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'My four-year-old daughter only wears pink and wants to be a princess. What have I done wrong?'

princess-in-pink.jpg

Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's weekly column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"My daughter is four. She only likes to wear pink and says she wants to be a princess when she grows up. I’m aghast. What have I done wrong?"

Katharine Busby

Feminist Katharine Busby says:

Ah, lovely pink. Who’d have thought a colour could cause such commotion?

Pink’s bad press is tied in with the fact that, these days, girls and boys are marketed to differently.

For me, a child of the 70s and 80s, who remembers that golden era of primary-coloured Lego, the Yellow Teapot and everyone, regardless of gender, wearing brown trousers, this is a new and alien concept.

But for a child born in the past 15 years or so, it’s a fact of life.

Pink stuff, in the eyes of the toy and book manufacturers, is for girls, dull colours are for boys. Case in point, Usborne’s activity books – girls apparently like activities that involve flowers and hearts, boys like making paper aeroplanes, robots and dinosaurs.

Sigh.

Yes, polarising children into stereotypes is commonplace among marketing and sales teams.

But we can’t just blame the people making this stuff. Although you’re not buying into the pink thing, there are plenty of parents who are. Gender stereotyping is culturally ingrained to the degree that there are still plenty of mums telling their sons they can’t wear pink (ironic really, given that a 2012 study discovered men who sport pink shirts typically earn more than their non-pink-wearing colleagues).

Girls in pink

Tiaras, wands - and gender stereotyping

You’re not alone in your feelings, however.

There is a wave of campaigns hoping to change the way retailers and toy manufacturers appeal to the two genders – Let Toys Be Toys and Let Books Be Books are both well supported projects, while the more angrily named Pink Stinks targets "products, media and marketing that… are limiting roles to young girls", their website explains. 

And these campaigns are having some success – when the most famous toy shop in the country, Hamley’s, dropped its "boys" and "girls" floors in 2011, it was hailed as a step forward.

You haven’t done anything wrong.

But right now your daughter is four. She likes pink (and okay, currently she likes it exclusively). She has probably heard more stories about princesses living happily ever after than she has ones about really successful lawyers living happily ever after.

At four, you don’t know much about career options, so being a princess seems quite a good one. Your daughter isn’t wrong either, or an anti-feminist, she just has unrealistic career hopes; as does my daughter, who wishes to be a dinosaur. Let them find out about the realities of the working world later down the line.

Push your point too much to a four-year-old and you risk creating a drama out of a phase.

So long as you keep offering up alternatives to the endless princess-y production line, your daughter is likely to branch out soon anyway. In Pink Brain Blue Brain, Professor Lise Eliot writes about a Swedish study, which found that, "Girls begin opening up around four or five, experimenting more with toy vehicles, sports games, and other blue- and black-coloured toys that they avoided a year or two earlier". 

So, don’t chuck out that pick-up truck you enthusiastically bought her just yet.

Children are full of surprises.

What do you think? Does it matter if young girls tend towards pink and princesses? Should parents work to combat gender stereotyping, or just accept it as a fact of growing up? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments section, below

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