The ‘Pink Plague’

Discussion
Jan 12, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine Food Network

Pink has always been associated with girls who have also liked, and had access to, other colors. Now, according to a story in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, a proliferation of pink is affecting their personalities. Expressions such as "pink plague, "brainwashing and "hooked" are being used to describe a pattern that is allegedly "reinforcing gender stereotypes."

The "experts" quoted include the author of a book called Toxic Childhood and vague, unnamed but indignant bloggers and website subscribers who believe that an "insidious" spread of pink in toy shops and children’s clothing outlets is making girls easier prey to marketing stunts. One claims that girls over three are rejecting anything that doesn’t come in pink.

While peer pressure has probably existed as long as people have, viral discussions such as those on website Mumsnet inevitably attract a relatively small minority of contributors.

In retaliation, mother, singer and television presenter Myleene Klass recently joined forces with retailer, Mothercare, to introduce a children’s line that is all black. She has explained that although people were initially nervous at her suggestion, it is a common color in Europe because of its practicality and stain resistance.

Scientists also disagree about reasons for the color’s popularity with some blaming conditioning and others believing that it is "hard-wired." Researchers Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling’s study, published in 2008, of volunteers at Newcastle University who were shown various combinations of colors were apparently split by gender. The Telegraph report said, "Female participants showed a marked preference for pink or red shades while men were more likely to opt for blue, suggesting a possible in-bred preference." However the article goes on to say that as the volunteers were all adults, the possibility of conditioning could not be discounted.

Discussion questions: Are you seeing any backlash to retailers and marketers targeting pink for girls? Does such marketing reinforce stereotypes? How can consumers get their demand for non-pink products across to retailers and manufacturers?
[Author’s commentary] As a new grandmother, I have to dispute this hypothesis. From Fisher Price’s bright primary colored toys to clothes, rattles and furnishings, I have found plenty of choice in both British and American stores. Neither my daughter nor any of her friends have had any serious difficulty in making non gender-specific purchases. I don’t think my granddaughter or any of her friends will become overly-feminized simply because retailers and a few authors with books to sell say so.

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10 Comments on "The ‘Pink Plague’"


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Liz Crawford
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Girls seem to need to loudly proclaim their femininity these days. Perhaps this is because girls today may have fewer gender flags than in previous generations.

For example, social roles are less gender-based than a generation ago; more women are working and more men are helping around the house (or staying home themselves). Additionally, in cyberspace, gender is either neutral (e.g. texting) or chosen (avatar). It seems natural to me that they would embrace opportunities to express their feminine side.

So, it’s no mystery that Victoria’s Secret teen/college line is called “Pink.” Obviously, “Pink” in this context is a banner for gender, not to mention a tongue-in-cheek innuendo. For younger girls, especially those with older sisters, this must be seen as aspirational. In some sense, VS “Pink” is the next developmental stage after “princess pink.” In a world where icons represent and brand self, embracing pink is part of the maturation process.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 4 months ago

I’ve always wanted a ’59 Cadillac convertible–in pink of course. In fact, I’d just like to be “in the pink.” Pinkeye isn’t sex specific, nor are pink elephants. A pinko, someone holding moderately leftist political views according to the dictionary, can be of either sex. Pinky Lee was a guy, sort of. (By the way, “gender” refers to grammatical classifications, not sex.)

I can hardly wait for the all-black children’s clothing collection from Myleene Klass. It’s so encouragingly reminiscent of Europe dancing to “Ring Around The Rosy” as a paean to the black plague (as opposed to the U.K.’s current supposed “pink plague”) in the middle ages. It was believed that flower petals stuffed in pockets could prevent bubonic plague, but in the end they “all fall down.” Half of Western Europe died. Thrilling. And how about those fashionable Puritans, favoring all-black clothing and making soup out of tree bark? Today’s U.K. kids, especially those into nighttime escapades, will be right in style and difficult to see while crossing the street at twilight.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
13 years 4 months ago

My daughters are 3 and 5. They LOVE pink. The only color that comes close is purple. It is what it is.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
13 years 4 months ago

Oh brother. My 9 year old daughter won’t have anything to do with pink. When she was 4 everything was pink!

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

I see no backlash. Stereotype is just a negative term for absolute truth. If consumers do not want pink products, they will simply not buy them. Therefore the retailers and manufacturers will get the message. In the US we had a similar issue when some manufacturers began to relabel established products with pink labels to promote breast cancer awareness. Although well meaning, most people don’t want to be reminded of something awful like cancer when they are shopping or consuming products. Many of these items have ended up in dollar and salvage stores. The consumer sent the message.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 4 months ago

What’s all this stink about the color pink?
‘Tis nothing more than another marketing wink.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 4 months ago

It this for real? The fact is that marketers and product developers have known for millions of years that girls like pink and boys like blue. So why is this all of a sudden being mentioned alongside brain washing? As the father of a 5 year old girl, I can tell you that the only brain washing is what she does to me.

While on the subject of brainwashing, why is it I tend to be drawn to ads that feature fast cars and good looking women? Hmmmmm.

Ian Percy
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

I gave my grand kids some excellent children’s books that foster self-esteem, explained our infinite possibilities, told kids about goals, etc. thinking (as someone who speaks to adults about such things all the time) that this would plant just the right seeds in their fertile little minds. 4 year old Kade immediately dismissed them as “for girls” because they “were pink.” 2 year old Scarlett owned them immediately for the same reason. Now their mother is a very non-traditional mom and in no way would do the ‘blue is for boys’ and ‘pink is for girls’ thing.

That behavior originated a long time ago when blue (the color of Heaven) was assumed to protect the all important male child from evil spirits. Didn’t matter what color the girl babies got; though some ancient marketing person came up with the idea that girls come from the center of the rose. All of which proves…marketing rules!

Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Not sure where all this ‘pink drama’ is stemming from. Too much time on people’s hands?

I’ve got a 3 and 4 year old so needless to say, I spend a lot of time in children’s stores. Is there a lot of pink? Yes. But there’s lots of other choices too. Surely there are bigger issues to worry about (right about now I think any retailer would be happy to sell anything pink…if they could sell it at full margin!)

Written wearing my pink shirt from my favourite shirt store for men, Pink!

William Passodelis
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Really???

Pink is a cute color–especially for little girls. I refuse to look at or buy black clothing for little girls–they will grow up and have more than enough time to wear Black. If there is such a problem with pink, perhaps it is simply the manufacturers who are not taking advantage of the thousands of other wonderful colors that could be terrific and that you are NOT able to find or see in clothing stores. There is a terrible blandness to the assortments of color palates available in many different stores.

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