Friday, January 21, 2005


Yesterday one of my students dropped by for some help on an exam. He and his partner just had a baby. He's an exhausted new father.

He tells me he's appalled at the pink clothes everyone is sending for his infant daughter. "What about me makes them think that I want my daughter clothed in pink?" he asks.

I admit, I've come to terms with pink. I grew up, like many, knowing that pink is evil. Pink is the antichrist of gender equality. All of our problems derive from, or are encoded

So, yes. I too, at the beginning, was appalled by the ubiquity of pink, at baby shops divided by a sea of blue and pink, by the difficult search for, oh, green, yellow, anything not pastel. I was horrified by the frills. Someone sent us a satiny pink dress, even, with a peter pan collar that ended in lace, and matching satin baby slippers. We opened the package, and wondered what they were thinking.

I slowly got over it. I realized pink is not the enemy. Pink is cute. And on my daughter's darker coloring, certain pinks look great. My best friend Laura even sent me a pink cashmere sweater she found at a second hand shop in Germantown. She told me to put it on, that I had to get over pink. The problems are out there, but don't blame pink.

I've tried to come to terms with pink, aesthetically, anyway. I have to admit, the culture of pink still scares me. I worry about our girls, about the messages they receive. I worry that not enough has changed, that their futures will be limited. I'm not doctrinaire, actually, and I have come to love what pink does. I love not having to shun such a delightful color, to wear it happily. Bu still, I worry, and I don't know whether I worry about this one too much, or too little.

When my daughter was in pre-K, for Halloween all the girls dressed in versions of pink. Ballerinas. Fairy Princesses. Ruling Princesses. Fairies. Butterflies. I have several years of preschool pictures and parties in which 8 girl toddlers are all wearing pink.

How does this happen. These kids all have progressive parents who hate pink, who know about the pink problem.

Is it the return of the pink repressed? The 70's ban on fairy princess costumes, coming back to haunt? What is that propels groups of girls to run in pink?

I could end this by damning pink. Except I can't.

Halloween 2003. Kindergarten. The girls are still wearing pink, or at least, versions of princessdom. My daughter is Belle, clothed in billowing yellow. As I watch the kids in their parade, I start up a conversation with the mom and dad of a fifth grader. I make a joke about all the pink. It's a progressive school. Everyone knows the code of pink. But exactly what is that? Am I 20 years out of date? If I bum too much about pink and other symbols, I might lose sight of the real problems, like is my daughter being taught Math well enough, and why do the boys in her class play chess in the morning while the girls color? The recent cultural debates about females, innate sex differences and math talents (see below) haunt me as I watch my daughter learn math.

"Don't worry about it," the mom said. "Look."

I look. The PreK had passed. The kindergarten and first grade had passed. In front of our eyes were the second graders, and the third, and then, the fourth.

The other mom was absolutely right. The color had changed. Dramatically. No more pink. All of a sudden, it's black. After second grade, the girls, nearly all of them were wearing black. The lower school kids all march with their partners from the middle school. The middle school kids are too cool for costumes, and they wear their usual shades of dark. The palette moves quickly from perky princess pink to deep black. In my daughter's class, the girls are now versions of vampires, vantessas, black cats and witches. As with the pink phase, all the types overlap. Don't ask me to point out the vantessas (a new word to me) from the witches, that's a whole other comment on the culture of six-and-seven year old best friend girls.

I'm still concerned about the gender culture our girls are growing up into. I'm focused on how well they are being taught, and on how to help my daughter sort out the different messages on Princess Diaries 2. But after seeing how quickly it's overtaken by neo-goth black, I'm no longer scared by little girl pink.


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