pink for girls vs blue for boys: gender stereotypes and raising children to be gender neutral

When my daughter was about two years old, I took her to a sale at Cotton On. I remember shopping alongside a mother and her son. She told her boy to go around and take whatever he wanted. Moments later, he returned bright-eyed with an array of exciting toys – everything from fairy wands to dinosaurs. His mom proceeded to scold him and removed the ‘girls’ toys from his collection of treasures.

And that’s certainly not the only time I’ve witnessed such an incident. At a market last year, I saw a woman hit her boy child for wanting to play with a doll. I thought, ‘really’? Nurturing a human-like figure is a punishable offense for a future man?

My daughter is a girl, but what does that mean? 

Until such time as my seven-year-old tells me differently, I raise her as a girl: aka a future woman. I feel an immense responsibility, especially as a sexual assault survivor myself, to equip her for a world where females earn less and are far too often victims at the hands of men. I’m teaching her to be brave, strong, powerful, intelligent, and feisty – everything that I see as ‘woman.’

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When she was a baby, I wasn’t precious about the clothing she wore. One day she was in a pink frilly dress, and the next she’d wear a car-themed baby grow. Interestingly, she’s never changed. Now that she can dress herself, she jumps all over the place regarding gender stereotypes.

pink for girls vs blue for boys: gender stereotypes and raising children to be gender neutral

The history of toys

I recently watched a TV show on the history of My Little Pony. In the show, they mentioned how the perception of toymakers in the ’70s was that girls liked to cook, clean, and nurture, and boys were all about cars and dinosaurs. Have things changed? In some ways, yes. But, not enough.

If you walk into most toy shops today, you’ll still see the stark contrast between the ‘girls’ and the ‘boys’ sections. Girl world is pink and purple, and boy world is blue, green, and red. Girls play with dolls, pots, and pans, and boys play with boats, trucks, and bows and arrows. And let’s not even get started on the dress-up section! While boys can be doctors and cowboys, your daughter is limited to choosing between being a princess or a (low-paid) nurse.

Let’s take a moment to consider this: Are you still trying to raise housewives and male providers? As I mentioned, I do think that things are changing. My Little Pony and the Paw Patrol characters are examples of strong female role models, but we still have a long way to go.

Let’s raise our kids to be accepting 

My daughter has always loved superheroes, which I know isn’t always common for girls. When she was 3, she went dressed up as Spiderman to school. When we got to the entrance, she panicked and asked to change – as per her request, we had taken a fairy costume along, for just in case. There was my bright, bold, and unique little girl, already feeling pressure to conform at just 3-years-old.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that we raise our kids to be gender-neutral. However, if that’s your thing, I’ve got no issue with it. But, let’s think before we box them into pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Let’s consider what we’re telling our sons if we prevent them from playing with dolls and, most importantly, let’s raise them to accept kids who might not fit into a stereotypical mold. Let their freak flags fly! As an adult, I do, and I feel fantastic living in my skin.

Nicola Date is a writer, designer, and comedian based in Cape Town. After studying a BA (Hons) Dramatic Arts, she's enjoyed a colourful career in theatre and the arts. With COVID as a driving force, Nicola has found her passion as a writer. Her greatest accomplishment is being a single (but co-parenting) mother to her gorgeous 7-year-old girl, the inspiration behind much of her creativity and drive.