When my wife was pregnant with our first child we decided not to find out whether our child was a boy or a girl. We wanted to go the old fashion way. In part our decision was made so we could be surprised. However, my wife had another motivation. She told me that if we knew the gender of the baby we would be inundated with either pink or blue presents. Instead of pink or blue we received green and yellow, you know gender neutral.
The earliest stereotype that we are exposed to is the idea that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. It is social construct repeated and reinforced throughout our society, by television, books and toys. My daughter’s favorite color is pink. I wonder if that is simply because female characters on her favorite shows wear pink. Well of course it is. I mean if princesses dressed in green then voila my daughter’s favorite color would be green.
This initial stereotype seeks to sort us into groups. When I was a kid I went to show and tell. A girl in my class brought a matchbox car. I went home fully indoctrinated and said to my mom, “Girls can’t like matchbox cars.” My mom replied, “Of course they can and boys can like dolls.” I decided right then and there that I was bringing a doll to show and tell. I did. I have always remembered that and I was five.
Now sitting on my shelves are rows of cartoon cups. They are plastic so when the kids drop them they only spill and do not break. They are also sixteen ounces so they are adult sized. I use these cups for my coffee every day. I just grab one whether it is My Little Pony, Frozen or a Princess Sophia cup and go to work. I work part time at an elementary school. When students see me walking through the school with a My Little Pony cup they are truly perplexed. Invariably a student will ask, “Why are using that cup?”, and I will reply simply that I like it. Or sometimes I will look at the cup I am using and say, “Well I like to watch the show with my family.” I can see them processing this breach in color etiquette. It is a small yet powerful statement as on those two days I make up 33% of the male teaching staff in the school. The statement I hope I am making is that it is okay to not follow in line with stereotypes. When I used to teach 6th grade I had a female student tell me that her dad did not think it was right that a man was a teacher. On a side note women make up the vast majority of elementary school teachers and hold on to those jobs like the Americans held on to Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. Click here if that analogy makes no sense.
The color stereotype may seem innocuous but is not. Embedded in our brains at an early age it is the foundation for many other gender stereotypes. It is the first stereotype and it is socially accepted as a given. As we enter adulthood we are inundated with other stereotypes about gender. Whether these stereotypes revolve around sex, men who have a lot of sex with different women are studs and women who have a lot with different men are sluts. A stern male manager is confident while a stern female manager is a bitch.
This foundational stereotype allows us to hold other stereotypes in our head. Some groups are lazy because of age, weight or ethnic background. Some groups are inherently untrustworthy based on income or once again ethnic background. This group of people are emotional or that group is flamboyant. It is pink and blue thinking.
I know I will not change the stereotypes that we all encounter on a daily basis by carrying a My Little Pony Cup around with me but I hope to knock out a brick or two in that pink and blue thinking.
This article was written by Daniel Mahan, a writer for dusk magazine.