Pink protests

gender pay

 

When Pink Stinks launched its campaign to highlight claims that the Early Learning Centre, known for producing wholesome, “natural” toys, was exploiting gender stereotypes it expected that it would barely make the local paper. Instead, the campaign has made the news in most of the national press and in several international media outlets and has provoked a storm of protest.

When Pink Stinks launched its campaign to highlight claims that the Early Learning Centre, known for producing wholesome, “natural” toys, was exploiting gender stereotypes it expected that it would barely make the local paper. Instead, the campaign has made the news in most of the national press and in several international media outlets and has provoked a storm of protest.

The two sisters behind the campaign, Abi and Emma Moore, have been labelled dour feminists and, of course, Lesbians. They have also, ironically, been accused of being anti-gay – because pink is a gay colour. They have been accused of being in the campaign for financial gain – as opposed to the big companies who manufacture all the pink froth who are presumably not benefiting in any way out of cashing in on gender stereotypes. It has even been suggested that they are unfit mothers. “That was the most offensive thing,” says Emma.

The vitriol has taken its toll on both sisters. Emma says she couldn’t eat for three days. Abi had to take a day off work because of the stress. “Every email that came in made me feel sick,” says Emma.

She says the backlash shows how strong the vested interests are in the whole gender stereotyping of girls. Those leading the charge were the usual suspects – the Daily Mail was, of course, fairly prominent. The Telegraph had a front page story accusing the campaign of being some sort of grim, feminist plot after the sisters’ local MP in London gave her support.

Emma says the force of the backlash has made them reflect, but also made them determined to continue. The campaign was started 18 months ago after Abi returned from the US where she had been filming an inspiring woman scientist to discover the news agenda was dominated by Paris Hilton. “It seemed so unjust,” says Emma, “that there were women doing amazing things and the media was focusing on Paris Hilton.”

It was the culmination of months of “feeling uncomfortable” about how their children – Emma has two girls and Abi two boys – were so different, despite not being brought up particularly differently. Around the same time, Polly Toynbee had written an article against the pink-ification of girlhood in The Guardian. “We thought we are not the only ones feeling this,” says Emma. They contacted Toynbee about their plans to start a campaign to focus on positive female role models. She replied within 10 minutes by email and they set up a meeting. “She told us to go for it and that she thought we could make it work. We emerged feeling we had to do it,” says Emma.

Name and shame

The Early Learning Centre campaign is the first of very focused campaigns by Pink Stinks, whose website hosts examples of positive role models from all sorts of fields and a name and shame section highlighting ridiculous examples of pink marketing, eg, heart-shaped pink packaged ham. The aim of the current campaign is to raise their concerns about products sold by the ELC, including a beauty centre for three year olds that includes a make-up set, and promote change.

“People claim it is all harmless fun and that the whole princess pink thing is part of girl power, but it is not empowering girls; it is taking power away from them,” says Emma. “It is actually saying to them that you have to look like this and behave like this if you are a girl. You have to worry about clothes, wear high heels and spend all your time worrying about your looks and plastic surgery instead of doing the things that actually make you feel happy and good about yourself. The girl power thing is a myth peddled by big business to make more money out of us.”

She adds that it is only due to the force of the backlash against the campaign that she, Abi and their supporters, who include sociologists and scientists, have realised how big an issue the whole pink agenda is. People just look at it superficially, says Emma, and think it is just about attacking the colour pink, rather than the whole agenda behind it. “We have talked about whether the name is right, but we decided that it gets people talking,” says Emma. She adds: “In isolation there is nothing wrong with pink, but it is what is behind it, the whole agenda of telling girls what it means to be a girl, the whole monoculture, that is wrong.”

She adds that some of the critics of the campaign are also horrified by the rise of sexualised teens, but says it is all linked. “Girls as young as three are being conditioned into using make-up and wearing high heels and worrying about what they look like. You cannot tell me that there is not a journey going on here towards the oversexualised image of teenagers and the promotion of images that are not good for girls’ self esteem. The commercialisation of childhood is rampant.” Girls, nowadays, are only allowed to be girly girls or tomboys, she says. There is nothing in between. The stereotyping also has an impact on boys, although she says they at least are sold options that are more proactive and adventurous than the fairy/princess roles, but it certainly influences how they view girls.

Emma says that since the initial backlash there has been a lot of support coming in from both adults and children. “People should read the emails we have received from girls,” she says. “That would open their eyes.”

The campaign against the ELC will continue in the New Year and Pink Stinks is looking at other issues, such as the slogans on clothes. Emma says she has heard of a t-shirt being sold by a major store with the slogan “Pretty like mummy. Clever like daddy.” It’s like feminism never happened.





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