With British experts cringing every time a little girl (your daughter too?) picks a pink dress or toy over another coloured one, Anjana Vaswani asks whether it's just an innocent choice or one that perpetuates gender stereotypes
Roshni Grover, 6, loves her bedroom dominated by shades of pink. pic/Shadab Khan
"It's a girl!" If you think it's only natural for that exclamation to be followed by shopping for pink jumpers and rose bibs, you are making experts in the UK anxious. They are complaining about what they are calling the "Pink Plague" that's struck their High Streets hard, with stores almost exclusively stocking pink products for little girls. They say the colour puts undue pressure on girls to conform to traditional roles, making them grow up a bit too quickly. Some experts also claim that it creates gender stereotypes and widens the gap between the sexes.
Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, has suggested that the overdose of the colour keeps girls from thinking for themselves or from rebelling against the "princess role". "You can't find girls past the age of three who aren't obsessed with the colour," Palmer said, lamenting that parents were being brainwashed by "pink pester power". Palmer's chief objection was to what she believes the colour pink is associated with "the obsession with appearance and body image, and the idea of what female sexuality is."
She loves pink. What's worrying about that?
"Like most little girls her age, Roshni loves pink," says mother Guncha Grover, leading us into the 6 year-old's room that's wall-papered with a rose pink floral-print. A Disney princess rug is positioned beside her bed, and pink stickers adorn a wardrobe that's positioned close to hot pink curtains. Dancing around the room as she speaks to us, Roshni says her mother does the shopping for her, even as Guncha clarifies, "We both do the picking, but Roshni makes the final selection."
Guncha isn't worried about her daughter's fondness for the colour. "She likes pink, but she wouldn't choose a toy specifically because it's packed in pink. I've seen her pick board games in various colours, for instance."
Guncha doesn't mind dressing her daughter in the colour of her choice either. It doesn't really bother her. "A child's participation in small decisions, like what to wear, plays an important role in her development. What's there to worry about?"
What's the fuss about? Girls choose pastels, not pink!
Moiz Gabajiwala, Director Marketing at Zephyr Toymakers Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai says his company manufactures four categories of products: construction sets, art and crafts kits, teaching aids, and family games. Based on his extensive experience in the area of toy-marketing, Gabajiwala rubbishes the idea that girls' toys are especially packaged in pink. "We manufacture and market a variety of exclusively-gender-specific as well as unisex games and kits, such as paint kits, stamp sets, sand craft, magnetic boards and a diverse range of family games. We prefer to use pastel shades in the packaging of girl-centric-toys, rather than plain pink."
No harm done, says child psyche expert
Child psychiatrist Pervin Dadachanji is amused by the suggestion that the fondness for a colour can damage a girl's psyche. "In most cases, it's not a fixation," she says, sharing that her own daughter used to like pink when she was little. "But girls outgrow their affinity for it at some stage." She isn't completely convinced that parents' preference to dress girls in pink or boys in blue has anything to do with gender-stereotyping. "It's really just about their personal choice and in some cases, about what they perceive to be convention," she explains. "What's more relevant," the doctor emphasises, "is the fact that even if, in some cases, parents are giving into the gender-stereotype by purchasing pink products for their daughters, it's not negative stereotyping. Buying guns for their boys, on the other hand, would be an example of giving in to negative gender-stereotypes."
Mothers love pink too
But those in the business say experience has revealed how pink is not only a favourite with little urban girls, but mothers too. Sheetal Sheth, co-owner of Oranges and Lemons, a Lower Parel kidswear store, says customer-preference dictates her selection of US imports. Her range for girls aged 0 to 8 years consists of a lot of pink outfits. "It's a popular colour, in all its shades, even a distant relative like lilac. "You'll hardly see them opt for grey, beige or brown. While parents can guide little girls' tastes or even pick clothes for them till they are about four, for older girls, the choice is usually theirs, she shares.
Mumbai-based accessory designer Rina Shah recently launched the Angel range of footwear for girls aged 3 to 13. She uses bright colours, bold embellishments and wild prints (prices start at Rs 1,100) to create sandals, peep-toes, fur-lined boots, cute ballerinas and comfortable flats. It was her observation of customers that led her to create a kiddy range that plays with the shade. "Pink is favoured not just by little girls, but by ladies in general. Our range takes this bias into account."
They even create pink paintings. But so did Picasso
Interestingly, it's not just about colour preference in garments. Pink dominates creativity too. Priya Srinivasan, ex-business journalist turned organiser of The Pomegranate Workshop (http://www.thepomegranateworkshop.com/) for kids, had found that little girls use a lot of pink in their paintings. A girl in her class once painted a pink room, with pink cupboards, pink walls, inside which sat a pink teddy bear and a pink monster. "Some girls love it, some hate it. But either way, they have a definite view on the colour. It's not a value-neutral colour," she says. As Pomegranate's structured, unique methodology workshops are designed for kids aged 7 to 14 years, Priya has had occasion to observe children in various age-groups. The last thing girls want is to be mixed with boys. They won't even stand in a circle next to them, and so, pink becomes a mechanism through which they feel they can establish a clear division." Free from a single-colour influence, boys end up a lot freer in their expression, she believes.
Store managers have their say
Toys and games
Champak Bhai, ad hoc Manager at Manoj Stores, Breach Candy
I've noted a definite bias towards pink and blue. It's not the manufacturers that stick to pink. It's girls who prefer to buy it. While several items like Lego, cycles and skateboards are available in a diverse range of colours, little girls demand pink!
Firoza Aref, designs dresses for Kathryn's, a 70-year-old boutique at Warden Road
Pink is a favourite among my clientele, whether it's mothers or daughters doing the picking. These days, they also tend to deviate towards lilac. Blue and maroon are favoured for little boys. But when it comes to dressing the store window, we try to include a panorama of shades. Since pink is part of our collection in large numbers, they are most likely to feature. Pink draws a larger crowd.
Clothes and accessories
Laxmi Gole, employee at Bambino, Hughes Road
Light pink dresses are hot-sellers. We always try and include them in our window display. Since the store stocks garments and accessories for newborns to kids aged 10 years, we've had the chance to observe colour preferences. Blue is a popular choice for boys.
Picasso loved pink
One of the most appreciated artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso went through a pink phase one where he employed a lot of orange and pink in his works. It's believed to have marked a happy phase in his life. Picasso's Rose period (1904 to 1906), is one that churned out one of his most expensive works. GarÃÂÃÂ§on a la pipe, a painting that broke the record for the highest amount paid for an auctioned painting when it was purchased for $104,168,000 at a Sotheby's Auction in May 2004, was created during this phase.
Before WW II, men wore pink and women wore blue
Historians believe that between 1920 and 1940, pink was actually deemed a "masculine" colour because of its similarities to red, while blue was deemed feminine as it exuded more calm and was considered to be a delicate colour.
In fact, the reversal in gender-associations with both colours, only came about after the second World War.
Your little girl likes pink because your ancestors were hunter gatherers
A Newcastle University study that involved Chinese and British participants, claims that girls are born with a natural affinity to the colour pink. Researchers at the University believe that the mystery of the female fondness for pink is rooted in ancient human history. According to their study, when humans were essentially hunters and gatherers, women performed the role of primary gatherers and hence, may have, as a natural consequence of the evolution process, developed the ability to pick ripe, red fruits.
Men's inclination towards the colour blue was explained similarly by the researchers, in that it was appreciated by the hunters of our species, because it indicated fine weather and clean water.