Operation Unpink

On Saying Goodbye to Pink Plastic Parenting

Operation Unpink - Natural Parents Network

I went shopping with my girls recently to a popular big-box chain store. I won’t tell you the name; instead, I’ll hint that it has bizarre giant red balls out front to disappoint my children and confuse me. For ease of discussion, I’ll call it Big Red Bullseye.

I used to love Big Red Bullseye. I remember many afternoons spent wandering aisles and poking stuff just for fun. That was before I had impressionable sponges living under my roof.

Since then, I’ve had some problems with Big Red Bullseye brainwashing my precious peaches into believing they should only want to play with, wear, touch, or see items if they are pink. This troubling fact – coupled with their assault of goldfish crackers and cookies in the entryway – has led me to not bring my kids with me. I broke that rule because my kindergartner needed to pick a new backpack and try on snow boots.

In the time since I stopped bringing the kids shopping with me, Big Red Bullseye’s buyers have all gone absolutely mad. Nearly every toy was either pink or blue – including Legos! – OR had a picture of some kind of sexualized monster girl. I only wish I were kidding.

Operation Unpink - Natural Parents Network

Pink in its natural habitat.

More than once during our brief visit, I left my kids in a cart at the end of the aisle because I didn’t want them to see the products for sale. I guess you could say I would rather risk my children being taken by a stranger than have them see the horrendous gender-specific labeling happening around the corner.

… But I really wanted my kindergartner to get that new backpack. The one she uses now has a difficult clasp that leads her to leave the flap open, which causes all kinds of problems. So I marched headlong past all of the vampy dolls and toys that practically shouted “only boys can be doctors” on my quest to retrieve one children’s backpack.

I wanted an animal-themed backpack to go with her owl lunchbox and wasn’t picky about which one; the options on BRB’s website were adorable. In the store, however, they only had the brown monkey, labeled “Boy’s Backpack.” The options on the other side of the aisle were universally pink and sometimes glittery or with poofy bits. All of the characters en vogue were present and accounted for – Barbie, Dora, Hello Kitty, Lalaloopsy, and the Disney gang of over-promoted princesses. Oh, but that’s not entirely all – you could also get the optional pink emo skull.

Y’all, I would like to state for the record that I am not extremely high maintenance. Stick an affordable, regular-looking backpack in my face, and I will mostly likely purchase it. So why are there no options available for such an easy-to-please consumer?

I pondered this question and decided it’s partly our fault. Who can blame Big Red Bullseye for hawking this swill when we buy it? It’s their job to sell, and our decision to buy. Even I’ve let it happen, which is as good as welcoming the junk into my life with open arms. Just like the toys I despise, I’ve been – if you’ll forgive the pun – a pink plastic parent.

But no more. I have decided to take a stand against the nonsense. I will not be a passive participant in this pink pandemonium. December is a good month to make a big change because I’m already preparing for a huge purge to make room for the Christmas onslaught. Leading into January is a nice time for proclamations.

Operation Unpink - Natural Parents Network

Here’s mine: We will not buy children’s items, e.g. clothes, toys, sheets, etc., that are primarily pink. If they are a little pink plus other colors – fine. But anything mostly pink or covered with licensed characters won’t come in. Like @LetToysBeToys and Pink It or Lump It, I’m gonna lump it. I’ll call my resolution Operation Unpink.

I don’t plan to discriminate universally against the color pink. Under the right circumstances, I actually like pink. Nor will I judge parents who buy pink stuff; after all, there’s no right way to parent. I just hope maybe the pendulum will swing back in the other direction a bit if I jerk the wheel a little. Who’s with me?

As for what we WILL buy, I love supporting our local shops. I’ve met the owner of our local toy store; she is interested in keeping my patronage and carries a wide selection of excellent toys that meet my needs. We won’t need many new toys this year though because Santa is also bringing our girls some gently used toys that his elves repaired. In our home, Santa understands the value of the Three Rs.

(n.b. For further study on this topic, I suggest reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which discusses pinkification in more detail. TIME published an interesting article on the reaction to the GoldiBlox ad campaign, and NPR’s On Point covered the topic recently as well).

Photo Credits

Morgue File

About The Author: Justine Uhlenbrock

lonehomeranger My NPN Posts

Justine Uhlenbrock, MPH, CD(DONA) is a writer, epidemiologist, doula, and mother living in Massachusetts. She writes at Heirloom Mothering.

15 Responses to Operation Unpink

  1. Mummy to a beautiful little girl  

    Couldn’t agree more. My daughter has mostly lightly used items coming from Santa.

    The rampant pink/blue gender labelling of everything is something that needs action from parents.

    The main problem is we’re not being given a choice. You buy pink or blue or nothing. I usually opt for nothing in that case… But understand thats a difficult decision to make…

    I want my daughter to choose what she wants when she’s older… not what she thinks shes supposed to want.

    • Justine Uhlenbrock  

      You hit the nail on the head that they make it impossible not to choose between pink and blue, which is why I’m so loyal to our local shop that offers more variety. My five-year-old is already impressed by the need to stay pink, and only with some very constant support and encouragement have I gotten her to branch out to all the colors of the rainbow. It helped use science to my advantage and point out that pink is technically not part of the ROYGBIV light spectrum. 😉

      • mummy to a beautiful little girl  

        I would definitely shop somewhere that offered choice.

        I’m sure with your help your daughter will come to realise that she has the option of anything.

        I look around me and see so much ingrained pinkification that i worry for girls as they grow up. Disney princess… Pink toy cookers… Pink toy beauty kits… Its almost as if womens rights never happened. My paranoid side tells me its a scared male dominated society trying to avoid the inevitable by brainwashing our daughters from birth.

        I love your operation unpink… All we can do is try to spread the campaigns. Find or force places to give us choice. Hopefully eventually hit companies in their pockets… Seems to be where their ears are.

  2. Kim Barrett  

    I’m old enough to know that variations of Operation Unpink battles have been fought (and won) at various points in recent history. It seems gender specific marketing comes in waves, with Barbie leading the attack. With yours, and other parents’ actions, I hope this blue/pink thing stops for good. (For the record, my daughters are now 22 and 20 and, despite having gone through a “pink is for girls” era, they are both valuable members of society, with only a wee bit of nostalgia for Disney princesses.)

  3. Life Breath Present  

    Although we don’t have any girls get, we have our boy and I’m a big “fighter” of gendered colors. To me, thegre colors and we all need many colors.

    Hun and I have had conversations, even prior to Baby’s birth, about not separating colors (minimal toys), and other objects based in it being socially designated “boy v. girl”, which includes characters or ideas (football/sports), etc.

  4. Liz

    I buy so-called girls toys or gender neutral toys for my son, but hesitate at the clearly blue boy stuff.

    Then I realise I’d buy it for my daughter without hesitation so I’m really just gender confused!

    I try to stick with neutral or primary type colours instead of all blue or all pink but the choices are sadly narrowing.

  5. deltaflute

    A bit off topic…I have 2 boys. My oldest loves purple. Its very hard to walk into the boys section and find purple (as you said pink or blue). Girls has purple but usually with ruffles and glitter and princess….you get the idea. I’m like you I wish there was more variety.

    Oh and Christmas comes free. I usually look for people to post online ads getting rid of old toys. Why should it end up in a landfill? Someone else’s child could still enjoy it.

  6. Lulastic  

    Great post – totally agree. As one child so perfectly put it- all colours belong to all children – until marketeers stop with the pinkification of girls stuff we won’t be going near it. I think it is limiting for both boys and girls.
    A huge store here in the UK this week promised to make all of its toy packaging completely gender neutral by next year which is fantastic.
    I wrote about the impact of gendered toys and colours on a child’s prospects a while ago http://lulastic.co.uk/activism/feminism/gender-schmender-how-the-world-denies-our-daughters/
    Thanks for your post

    • Justine Uhlenbrock  

      Thanks for sharing your article. Though it might sound callous, it has been a relief to me to hear parents from other countries report similar problems with their toy selection. The issue is obviously more complex than just blaming one or two big-box chains for their marketing techniques; we may just win the worldwide battle most if we promote girls’ education so that they may think and speak for themselves.

  7. June Park (@IntactivistPark)  

    Gender neutral parenting is about explaining society and store selections while emphasizing that it is a child’s choice. This borders on reverse gendered parenting. Perhaps have the kids design their own t shirts or other clothes. There are many places that allow this type of activity online and you could easily allow for self expression without societal influence or parents feeling like jerking the wheel, as you put it. I absolutely support not allowing society to dictate children’s minds and thoughts, but as parents it can be tough for us to not go in the opposite direction. I hope that you are able to help your kids to figure out what they like or don’t like while ignoring societal influences. I have found that my oldest loves pink as well as robotics and circuitry. My middle child loves purple and also coding/video games. My third loves Dora and white but also legos and baby dolls. I have been a gender neutral parent for over 10 yrs and totally get your point. It is tough for sure bc of society and marketing. My son was very offended by the baby alive that said “I love you mommy”. I suggested to the company that it should say “I love you” and was, of course, brushed off. I wish you the best and hope you have a fabulous holiday season.

    • Justine Uhlenbrock  

      Your comment is inspiring, June! I agree wholeheartedly that it’s probably just as important for us as parents not to dictate our children’s minds either. I hope for the day that I see my kids express their own creativity and desires, but they aren’t quite at the age yet where they can rely on their own agency. In the meantime, I do what I can to limit the marketing materials they see with the goal of keeping their imagination unlimited by the narrowly-focused gender-specific boring standards.

  8. mystic_eye_cda

    One of my sons absolutely loves pink, with a passion, beyond all reason. He loves it, it makes him happy. It’s the complete opposite way that certain yellowy-orange tinted things make me angry and amber glasses make me carsick. It’s visceral. He just loves it.

    I absolutely, positively, will continue to buy pink things. I do not, however, buy things that say for girls, or for boys. Books that say “for boys” go straight off to charity.

    The problem isn’t pink or blue, there’s nothing wrong with pink or blue. There’s nothing wrong with the marble race coming in your choice of primary colours, pink and purple, or black and white. They’re just colours, and people have strong feelings about certain colours.

    There is, however, absolutely something wrong with marketing things as “for boys” and “for girls”. My sons don’t know that pink is for boys, Tommy Hilfiger and most top designers don’t know “pink is for women”, it’s only true for our children if we make it true.

    Let’s fight the real fight against gender roles; gender roles do nothing but cause harm. Nothing is “masculine” or “feminine” or “for men” or “for women” (with the exception of condoms and a few other specialized devices). Let’s end that. Let’s get upset when something is marketed that way, let’s get upset when Dora themes are only on girls undies and Diego themes are only on boys undies – when clearly Dora is for younger children and Diego is for older children.

    But let’s stop this unreasonable war on pink, it’s just a colour. Pink won’t cure breast cancer. Pink isn’t a “girlie” colour. It’s not the cause of sexism, or gender roles. It is, literally, just a perceived group of shades that exists in our language and not, in fact, all languages.

    • Justine Uhlenbrock  

      That’s an important insight that I thank you for sharing; gender stereotyping is indeed rampant in our culture. However, I don’t believe the issues surrounding pink can be boiled down so simply into an “unreasonable war” on a certain color. What I desire and am not currently seeing is a range of colors in my children’s wardrobe and toy chest. Until that time, I will use my most powerful voice, my consumer vote, to influence the choices offered.