While giving my children cups for a meal the other day, my 5-year-old son rejected the pink cup I offered. “Not pink!” he said. “Pink is for girls!”
I was pretty astonished, even though I knew he had already been picking up on the societal dictation of gender colors. He had requested purple and pink shirts from my parents when he realized he didn’t have any but his sister had plenty in her multi-colored wardrobe, a wardrobe we have worked hard on. In fact, when we found out that we were pregnant with a girl, we immediately told our families not to give her anything pink, completely aware that this would only manage the flow of pink that she would inevitably receive, not make it go away completely.
It’s not that we actually hate the color pink. Pink used to be my favorite color when I was my son’s age. In fact, when we moved and my parents asked me what color I wanted my room, I said pink. And there I was for the next 10-12 years in a pink room. By high school, when it was time to re-paint, I was relieved to request a green room. I was done with pink as my favorite color.
Until now, we had managed the color stereotyping as best as we could. But now my son had observed which of his friends at school embraced pink wholeheartedly, apparently concluded that it is a girl color only.
At the time of his announcement, I was very aware that my daughter, the parrot of all things her brother says, was sitting right there. I told him that a whole group of people couldn’t claim one color of the rainbow for themselves and that, we, in our house, wear all colors and not just one. I asked him how he would like it if stores only made yellow clothes for me and no one else. He thought that was ridiculous. I asked what colors were for boys and he replied “The rest of the colors.” Burning with feminist equality, I pointed out that that didn’t seem very fair. I finally played my trump card “Daddy has some pink shirts.” That stopped him for a minute. “He does?” he asked, not sure if I was kidding. My husband, who was not present for the original conversation, promptly wore a pink shirt the next day, eliciting protestations from my son.
A second round of debate ensued. Now having both parents there to provide perspective, we tag-teamed, citing men who wore pink that we knew and stores that specialized in pink clothing for men. We simultaneously admitted that a lot of clothing and toys for girls was pink. Ironically, my son’s most beloved toy for over a year was a stroller, only available in pink that traveled as far as California with us.
While he did listen to our evidence, he didn’t appear convinced until later in the day when we were walking by some clothing stores that had men’s shirts and suits in the window. We immediately pointed out the purple and pink shirts and ties again and again until he was also excitedly pointing them out himself.
Trying to cement this apparent success and determined not to let this phase become permanent, I deliberately started putting his meals on pink plates again to see if I would get a reaction but have heard nothing. The feminist in me is relieved but the mom in me knows it’s going to come up again. And again. And again.