Saying no to pink and princesses

Some call them the princess wars. I prefer calling them the pink wars.

Princess or pink.  Does it matter? When you’re blessed with giving birth to a baby girl, you know you’re going to have to decide eventually which side you’re on. Mothers, you know what I’m talking about. This isn’t a war of choice. It’s a war that’s thrust upon us. Some of us choose to fight. A lot more choose appeasement.

Let’s not fool ourselves. If we choose to engage, the pink wars are nothing less than a fight for the hearts and minds of our daughters. The battlefield is made up of one uncomfortable confrontation after another, staged mostly in the privacy of our homes. (Although skirmishes often erupt during shopping expeditions that place us in discomforting proximity to the pink aisles in stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies.)

This is a fight that takes commitment and stamina. It takes uncompromising stubbornness. It’s a war waged on a psychological battlefront that demands a battery of strategies. Most of all, it’s a war that demands that we steel our hearts and resist the tears and the pleading and the anger.

I can imagine some of you reading this and thinking, isn’t this war-metaphor thing a bit overstated? Unfortunately, it’s not.

At the center of every battle in this never-ending war is saying “no” to pinkishness. It’s learning to say “no” to toys, clothing, and school supplies designed as sugary, girly confections and marketed as essential accessories to those who are willing to pay the price to allow their daughters to live inside the princess bubble. Don’t forget that these objects of desire are honed to perfection by designers, marketers, and psychologists employed by an industry that earns more than $4 billion a year. And the goal? Of course, the goal is to exploit for financial gain our girls’ fragile longings for belonging—for their need to fit in. By the time most American girls reach the age of five, most families have thrown in the towel and become active enablers of their daughters’ addiction to princess and pink.

Believe me.  Resisting the seductions of the pink-princess industry can be the most challenging part of a parent’s job. When my daughter was at the exploitable age, this meant saying “no” to Barbie. “No” to Spice Girls. “No” to Disney princesses and the whole Disney empire. (If I were asked to nominate a single entity for committing heinous psychological crimes against the humanity of girls, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to point the finger at the Disney Corporation.) I said “no” so many times that, at a certain point, my daughter surrendered the fight and the pleading stopped.

Did my daughter satisfy her cravings in other people’s homes? Probably. But in our home the lines were drawn. My husband and I erected a wall between our family and the battery of stereotyped images and objects thrown at us. Our Pink Curtain held back a marketing juggernaut that most families seemed to ignore.

My daughter didn’t know it at the time, but I saw myself as a sentinel standing guard, protecting her from forces intent on trivializing her childhood. My daughter didn’t know it then, but she and I were actually in the fight together. We were comrades in arms staving off a cultural and marketing tsunami that could have overwhelmed us—but didn’t.

Did my daughter like what I was doing at the time? You bet she didn’t. The price she paid was isolation. She didn’t know how to talk pink. She wasn’t allowed to dress pink. Her behavior was never pink enough to gain entry into the pink crowd. But because of all of that, she was—and now is—her own person, fashioned by her own choices, unique personality, and quirky upbringing.

Yes, for a while she paid the price. For a time, she became an outsider, just like I was when I was growing up. But what can I tell you? I survived. My daughter survived and thrived. She found good friends and a community of like-minded women. She is now a confident, smart, self-possessed, freethinking, creative woman. Did she become who she is today because of our family’s commitment to our own brand of anti-pink/anti-princess politics? Not entirely. But, yes, partly.

Our family’s battle was fought in the 1990s. To this day I believe we may have been the only Barbie/Spice Girls/Disney–free zone in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Now that my daughter’s in her twenties, she’s declared her intention to become a proud veteran (and victor) of the pink wars herself—when and if she’s lucky enough one day to experience the joys of having her own daughter.

Now that we’re in a new century, haven’t things changed? You must be kidding.  In the 90s, I thought we’d fought the pink war to end all pink wars. What a fool I was. Did I think it would end there?

In fact, the war goes on and gets ever more insidious all the time. The pink-girly-toy complex has joined forces with powerful media outlets spewing out nonstop girly garbage. Marketing of children’s play is more gender segregated than ever before. If you can stand it, stroll through the aisles of any big-box store and take a close look at what populates the pink aisle. It’s enough to give a twentieth-century feminist a case of the hives.

And what about Barbie? Shouldn’t she have disappeared into obscurity by now? Sadly, Barbie is still the most potent symbol of how corporations make money by convincing our daughters that their destiny is to mold themselves to fit into a big-boobed, narrow-wasted fantasy box. Mattel’s new #unapologetic Barbie marketing campaign, launched on the swimsuit-issue cover of Sports Illustrated, says it all, doesn’t it?

And why am I thinking about this all these years later? It’s because I stumbled upon a new company founded by a young woman who trained as an engineer at Stanford University and became interested in designing a new line of toys for girls. Debbie Sterling founded Goldie Blox, a company manufacturing and selling interactive toys for what Sterling refers to as female innovators of the future. Sterling hopes her toys will engage a skill set that will inspire girls and give them the confidence to become scientists and engineers.

Unfortunately, all is not perfect in Goldie Blox land. For whatever reason, Sterling decided to embellish her innovative toys with girly colors and frill. (Go figure.) Still, take a look at Goldie Blox’s clever and funny video that shows girls how they can rise up and ditch their sparkle toys and become something more than just pink.