.
And maybe the best way to break free from that is to ignore what the shops are telling us as parents what to buy for our children and instead letting our children tell us what they are interested in.
This doesn't mean that we should treat boys and girls the same because the way girls and boys think or experience the world is not identical. It also doesn't mean that we need to get rid of certain colour schemes or toys. However, listening to our children, letting them explore and find their own interests without imposing anyone's expectations on them might be the smoothest way to bring about change.