Don’t get me wrong, I like pink. And I’m sure there are many men out there who like the colour blue. The problem is what these two colours have come to represent in terms of gender specific marketing, both for adults and more worryingly, children.
Buster Books, publisher of colouring books for ‘Brilliant Boys’ and ‘Gorgeous Girls’ are the latest publishing house to succumb to pressure from the Let Books Be Books campaign to switch to ‘gender neutral’ titles in future. As a follow on from Let Toys Be Toys, this campaign asks ‘Why can’t a story just be a story?’ Why do stories have to be aimed at a certain market, when they can just be enjoyed for what they are?
It’s clear from these covers that boys and girls are being very limited in what they are supposed to find interesting and enjoyable. Boys are brilliant, and get to colour spaceships and dinosaurs, while girls are beautiful and get to colour hearts and cupcakes. With backing from such prominent authors as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and Joanne Harris, the campaign has already persuaded nine other publishers (including Ladybird) not to release any new boy/girl labelled titles.
Speaking about the campaign, author Joanne Harris commented that gendered packaging of books gives “the false message to a new generation that boys must be clever, brave and strong, while girls should aspire to be decorative”.
And the funny thing is, this gender packaging is still a relatively recent phenomenon. I remember my first bike was yellow and blue, as was my brother’s. Primary colours were more popular in the 80’s, but somewhere along the way, pink became associated with femininity and blue with masculinity. Which wouldn’t be such an issue if the colour pink wasn’t used to reinforce the negative stereotype of what a girl should be. Another organisation working to change this is Pinkstinks, whose tagline reads ‘There’s more than one way to be a girl.’
Pinkstinks confronts the damaging messages that bombard girls though toys, clothes and media. Girls’ products overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up – this promotes a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl.
It concerns me that, in this day and age, girls are still being told that their appearance matters most, while boys are still being told that they are somehow cleverer than girls. Not only that, boys face ‘gender shaming’ if they do somehow drift into the girl’s section at the toy store and vice versa. Why can’t we just let our kids be kids?
In one of the most provocative ad campaigns of 2016, Lidl addressed the whole ‘pink is for girls’ issue to launch the ‘Ladyball’. Twitter went into a frenzy over the pink #Ladyball campaign that encouraged women to ‘Play like the lady you are’.
The real motive behind the campaign was to start a debate on women in sport, cleverly using all of the typical stereotypes we hear like ‘women may find contact sports intimidating’, to really drive the point home. Highlighting the challenges that women experience in getting the same recognition as men in sport, this campaign also proves how truly limiting and derogatory these kinds of gender specific messages can be.
As a writer, I would like to think that my books will be enjoyed by both male and female readers. I think it’s important to teach our younger readers to see beyond these gender boundaries and encourage them to find out what they like for themselves, rather than being told that in order to fit in, you have to like puppies or football. However, we can see the same thing with adult books, where ‘Chick Lit’ books are packaged in sickly pink covers, essentially devaluing the content and the readers who enjoy the genre. Would a man feel comfortable reading a book with a pink cover? Or reading a female author for that matter? I would certainly hope so, but if we insist on dividing the genders at such a young age, I fear that this might not be the case.