Saturday 3 January 2009
Deborah Orr: So what if little girls like pink? They'll grow out of it eventually
Another salvo has been fired against the tyranny of pink, whereby little girls from the age of two are bombarded with products exhorting them to dress as sugary princesses. They respond, very often, by refusing all merchandise that isn't presented in some shade or another of blush.
This time, the estimable Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, has spoken out. She argues that it is the long-term effects of thinking pink that society should be concerned about. "It is brainwashing," she told the Daily Mail. "The pink is just the vehicle. There are other things that become very subtly associated with pink like obsession with appearance and body image and the idea of what female sexuality is."
Certainly, many mothers are disturbed by the degree to which those who market products to little girls take advantage of the craze for pink. The Australian journalist Annie Lawson spoke to one woman who made special efforts to try to "show her daughter a world beyond pink, buying her toy cars (the only one she played with was pink) and 'gender-neutral' toys. She also restricted the flood of marketing messages aimed at children her daughter's age, hoping she wouldn't be lured into that parallel pink universe that has increasingly become a rite of passage for young girls".
Lawson later reveals that none of the mother's exhortations were to any avail, and suggests with just a touch of triumphalism that this was poetic justice. The mother in question, Kathy Franklin, was also the American vice-president of the Disney Princess franchise, which has made many billions by flogging the very fantasy that Franklin tried so hard to resist when her own daughter became caught up in it.
My own experience of the pink phenomenon has been limited. My stepdaughter was quite keen on pink, but virulently opposed to Barbie, so much so that when her uncle got her a Barbie camper van for her sixth birthday, she quietly wept. Interestingly, her two younger brothers were untroubled by the colour of the vehicle. It opened up, it had wheels, and it was big. They played with it endlessly. Many parents report a similar experience, whereby the adoring little brothers of pink-loving girls are just as mad about the colour until their peers turn them against it.
What troubles me most about the whole pink debate is that it tends to focus very much on what females do to damage themselves, even when they are two. Privately, parents seem to me just as concerned about the obsession their sons often have with dressing in clothes printed with camouflage patterns, and how difficult it is to go into any children's clothing retailer and emerge without camouflage T-shirts, socks, pants, trousers and jackets.
As for boys and weapons, I decided years ago that I'd be relaxed about it, after watching a dad whose sons started biting their toast into revolver shapes and taking aim at each other across the breakfast table.
The sad thing about these mass marketing strategies is that the children who want more choices seldom get them. My stepdaughter often shrugged and went with glittery pink, because what she wanted came only in glittery pink. But she survived the trauma.
Much as I admire the work of Sue Palmer, who makes profound points in her work about the ways in which our society systematically fails children, I cannot agree with her that this issue is a particularly important one. Feminists may be troubled by the idea of little girls in this day and age still cleaving to girly ideas about pretty pink princesses. But at least they are playing, and I tend to believe that, given the chance, they will grow out of their babyish passions.
Can it really be early immersion in pink that encourages "obsession with appearance and body image and the idea of what female sexuality is"? Or can it be later exposure to adult society's "obsession with appearance and body image and the idea of what female sexuality is"? I guess that one obsession transmutes quite easily into the other. But it seems to me that it is the adult obsession that is pertinent, not the children's one.
Maybe the tragedy is that little pink princesses grow up to find that their childish view of the world is not as out of place in grown-up society as it perhaps ought to be. Maybe it's not the choices made by little girls that causes the problem, but the options offered to them later by the people who ought to be older and wiser.
No breasts, please. Or anything else
When is a breast not a breast? Never. It is always a breast. A row has broken out after Facebook started to remove photographs of women feeding their babies from their website, because they broke rules against the showing of nipples or aureoles.
Women have complained in their tens of thousands, but Facebook continues to insist that breasts can only ever be considered primarily as sexual organs, even when they are being used to suckle offspring.
If half as many people were offended by the nipples of page three girls as they seem to be by breast-feeding mothers, then Clare Short would be a dame. As it is, she's not. She's a laughing stock, and eventually one just starts thinking: why bother fighting this losing battle?
Perhaps it might be more logical to start arguing that all human bits that can double as erogenous zones should be pictured only in their sexual context. No ears, unless they have tongues in them. No mouths, unless they are discreetly clamped round offensive nipples. No skin at all, unless it is being stroked and licked.
And no babies. One glance at a baby, and you simply know that some couple, somewhere, has been having sex that has gone horribly wrong, and tragically ended not in blissful, erotic pleasure, but in shameful reproduction. Gross.
Too little, too late for the white working class
Hazel Blears, not for the first time, has warned that the white working class feels its "acute fears" over immigration are being ignored. Her pronouncements are based on the findings of a survey conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government. She says, "The job of politicians and leaders is to listen and respond, to have the very debates that people in these estates are having or we risk losing touch with them altogether."
By "these estates", Blears means the pockets of social housing that Labour deliberately restricted over the past 10 years in order that their marvellous private housing boom should make even modest earners feel rich if they happened to have their own home.
By "immigration", she means the policy enthusiastically supported by the Confederation of British Industry, whereby the Government minimised the impact of the introduction of the minimum wage by ensuring that there was always a good supply of incoming workers who were more than happy to accept or undercut it.
Now that the boom is over, Labour has little alternative but to invest in social housing, because in the absence of mortgages, the construction industry is already on its knees. That same economic slowdown has meant that any ambitions about living wages rather than minimum wages are likely to have been scaled back. Which means that there has been no better time for Labour to "reconnect with the core voters" that it has been busy stuffing in the name of growth for a decade. What brave class warriors those guys are.
Handbags at dawn
Mickey Rourke has been celebrating his Lazarus-like Hollywood comeback somewhat ill-advisedly. The former brat pack star suggests that Sean Penn was not well cast as the gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk in the Oscar-tipped biopic Milk because he is "one of the most homophobic people I know". Come now, Mickey. Sean married Madonna. That's as queer as a straight man can possibly get.
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