Pink Things.

Yerim and Her Pink Things, 2005

The images above and below are just a few from JeongSee Yoon’s Pink And Blue Project, an ongoing set of images dealing with gender, consumerism, and globalization. Dozens of surreal, hyperdetailed images of mostly Asian boys and girls with their blue and pink things appear on Yoon’s page. The girls’ images are what strike me the most. “It looks like these little princesses vomited fairy-floss all over themselves,” observes Katie Olson at Lifelounge, then adds: “Fabulous.” Indeed!

It wasn’t always this way. The color pink, Yoon notes, was once considered the color of masculinity, a watered-down version of the virile color red. He quotes a 1914 American newspaper that advises parents to “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.” The reversal of colors for boys and girls occurred only after World War II. Writes Yoon, “as modern society entered twentieth century political correctness, the concept of gender equality emerged and, as a result, reversed the perspective on the colors associated with each gender as well as the superficial connections that attached to them. Today, with the effects of advertising on consumer preferences, these color customs are a worldwide standard.” This is the first time I’ve ever heard the claim that the feminist movement is somehow even indirectly responsible for “pink for girls.” Some quick “say it ain’t so!” Internet research reveals that historians have been unable to pinpoint the reason for the post-WWII color reversal. Reasons for the reversal have been pinned on everything from the Nazis (who labeled the homosexuals in their camps with pink triangles) to a cultural desire on post-war America’s part to bury Rosie the Riveter and replace her with Susie Homemaker. A plausible theory – and I think I uncovered the missing link!

With stores like nANUFACTURE in Spain marketing to parents who wish to avoid the pink/blue dichotomy, it’s clear that color-coding your child’s life is increasingly being seen as unfashionable, even a bit creepy – though, as SocImages points out, this expensive store’s “Save the Babies” campaign may be “more about ‘saving’ kids from things these young, hip parents think are lame or uncool.” Even without the aid of hipster-kid clothing boutiques, parents have a myriad of choices for dressing their kids. As Yoon shows us, some skip out on the pink/blue thing altogether.

For parents of transgender children, on the other hand, the choices today are more complicated than ever. If your son insists, every day, for years, since the moment he can talk, that he’s a girl and not a boy, what kind of clothing do you buy? What kind of toys do you give them? A fascinating article in the current Atlantic examines this issue, focusing on the growing culture of parents who wish to honor their children’s wishes – and the difficulties that accompany such a decision. Delving into everything from children’s rights to Freudian therapy resembling scenes from But I’m a Cheerleader to the heartbreaking story of David Reimer (from the book As God Made Him), the article compassionately examines families on both sides of the fence, chronicling the paths of families who decide to go with their children’s wishes, and those who decide to fight against them.

12 Responses to “Pink Things.”

  1. David Forbes Says:

    Y’see, this is why I like this magazine/blog. In one succinct piece you’ve got an examination of why pink and blue swapped genders (I didn’t know that!) tied neatly into a current cultural topic.

    Discussing gender in any fashion is, of course a loaded (with dynamite) topic. I’m not a huge believer in made-up lines, so I’ve never seen why boys couldn’t wear pink, girls couldn’t wear blue and vice versa in any combination that might please the wearer. My family did neither and I’ve never particularly had any love of either color. The only time I like the color blue is on election night maps and the only thing I’ve really found that works in pink is the rare vinyl outfit (rare because even many alt clothing designers still abide by the traditional colors for guys). Generally, red, black, white and burgundy are a lot more to my taste.

    Which, in my opinion, is what it should be about. Let the kids (or anyone else) decide their own tastes and identity. It’s far from a simple issue, and many will no doubt enjoy activities, colors and toys that are traditionally considered masculine and feminine. There’s no actual reason why a kid can’t like violent sports, playing with dolls and the color pink.

    Of course, living in the cultures we do, it’s much, much more complicated than that, as the excellent Atlantic article points out. In my experience, however, any person that grows up feeling different from the increasingly fractured cultural norms, be it sexually, gender-wise, politically, etc. is going to be in for a hard time. A family’s best path, I think, is to give them the skills and support to stand up to the challenges they’re going to face. Childhood doesn’t last forever, and they’ll be a lot better off for it at the end.

  2. Jami Says:

    I love when I learn things from posts on Coilhouse. I never knew that the pink and blue colors were originally switched. That’s amazing.

    The David Reimer story is heartbreaking, I really want to read that book now.

    Have you guys ever thought of doing an article on Foreskin Restoration? It’s not a very talked about subject, but I would say the decision to stretch the skin of one’s circumsized penis so that it appears to be uncircumsized in an attempt to regain some feeling that was lost in the circumcision seems pretty up your alley. You can read more about it here: (The National Organization of Restoring Men). Foreskin Restore is also a very valuable resource on this topic:

  3. Luai_lashire Says:

    That article in the Atlantic made me alternately happy and very angry. But by the end I just felt sad.
    I don’t think there was a single person in that article who sees this the way I see it, and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I feel very alone.
    I think the perspective I have on gender comes from identifying, for quite a long time now, as utterly genderless. I am biologically female, and I have no problem with that, but none of my behavior is “because I’m a girl”. I’m also bisexual, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s related to my gender identification.

    What really gets me is that people fail, time and time again, to recognize that gender and sex are not synonymous words. Sex is which body you are born with. Gender is a psychological identification. Just like many other psychological identifications, it may be partially something you are born with, but is always heavily influenced by society and your family.

    Those who take David Reimer’s case as proof that gender is innate are being stupid, to be frank. Some kids are into cars and fighting and “boy things”, and some are into pink and princesses and “girl things”. The vast majority of us are into ALL of them. But we are taught to lose our interest in the “inappropriate” things, or at least hide them. This is a major factor in gender identification, but it is not the only thing.
    David Reimer happened to be interested primarily in boy things. Did his parents discourage that? Did his friends, strangers, etc, discourage it? I don’t know, it doesn’t say anywhere in the article. Even if they did, it doesn’t mean he was “inherently a boy”, psychologically. He is one person. You don’t build a thesis for a phenomenon of human psychology on the basis of one person. My guess is that he was just a kid who wanted to play with cars and army men. That doesn’t have to do with sex.

    Take, as an example, cooking. Cooking used to be a masculine thing. Only men were allowed in the cooking professions. Now cooking is considered feminine and “housewifely”, and it’s used as a mark of “girlyness” in men. This is pretty obviously a societal construction.

    What really pains me is parents being unable to blur the lines. Why can’t they let their little boys play with pink frilly things and be princesses, while simultaneously teaching them to be proud and unashamed of who they are biologically? These boys (I suspect, and would love to do the research to be sure) are deciding they are girls because we tell them only girls are allowed to be interested in the things they are interested in. Only girls can like pink, only girls can be princesses, only girls can wear skirts and heels, only girls have long hair, only girls get to wear bras and have big chests, even, yes, only girls get to fall in love with boys. So kids decide, if they want these things, they must be girls.

    When I was a little girl, I wore pink flowered skirts and grimy tee-shirts with dinosaurs on them, and I chased boys around the playground with worms, and I sang and climbed trees and wore sneakers and jeans and dresses and played with dolls and made up stories about wars and pretended I was a raptor and watched disney movies and the discovery channel and played with boys and girls alike. My parents told me it was good to be weird, and they told me I could do anything whether people told me only boys can or not. They encouraged and enabled me and gave me the support I needed to stand up to the world. They also made the excellent choice of putting me in an alternative school, where it was normal to be strange and I had no trouble making friends.

    Until our society gets over gender, stops caring what people’s biological sex is, and lets people do what they want to do, we’re going to continue seeing people try to find ways to fit this phenomenon into a box that allows us to keep our societal structure of gender. And as long as we keep pretending these boxes exist, people who don’t fit our boxes are going to suffer psychologically and physically.

    (for the record, I do support the decision many trans people make to get blockers and/or sex changes. I don’t regard this as being like “amputating a healthy limb” as the doctor in the article offensively said, but like getting breast enhancements or a nose job. I think in an ideal world, people wouldn’t be ashamed of their bodies to the point of wanting surgery; but we don’t live in such a world, and if they want it, it’s their choice to make, and we should all be supportive of that)

  4. six06 Says:

    today is my son’s 15th birthday. one of my favorite stories about him is about his first day of kindergarten:

    he’d come home a bit down after his first day. i asked what was wrong.

    “we all sat at a table and were told to color a bear. i was using a pink crayon to color in his ears. two of the boys at my table started to laugh at me and say that ‘Blue is for boys and pink is for girls’.”

    “what did you tell them?”

    “i said, ‘the rainbow is for everybody.'”

    it broke my heart that some kids are conditioned with this sort of color-coding and notions about what gender means. at the same time, though, it made my heart swell to know my child stood up to this sort of mentality.

  5. Jami Says:

    I have another thing to add, something I just remembered from a few years ago. I was working in the toy section of Target a couple Christmas seasons ago. One day a little boy and his grandmother came into the toy section. The boy immediately pulled his grandmother to the Barbie aisle to look at the dolls. They stayed there for about 15 minutes before the grandmother finally said, “Alright, we need to go find you a boy toy now. Your parents will kill me if I buy you another Barbie doll.”
    The little boy was SO crushed. I don’t even like kids and it made me want to give him a hug and then call his parents to yell at them.

    I saw that sort of thing a lot while I worked in toys. Girls wanting toy cars, boys wanting dress up clothes, all of that. When I was little I loved Ninja Turtles, but I wasn’t allowed to get the toys because I was a girl. I got Barbies and when I wanted to play with the Ninja Turtles I had to play with my brother’s.

    Six06 — That story about your son is fantastic, good for him and good for you. I hope he continues to keep his mind open as he gets older.

  6. Jerem Morrow Says:

    What they said.

    *points up*

  7. Alice Says:

    The fact that the gender-colors have switched in the past has always been one of my favorites! More often than not, though, people don’t believe it!

    I guess I get to consider myself uncommonly lucky, though…my parents were very gender-blind when it came to my toys. I distinctly remember having my Barbies drive Tonka trucks in the sandbox.

    And to what Luai_lashire mentions about cooking–I find it interesting that, in Japan at least, while housewives still do the majority of a household’s cooking, it’s almost taboo for a woman to cook in a restaurant or any such establishment. Usually the reason is quite feeble such as claiming that cosmetics and menstruation make women too dirty for the job. Huh…

  8. BlueAnchorNatasha Says:

    Goodness! Ive learned things even related to my current Death curriculum, pertaining to the holocaust. Coilhouse should be a encyclopedic love letter if anything.

  9. inachis_io Says:

    Like several readers of Coilhouse, I, too, cringe at some parents’ tendency to press their children into a predetermined and “socially acceptable” mold. The issue can be subtle, like choosing one’s child’s wardrobe; but it can also be about determining gender identity for one’s preschooler. I think that what we’re mostly hoping for is to eliminate the pain involved with hiding one’s true self (or having it hidden for one by one’s parents).

    We had company recently whose four year-old son first tried on my daughter’s knight’s armor and then wanted to wear her princess outfit. His mother was all right with it the little boy in the glittery dress, but his father was cringing underneath his feigned amusement. I swooped in to divert everyone’s attention with coffee. The boy shuffled upstairs again to play. I hope that he didn’t endure any admonishing comments from dad after their visit…

  10. Alexander Says:

    Legos are where it’s at. Boy or girl, young or old, nobody dislikes Legos. NOBODY.

  11. Melanie Says:

    Portia Munson did this first.

  12. Nadya Says:

    Oh, snap! Thanks for the link, Melanie. Much appreciated.