I’ve been pondering a few things about creativity and self expression lately. If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that we recently went skiing in Whistler.
On the first morning, I was sitting at the base of Whistler Mountain waiting nervously for my lesson. (For an explanation of the nervousness, see this post.) As I sat there, idly watching the population wander past, my attention was drawn to the groups of children heading off up the mountain for their lessons.
The reason I noticed them was because of the clumps of colour. I looked, and looked away, and then sat there watching for quite a while. It was very easy to distinguish the boys and the girls. The boys wore every colour under the rainbow (except pink), and the girls wore light pink, hot pink, mid pink and pink shading to purple.
Now, given that these kids ranged from about four up to ten, I’d assume that the parents made most of the decisions about their clothes, so as a bit of an exercise I decided to see what was available in a quick online survey. Here’s the first link I went to, and here’s the second one. I think I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Then I sat and watched a bit more of the general crowd, and I did the same thing for the next two days. Why was I watching? (I’m really not a kid watching creep, so I’ll hasten to add that I watched not only the kids but the whole crowd wandering past, and then had a look at who was out on the slopes and at the cafeteria. I’m obviously quite nosey.) All the time there were a few things ticking over in my mind.
So, back to the question – Why was I watching so intently? The answer is because I’d suddenly been struck by the lack of girls above the age of ten, in comparison to the boys of the same age, actually skiing or snowboarding.
The first day I thought that perhaps it was just the one day, but then after three days of solid skiing, and then several more days in Whistler, when I kept seeing the same thing, I began to wonder.
What if, by constantly “pinking” our girls, we’re damping their potential for self expression in whatever way shape or form that it might take? What if “pinking” reduces their expectations of being able to choose their own way? By “pinking” I actually mean stereotyping. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with the colour pink if you simply consider it as a colour, but if it’s a uniform, then it becomes a problem.
Then I read this article a friend posted on Facebook, and I read the following quote: “As Achilles Effect blogger Crystal Smith notes, “This toy had so much potential to inspire young girls who think journalism would be a cool career. Instead, they get the same message delivered just about everywhere else in the culture that surrounds them: look pretty and smile for the camera.”
An anecdote: My husband and I have a daughter, and she’s now twenty. (She actually hates pink with a passion – none of my doing, just her own personal preference.) She’s a girl who loves a lot of stuff and is wonderfully and cleverly creative. She also loves animals, loves music, is studying animal science, and also loves to snowboard. What’s really wonderful is that she is absolutely her own self, and not a self defined by “pinking.”
She hasn’t opted out of certain activities because she’s a girl, but has instead opted in. I think I remember when some of this began crystallising for me. We were at the pool when our kids were primary school age, and both she and her brother were playing with some of their school friends we’d met by chance there. All of a sudden I noticed that our daughter was the only (Only!) girl actually playing in the water. The other girls (ten to twelve year olds), were all lying carefully arranged on towels in their bikinis at the edge of the pool watching on, as our daughter and son and all the boys ducked each other, jumped off the edge and flipped each other off the floating pool toys. They were having a great time. It was hot, but the girls on the edge weren’t happy, and weren’t in the water. I wondered at the time if it was just that their bikinis might have fallen off if they’d participated in the rough play, (our daughter was wearing a racing one piece), but now I look back and think about the “pinking” they may well have been demonstrating: Boys play rough and boisterous, and girls look pretty on the edge.
It’s a small example, and I may well have it all wrong, but as I look around at kids, I worry more and more about the “pinking” of the girls – again, don’t get me wrong, I do understand that boys have some similar pressures around looking buff etc, but at least it’s not “Look pretty and smile for the camera.”
I’m an author (obviously), and I look at the “love triangle” books that teen girls love so much at the moment, and it worries me. (No offence to those authors – they’ve been clever enough to write what the girls are looking for. More power to them!) And there’s nothing wrong with a good romance at all, but if the only books that girls are reading in great numbers, revolve around love triangles and being so desirable that more than one boy competes for their attention, then what are we teaching them? Why is a fictional girl’s value dependent on her looks or ability to be a love interest?
What happens if girls think they can’t write anything except romance in all its varieties? What happens if women feel they need to write under male pseudonyms to seek a wide audience? What happens if they don’t write at all, because they’re too busy “looking pretty and smiling for the camera?”
What happens to self expression in a more and more stereotyped society? What happens to creativity? I’d love to know what you all think.