Sunday, 17 August 2014

Should children be colour conditioned?

Pink or blue? I imagine the question on an expectant parent's mind is whether their newborn baby will be a girl draped in pink or a boy dressed in blue. 'I think I would want the sex of my child to be a surprise when I'm pregnant', the response when I say this is often 'how could you not want to know' or 'but you won't be able to prepare for it properly'. For many, I gather that knowing the sex of the unborn baby matters because from the moment the child is born their gender will determine how they experience life and it will all begin with an innocent colour; pastel pink or baby blue.

It was recently my god-daughter's 6th birthday and at the age of 6, most girls have been sucked into the 'princess phase'. I'm not the biggest fan of princesses so words cannot describe my somewhat joy in hearing that she had asked for a skateboard, Ben 10 watch and a Spiderman toy for her birthday. Her mother was not so amused however, and in her attempt to defer me from buying her daughter something she had asked for she said, 'I don't want my daughter playing with boys' toys!'. I hadn't placed much thought into it before; why are children's toys so gender segregated?

Who says pink is just for girls? Surely by 'pinkifying' girls from the day they are born, we are conditioning children both male and female to associate anything pink with girls right? This seems innocent, however it's not the colour itself that is the issue here, the concern is the things the colour pink is associated with and how it is shaping the gender identity of girls. The pink bib reads 'Daddy's little princess' with hearts and flowers all over it while the blue bib reads 'Mummy's tough guy'. Then there's the toys they play with, girls toys being predominantly princesses and ponies, dolls and prams, kitchen sets, make up and dress up sets etc. In contrast, boys toys include action figures, superheroes, vehicles and construction sets; these help to develop their confidence, competitiveness and control whilst girls toys encourage beauty, romance and nurturing. Boys are told 'that's cool, go and show daddy what you made', while girls are told 'go and show daddy your pretty dress'. What happens in a child's development the more we continue to praise boys for their actions and girls for their looks?

From colour association, children will then move onto word and image associations. What opinions do we think little boys and girls will begin to form of themselves and of each other if words, images and toys associated with power, heroes, action, weapons etc are used with males whilst the associations with females are love, princess, barbies, kitchen sets etc. Children should be granted the choice to make decisions on their actual interests; if my god-daughter wants a skateboard, why should it be marketed as a 'boy's toy'? Why are we limiting children and their imaginations? What boys are interested in vs what girls are interested in are arguably acquired preferences rather than innate.

I believe these early developed gender associations that children make for themselves and each other play a significant part in their adulthood. I'm displeased with the colour conditioning on children; I see how women's plea for equality from their male counterparts may have unawarely began as a child with the colour pink, a colour funny enough once associated with masculinity. For as little girls, anything not pink was not for us to play with and unfortunately everything pink placed us into a narrow minded box of what girls are supposed to do...cook, push prams, dress up, look like barbie then like the princess films aspire to live happily ever after with prince charming. I'm sorry but I want to teach my daughter and son that girls can be pretty and powerful too and for this reason I sure hope my future daughter throws her pink toys out the pram!

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