“I Like All the Colors”: Gender Policing Children

What’s the problem with pink? We paint our daughters rooms pink, dress them in pink, and even color their toy aisle in Walmart. Girls love pink, right? So what’s the big deal? In this piece Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the role gender socialization plays in training young girls to have a particular preference for pink and discusses why this is limiting.

Minnie Mouse in 2012

When I ask my preschool-aged daughter what her favorite color is, she has always replies, “I like all the colors.”

After a couple weeks back in preschool she came home with a worksheet that she filled out with the help of a teacher and classmates. One of the questions asked her what her favorite color is and there it was: pink.

What? She has never before indicated a preference for pink. A slight preference for purple, yes, but not pink. Let me be clear, pink can be awesome, but I want her to select her own favorite color.

My feminist-mommy heart broke as she continued to identify pink as her favorite color. At four, she is learning that her preferences do not matter nearly as much as what society thinks her preferences should be. She is learning that gender is such an influential marker, that it indicates what one’s favorite color should be. More importantly, she is learning that this inconsequential choice has already been made for her because of her gender.

Another week passed, and I asked her again about her favorite color. She was back to liking “all the colors” (Victory!). Any memory of her brief consideration of pink as her favorite color seems to have vanished. Though she may still like “all the colors,” there are numerous occasions when other people encourage her to select pink when there are other choices, which leads me to believe that pink will rule once again in the future.

This phenomenon is referred to as gender socialization. Gender socialization refers to the ways in which we are taught what is thought to be gender appropriate norms. Whether we allow young boys to dress as princesses, wear pink nail polish or a skirt, or even enroll in gymnastics [1.My daughter’s gymnastics and dance studio offers a gymnastics class just for boys. There are no such classes that are offered just for girls, nor is there a dance class offered just for boys. There isn’t a need because most of the classes include only girls. The boys-only class is to encourage parents of boys to actually give gymnastics a try.] are examples of gender socialization. Gender policing is really a more appropriate description of what is happening here. Gender policing refers to the ways in which gender deviants are brought back into line through devaluing those actions and attitudes that do not neatly conform to our expectations of what is gender appropriate.

Minnie Mouse in the 1980s

The color pink is particular troublesome, because it teaches girls from an early age that their preferences do not matter. The problem with this encouragement of pink over other colors is that it does not allow her to make her own decision. She is being told by others what her actual color preference is does not matter because she is a girl. Her color preference has already been determined. And this is the problem with pink.

Sadly, this gender policing extends far and wide. For example, when picking out ballet slippers, my daughter first wanted the black ballet slippers, but the “ever-so-helpful” salesperson pointed out that “most little girls pick out the pink one’s.” So, pink is what we got. (Though she has a preference for her black leotard over the pink one when she actually goes to class.) I think we will order ballet slippers online next time where she can make the color decision independently of strangers.

The ability for girls to decide their own favorite color has been so thoroughly removed from them that even Minnie Mouse isn’t immune. Minnie Mouse has transitioned from a red dress to a pink dress within one generation.

Read More:

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls

Dig Deeper:

  1. What was your favorite color as a child? Why? How did others react to your color-preference?
  2. Has pink always been for girls? Explain your rationale. Now visit When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? In the middle of the page there is a slide show. View the slide show. What did you learn from the slide show?
  3. The author makes the case that pink is not so much the problem, as the removal of the decision-making process from girls. In what ways are girls choices regarding color-preference limited? Can the case be made the boys face similar color-preference restrictions? Why or why not?
  4. Can you think of other examples of how boys and girls are gender policed that were not discussed in this post? What is the rational for this gender policing?