I remember being around seven-years-old the first time I heard the rhyme: ‘Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of’. That sounded good to me. There was nothing I didn’t like about that, but I felt confused about the next line: ‘Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of’. Though being made of ‘everything nice’ seemed like a good option, I liked frogs and snails and puppy dog tails a lot. I was the kind of kid that collected frog spawn, had a pet snail in a jar who I fed on grass, and would lose the plot if I was within 200 yards of a puppy. The fact that I was a girl who liked boy things was easily resolved: I was a tomboy, and very proud to be one. No girlie girl for me. But if I’m honest it wasn’t much of a battle and only erupted over wearing ‘itchy’ dresses or boys lifting your uniform skirt (I wore shorts under my school uniform in fifth and sixth class-problem solved.)
When I was nine, my godfather took me to big toy store and said I could pick whatever I wanted. The store carried all manner of toys, including dolls and kitchens (for girls) and guns and cars (for boys), but there was also a wide range of board games, puzzles, Lego, cuddly teddy bears, craft projects, and science projects that were for all children. Not boy toys and girl toys. They were just toys for children (remember Etch-a-Sketch?). I chose a microscope. It wasn’t pink. They only came in black, which is frankly proper order.
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a world where girl babies wore pink and boy babies wore blue. Girls had bows in their hair and boys wore short pants, never long ones. No child ever wore black. Toys however were only just coming out of the spinning top phase. The market had not yet segregated all toys into two separate worlds: one pink and pastel, the other full of vibrant primary colours. Walk into any large toy store today and it’s a pink world for girls, and a fire engine red world for boys, even if the toy is a pen set or a ball. Same goes for clothes, shoes and bath products.
Several years back I tried to buy some ‘back to school’ stuff for my nephew and niece who are twins. I struggled to find pencil cases, or stationary that wasn’t linked to merchandising a cartoon character. All the items were also clearly either for boys and had lots of primary colours and action, or for girls and had lots of pink and glitter.
I once cut up all the Smythe’s toy catalogue and put all the girl toys on the left and all the boy toys on the right. The difference was stark: A column of pink and pastels next to a column of red and navy. The girls had angelic poses and shy smiles, as they played with their baby dolls, kitchen and hoovers; while the boys punched the air in victory as they shot stuff with giant guns, or drove monster trucks over sand hills, fierce and strong.
Which brings me to my point.
The next generation is having children. I know it’s hard when all consumer products for children are gendered, but I worry about the piles of pink Princess dresses and Bright red monster trucks that seem to be taking over young parents’ homes. You can see the arrival of a boy child. Pastels suddenly share the floor space with strong colours. All manner of things that have wheels and movable parts, line up next to pink princess castles and unicorns.
It may seem cute, or unimportant, but raising our children in a world where shampoo is either pink or blue does not help in the challenge of gender equality. If that sounds like a lofty ideal – it isn’t. It’s 2017. I can’t think of anyone who thinks that their five-year-old daughter should not get the vote – or go to school just because she is a girl. We are a society that celebrates the fact that boys are sensitive and girls are strong. We all want equality for all our children.
So next time you buy shampoo, or a book, or shoes…check if it’s pink or fire engine red and ask yourself why?