On a recent trip to Target, my two boys and I stopped to look at some little shoes. My 3-year-old son Beau was quick to point to his favourite pair, happily announcing he’d like “the lovely ones”…

…The lovely ones being the sparkly, pink Little Mermaid ones.

We moved onto another department.

It occurred to me though, had the situation been reversed, I’d have had no hesitation in buying a little girl a pair of navy blue ‘boys’ shoes.

In fact, encouraging girls to embrace so-called ‘tomboy’ behavior is considered by many to be a positive thing, with many mothers proudly resisting all things pink ...

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  • Reply November 27, 2012

    Catherine Rodie Blagg

    Ive been so busy resisting the pink frilly stuff for my girls I hadn’t really considered gender stereotyping from the point of view of boys. Really good read.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    All this angst about pink and blue!!

    Our great grandparents were playing with sticks and stones and their parents weren’t painting them pink, blue or any other colour in order to enforce gender difference.

    There is no reason in the wide world to choose between pink and frilly or blue and macho. These are make-believe goods designed to fill make-believe needs in a consumer society. Give them a book , a bike and they’re happy. Or were – until we foisted our own wants onto them.

    The advertisers are programming us.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    My husband was assumed to be gay by his extended family and his brother. They were amazed that he’d always had girlfriends and treated me with slightly smug amusement as clearly I didn’t know the “truth”. The reasons? In a “huntin’ and fishin’ and shootin’ and killin’ things with your bare hands, beer-drinking” family where all other related males are either on the land or in a trade my husband was too different for them. He doesn’t drink, never bothered to renew his gun license after he moved from the farm, worked for a time in an office (wearing a suit = clearly gay unless it’s for a wedding, funeral or court appearance). He can cook and sew – nuff said!
    When we married there was confusion, when I became pregnant: bewilderment. His brother was heard suggesting that he’d never be able to “put a handle” (oh yes a handle, not a penis!) on the baby. To their collective shock our first child was a boy, we named him Nicholas (Nick for short) and not the “faggy’ sort of name they’d apparently been expecting. I’m not entirely sure what constitutes a “faggy” name so I don’t know how we avoided it.
    20 years down the track, we are still married and he still does all the things that made them assume his preference was for men – he cooks during the working week, we make costumes for family and friends, he still doesn’t like alcohol. He is, however, a fantastic husband and father and I am proud that my children and my nieces and nephews have such a positive alternative role model.

    We do need to stop reinforcing stereotypes that limit opportunities and identities. We need to stop allowing strangers to make negative judgements on how our babies are dressed or what they’re playing with. We have to avoid that ourselves too – not always easy in some families (cue an uncle bellowing “Jackson drop that! You’re touching a GIRL’S toy”!!!!!!!!!)

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    The Huntress

    Hee hee, my son is always asking me for “pretty” and “bootiful” things. He loves necklaces in particular, trying on and prancing around in my high heels and enjoys picking an outfit for me to wear for the day, usually co-ordinating it with jewellery and accessories. That’s my boy!

    But to balance all of this, as much as he loves a good dress outfit, scarves and gloves, most of the time he just wants to wear boardies and a t-shirt. Which is fine by me also. I want my son to have fun and be happy no matter what he wants to play with or what clothes he wears. He is very much a boys boy, but maybe with a sprinkle of glitter around the edges :)

    My husband, like the above commenter, is often thought of as being gay. He dresses well, cooks, does his own washing and irons a hell of a lot better than I do. I encourage his more flamboyant side (which doesn’t often come out) and he was delighted when I shrieked with jealousy over his own shiny silver patterned dress shoes. He doesn’t really care what other people think, but gets rather tired when people outrightedly keep asking if he’s gay. Is it really that important if he is and does it change anything if he’s not?

    Gender stereotyping is kind of boring. Can’t we just encourage people in whatever their interests happen to be, whether they’re stereotypical or not?

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    What is wrong with boys wearing mermaid shoes? I draw the line at kids wearing high heels….

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    Ha ha does this mean that we also think that girls who prefer to play with cars and play cricket in the street as being lesbians.
    My only child-(a son)- grew up with 4 girls next door. They of course had dolls and the usual girl type toys, and my son had cars and boy stuff. Whenever they played at each others homes, they payed with whatever was there. Cars and racing over here, dolls and house over there. They also spent hours doing craft, and painting and drawing. I doubt they even gave it a thought as to whether they were playing boys or girls games. He did ask or a doll (it lasted a week)which he ended up giving to the girls as he said it was boring to play with it by himself.
    I did go out with a guy who everyone thought was gay, he wasn’t at all, but he had a more effeminate way about him which peope obviously saw as gay. Strangly, we once met a gay couple through friends and they knew straight away that he wasn’t.

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    Tony W

    “All this angst about pink and blue!!”

    Yes, especially when you consider it used to be the reverse, ie. pink for boys, blue for girls. You can see it in colourized photo portraits pre 1940′s.

    “The advertisers are programming us.”

    Actually the evidence suggests otherwise. When coloured clothing for children was first advertised, it was pink for girls blue for boys, eg:

    “June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

    But people started to choose the opposite so the advertisers responded:

    “Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers.”


    It turns out there’s a reason for their choice:

    “Researchers at Newcastle University pinpointed the pink-blue division by presenting more than 200 men and women with a series of coloured triangles and asking them to pick out their favourite hues. Faced with more than 250 different colour choices, the women clearly veered towards pinks and lilacs, while the men went mainly for blues. The correlation was so strong that the researchers could tell someone’s sex just by looking at their results of the colour test.”

    “It is thought the difference has its roots in evolution and the activities of our hunter-gatherer forebears. While men developed a preference for the clear blue skies that signalled good weather for hunting, women honed their ability to pick out the reds and pink while foraging for ripe fruits and berries….women were the primary gatherers and would have benefited from the ability to home in on ripe, red fruits.”

    How do like them apples?!! (collective groan)


  • Reply November 28, 2012


    Good, balanced article. You write about things that we, as a society, shy away from discussing. Keep it up! Stereotypes are limiting, and its true it starts when we are very young and impressionable. We’re a funny lot, us humans!!!

  • Reply November 28, 2012


    True Tony but it was the retailers who ran with it and promoted it. Meant they could double their sales because parents bought new instead of handing boys clothing down to girls or vice versa. Holds for toys as well.

    Interesting when you think about it – how consumers are manipulated.

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    Tony W

    “True Tony but it was the retailers who ran with it and promoted it.”

    Absolutely Rhoda, no question there. The only thing they didn’t get to decide was the boy/girl colours, which is of no consequence anyway. As long as they were different they get to sell twice as much clothing. Then expand the concept into toys as you say.

    You’re quite right – it’s scary how much our lives are determined by marketing. We think we’re exercising free choice, but in fact our choices have already been decided by other consumers before us. If we try to deviate we are socially condemned – even for the colour of our childrens clothing! It would be hard to think of anything more trivial or meaningless.

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