Royal Blues

The papers have been on fire (sadly not literally, despite the heatwave) with speculation about whether The Royal Baby would be a boy or a girl. I’m not going to write at length about the problems with gender binarism or the ridiculous superstitions used to justify the occasional success of guessing the outcome of something that’s more or less a coin toss. You can (and should) read about that stuff yourself. I’m just going to look at some of the colour-coded reactions to the joyful event.

A few days ago it was announced that the fountains of Trafalgar Square [would] be lit in pink or blue, depending on the gender of the newborn. And lo, this came to pass, as the Tower Of London turned blue, the fountain at Trafalgar Square turned blue, and the London Eye turned red, white and blue (this last just to taunt us with the reminder that it’s actually possible to celebrate the birth of a human using other colours). I confess that the idea of blue fountains somehow annoyed me less than pink fountains would have done; I think it’s just because blue is less marked.

The other official celebratory gesture was the announcement that babies born on the same day as the new prince are to receive a silver penny made by the Royal Mint. (The text of the news article doesn’t even have to explain why there are two different colours of pouch for the coins.) You can also buy these coins from the Royal Mint, where they explicitly say pink for girls and blue for boys. The difference in wording for the items is interesting to note, too (all emphases mine):

This special version of the coin comes in a beautiful pink pouch, with a matching pink gift card that can be made even more special with a personalised message. This charmingly presented gift set is an adorable baby gift for a new little girl, and one that she will treasure throughout her life.

The coin comes housed in a drawstring pouch that, in turn, is held in a pleasingly illustrated gift card. Both of these are in the charming pale blue associated with newborn baby boys, making it the perfect birth or christening gift for sons, grandsons, nephews, brothers or any special little boy you know.

The differences are interesting. The description for girls gushes about how it’s beautiful, colour-coordinated, personalised, and adorable, and the focus is on the little girl treasuring the pretty coin; the description for boys picks out the practicality of the bag, the pleasingly illustrated (not ‘beautiful’ or ‘matching’) gift card, and suggests that it’s a birth or christening gift, not an adorable baby gift (that is, more formal and objective language for the boys, more subjective and cutesy for the girls). There’s something odd going on with the way the pink and blue themselves are described/mentioned, too: pink gets mentioned twice and doesn’t have to be explained as being Girl Colour; blue gets mentioned only once, reduced to ‘pale blue’, and referred to with the distancing ‘associated with newborn baby boys’ (only newborn baby boys need a colour, and we’re not doing the associating, it’s just a tradition, you can ignore it if you want).

I’ve mostly tried to stay away from the unofficial royal baby merchandise, for the sake of my blood pressure (NB I will not be answerable for my actions if I see someone wearing a non-slogan along the lines of KEEP CALM AND PRINCE ON), but Matalan got this through my human firewall by the cunning expedient of sending me an email:

Screenshot of the marketing email from Matalan about their Royal Baby merchandise: a range of pink and blue baby clothes.

Well what did you expect

Of course it’s a morass of pastel pink and blue, but the surprising thing is how odd it looks to see baby clothes emblazoned with “little prince”. “Little princess” is ubiquitous on pink baby clothes, but clothes aimed at boys more usually seem to feature words like “hero”, “soldier”, “little man”, or else words glorifying things that would be naughtiness in girls: “little monkey”, “little monster”, etc. I also note that it’s “Mummy’s little prince”: at some point I’d like to do a fuller examination of my observation that in babywear, boys are nearly always “Mummy’s little X” and girls are nearly always “Daddy’s little X”. Is this some kind of weird Oedipus/Electra thing going on?

The really interesting one, though, is the “Born to Rule” babygro, only available in blue (marked ‘while stocks last’ in the marketing email, it already appears to have vanished from Matalan’s website). Perhaps in all the excitement over the new prince they’ve forgotten that for the last 61 years we’ve been ruled by a woman.

Someday my pinks will come

The blame for the ‘pink princess’ thing can be laid fairly squarely at the door of Disney: back in 1999 they realised there was a way that they could sell more tat to little girls, and the seemingly bottomless Disney Princess franchise was born, peddling a wide range of pink plastic stuff with which to accessorise your clothes, your room, your life.

Not all the Disney Princesses actually wear pink:

The complete lineup of Disney Princesses

Princessant

From left to right: Snow White, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel, and Mulan (who seems to be wearing pink and blue).

Yep, you read that right: more are wearing blue than are wearing pink. Not that you’d know it to look at the Princess merchandise: a Google Images search for Disney Princess toys or Disney Princess accessories is as pink as Barbara Cartland’s bedroom (though one blue Princess bedroom design does sneak in from this page, on which we’re told “While your daughter has a toy, film, books and accessories … nothing will compete to design the ultimate Disney princess bedroom for her to be his upside down quite a bit in.” I think — I hope — it loses in translation.)

But back to the Princesses. Here’s Sleeping Beauty, blending into the background:

Sleeping Beauty and the Prince as they appear in the modern Disney Princess range.

Princess Monochrome

Your child can look like this for just £25 thanks to the Disney Store:

Sleeping Beauty dress from the Disney Store.

A handbag?

“Extend their fancy dress options with this gorgeous Sleeping Beauty gown. They can wear Aurora’s classic pink dress in velour and satin with organza details, costume gems and a hooped skirt.” I’m not sure how it’s extending their fancy dress options — I’d say it’s doing more or less the opposite, to be honest — and I’m fairly sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t have a handbag; but let’s just have a look at that “classic pink dress”. Here’s Sleeping Beauty in an official Disney postcard from 1970:

A 1970 postcard from Disney's Sleeping Beauty, showing Aurora and the witch.

Colour wheel

The colour she’s wearing will come as no surprise to those of you who read my earlier post full of princesses. Here’s a Sleeping Beauty poster, also from 1970:

A poster of Disney's Sleeping Beauty from 1970.

Fairytale pastels

Not only is she wearing blue, but the prince is wearing pink. You could still get away with this as late as 1981, on this Sleeping Beauty book cover:

A 1981 book of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Purple reign

But if you look back at the modern version, the colours have been reversed.

Disney do something similar with Mulan: she wears a variety of clothes in the film; the classic image of her shows her wearing green and blue:

Classic picture of Disney's Mulan, wearing blue and green

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow…

She’s often seen on horseback:

Cover art for an adaptation of Disney's Mulan, showing Mulan on horseback wearing green and blue

Pony girl

She wears armour, for crying out loud:

Disney's Mulan in grey-green armour.

Battle dress

but the costume Disney sell is primarily hot pink (admittedly with some equally lurid electric blue):

Screenshot from Disney Store of girl wearing Mulan costume in hot pink & blue, carrying balloons.

China girl?

And why the balloons? A toy bow and arrows would surely be more appropriate.

Amidst all this pinkification of Disney’s princesses, though, I derive a crumb of hope from the fact that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is allowed to a) wear blue, and b) be old (even rarer than non-pink among Disney heroines) even in the more recent two straight-to-video sequels:

The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, an old lady in a blue cloak with a pink bow and pink detail inside the sleeves.

Bibbidi-bobbidi-blue

Maybe there is still a chance for her to wave her magic wand and restore the colour balance so the rainbow will come smiling through.

Taste the difference

I don’t always go looking for this stuff, you know. I was just looking for some swanky gift chocolates on the Hotel Chocolat website (because swanky gift chocolates are what they do best), and idly went to look at the “for kids” section while I was there, wondering whether their children’s range was as classy as the rest. Guess what I found?

Images of kids' chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, available in pink/fairy or blue/robot

I should cocoa

In pink: “A Flight of Twinkle Toes”, “The Prima Ballerina Twinkle Toes”, “The Twinkle Toes Yummy Bag”, and “The Flutterby Easter Egg”, all featuring ballerinas with fairy wings. In blue: “The Mega Nibblatron”, “The Nibblatrons”, and (not shown in screenshot) “The Nibblatron Yummy Bag” and “The Rocket Easter Egg”, all featuring chocolate robots.

Of course, they don’t actually say in the text that one is intended for boys and the other for girls (whereas adults’ gifts are explicitly divided into “For Him” and “For Her”), but the URLs give them away: “The Rocket Easter Egg” is Easter-Gifts-For-Boys-P300255, “A Flight of Twinkle Toes” is Girls-Chocolate-P400052, and so on.

I can’t bear to read through all the descriptions, but here’s an example of how they compare:

Twinkle Toes Yummy Bag: “A gorgeous milk chocolate adventure specially chosen by our graceful dancing ballerina. And as you can see, she certainly knows delicious chocolate when she sees it!

Nibblatron Yummy Bag: “An exciting adventure of milk chocolate goodies, personally chosen by our friendly robot and easy to share – if needs be!”

I suppose at least girls get some “adventure” too, even if it is the nonsensical “gorgeous milk chocolate adventure” (can an adventure be “gorgeous”?) rather than the more fun-sounding “exciting adventure of milk chocolate goodies”. (I’m not even sure what the rest of the Twinkle Toes text means: how are you supposed to be able to tell that the fairy ballerina “knows delicious chocolate when she sees it”? She’s not eating chocolate, she’s fluttering around gracefully or whatever fairy ballerinas do.) I note with a weary sigh that boys aren’t expected to want to share unless they absolutely have to.

Here’s another pair in the same range:

Pick Me Up The Twinkle Toes Nibbling Kit: “Filled with the cutest milk chocolate goodies fit for a princess and ideal for birthday parties or best behaviour treats!”

Pick Me Up The Nibblatron Nibbling Kit: “Filled with out-of-this-world chocolate goodies for parties, treats or even just because!”

So the girls’ chocolates are “the cutest”, and “fit for a princess”; the boys’ chocolates are “out-of-this-world” and you don’t have to conform to any particular stereotyped dress-up role to eat them. Also, while boys are encouraged to have chocolates “just because”, girls are encouraged to see them as “best behaviour treats”: if they’re good enough, they might be allowed to have the same treats as a boy.

It makes me sicker than eating a whole box of chocolates in one go.

Beyond parody

I get catalogues through the post for various different reasons. Some have been sent to me because I’ve asked to be put on a mailing list, or because I’ve bought something from the company before. Some are just random junk mail. And some, like the recent Studio 24 catalogue, seem to have been dropped through a time-machine by some malignant force which is deliberately trying to make me angry.

I started out being mildly annoyed by the all-too-common problem that all the gifts and toys seemed to come in two options: not-pink for boys, pink for girls. Here’s your options for personalised kids’ chairs:

Catalogue pictures of chairs - red with cars etc for boys, pink with fairy princess nonsense for girls.

Who's been sitting in my chair?

For boys: a big red fire engine in a street full of houses! For girls: Cinderella’s pumpkin coach (which has somehow become pink rather than, you know, pumpkin-coloured), pulled by a pink horse. For boys: a racing car! For girls: a vase of flowers. The chairs are shown personalised with boys’ names and girls’ names, just in case you were tempted to think that fire engines or racing cars might be exciting for girls as well.

It’s the same with clocks — boys get another fire engine, girls get a ballerina:

Catalogue pictures of children's clocks: one pink with a cartoon ballerina, one with a red fire engine.

Isn't it time we stopped this nonsense?

It gets sillier. Boys: how about a drum kit? Girls: how about a pink drum kit?

Catalogue images showing 'natural' guitar and pink guitar; red drum kit and pink drum kit.

Sorry to bang on about this...

The main picture, of course, shows a boy playing drums; the pink drum kit is a smaller inset, an afterthought. The message is clear: drum kits are for boys. As for the guitars, we’ve got “natural” for boys, and (unnatural) pink for girls. At the risk of sounding like the Daily Mail, you couldn’t make it up.

But it’s the dressing-up options that are really angrymaking. Are you ready? Here we go:

Catalogue images of dressing-up sets: boys are shown as fireman, cowboy, knight, red indian, pirate; girls are shown as model, ballerina, princess, bride, or belle of the ball.

You couldn't dress it up

Boys: “You can be a fireman, cowboy, knight, red indian, or a pirate!” Girls: “Be a model, ballerina, princess, bride, or belle of the ball!” (I’m not even going to address the “red indian” issue here: it’s off my topic, but all this stuff has clearly fallen through some kind of stereotype timewarp.) Basically, though, boys get five options which are instantly recognisable as active roles and adventurers; girls get… well, OK, ballerinas are pretty active (with the emphasis on “pretty”), but “princess” and “bride” are both roles that have more to do with the men in your life than what you actually do, a “model” exists to be looked at, and a “belle of the ball”… is that even a thing any more? What do you do, apart from stand around looking pretty? The five outfits are pretty much indistinguishable anyway, a mess of pink frills, short skirts (even for the bride), tiaras and glitter. Of course, the boys’ clothes come in a piratical treasure-chest, while the girls’ clothes come in something more like a dowry chest. And am I overanalysing lazily-written copy by noting that boys are given opportunities (“You can be…”) while girls are given orders (“Be…”)?

But wait! It gets worse! Here’s yet more dressing-up ideas so your children have a chance to get used to the assumptions society will make about their potential because of their sex!

Catalogue images of dressing-up clothes. Girls: horse rider, waitress, nurse, ballerina, beautician; boys: businessman, astronaut, postal worker, policeman, pilot. Also: dalmatian/tiger for boys, bunny for girls.

I want to be...

Girls’ costumes: horse rider, waitress, nurse, ballerina, beautician; boys’ costumes: businessman, astronaut, postal worker, policeman, pilot. This is just beyond parody. Girls don’t even get to be a “policewoman”, “businesswoman”, “postwoman”, or… I dunno, “astronautess”? “Lady pilot”? (Yes, I know. We call them “astronauts” and “pilots”.) We’re not even talking about clothes which would have to be fitted differently for boys and girls here: these costumes are loose-fitting tabards which aren’t even sold in different sizes, and let’s face it, by the age that girls start developing hips and breasts, they’re probably not going to want to dress up as ballerinas or astronauts.

Even the animal costumes play to the same old stereotypes, for crying out loud. Boys are shown dressed as a dalmatian (come on, even in The Hundred and One Dalmatians some of the dogs were female) and a TIGER! Grrr! Girls get to be… a bunny. A bunny that’s pink, just like a real bunny isn’t. Do I need to spell it out?

Just one more — and a slightly more subtle one this time:

Catalogue image showing personalised aprons - a girl with pink-edged apron saying 'super cook' , a boy with blue-edged apron saying 'super chef'.

Back to the kitchen

OK, that’s “subtle” like a meat-tenderiser — which presumably our pretty little cupcake cook wouldn’t use, unlike the manly maker of MEATY BURGERS. But it’s the text that really makes me cross. I’d have almost forgiven them the pink-and-blue colour-coding and the pictures if both aprons had said “super chef”; but no, the girl gets demoted to “cook”. Perhaps they actually think that “cook” is to “chef” what “cow” is to “bull” — just the word for the female of the species, rather than a lower-status job? Because at this point I’d rather think they’re that stupid: the alternative is worse.