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Handsome in Pink and the undressing of gender roles

2013 May 15
by Rachel Turiel

HiP5

My most favoritest shirt from the Handsome in Pink clothing line.

Rose has chosen the Disney book, Cinderella, from the library, the version in which Cinderella “always tries to please her step-sisters,” despite their verbal and psychological abuse. And even though I feel like something is lodged in my throat, something large and chalky, like say, consumer culture selling the notion that to be successful, a girl must be pretty and sweet, I say, “yes, I would be happy to read Cinderella to you, sweetie.”

Afterwards, I close the book and say casually, “so, you know that was fiction, right?”

Rose: Of course.

Me: (as fakely cheery as the band playing while the Titanic slowly sunk) You know, there’s a lot of fictions in that story.

Col: Like what?

Me: Well, you know how Cinderella and the Prince fell in love after dancing together for a few hours? Without even talking to each other?

Rose: Yeah?

Me: That doesn’t happen.

Col: Also, pumpkins don’t turn into carriages.

Precisely.

HiP7

Rose loves pink, also everything sparkly, glittery, glossy, twirly. Most days I watch her shuck ten snazzy costumes (all over the floor of our house), while I’m still in my dirt-spangled clothes from yesterday (okay, 2 days ago if they’re not conspicuously stinky). When Rose asked to get her ears pierced for her 6th birthday, I was totally on board because her body is her artistic palette, to be altered with the paintbrush of clothes and jewelry (I fully expect tattoos someday), and I want her to feel the freedom of artistic license. Thankfully, she’s also a scrappy wild child who pees outside, wipes herself with dandelion blossoms, and gets on with the work of barefoot chicken wrangling.

HiP6

Cross-dressing is A-OK at our house. Two boys and a girl: can you tell who’s who? 

I don’t want to be the buzz-kill mom who puts the kibosh on literary princesses who’s highest aspirations are to snag a man. I want to believe my daughter can sail through the ocean of mainstream media only to dock someday at Port Confidence and Self-Love. I’d like to think Rose can toss the Disney Princess books into her centrifuge of “beliefs about myself” and watch the harmful messages sink like stones to the bottom. But, a 6-year old who is already clued in to mainstream notions of beauty can’t navigate those choppy waters–where women are depicted starvation-thin with hairless, hourglass bodies—and not sink a little.

HiP4

Pink Rocket Tee from Handsome in Pink clothing line. And barred rock hen.

Rose got a Barbie doll for her birthday from a friend (a Barbie with an apparent overactive hair-growing gland, who literally sheds, adding to the flotsam on our floor, causing Dan to grumble, “Barbie’s got a dandruff issue”). I told the kids, “you know, there’s this funny study about what Barbie would look like if she were real.” We laughed about how in real life Barbie wouldn’t be able to walk upright, house a whole liver (just room for half), or lift anything, including her own head, due to such a long skinny neck. And Rose, vigorously brushing Barbie’s hair (all over the goddamned house), said, “well, it’s just a toy, Mama.”

Well yes, and no. Barbie is just a toy, and Cinderella is just a book, but they’re also million dollar businesses served up to our daughters in sparkly pink packages, these daughters who are still mapping their roles on this planet.

It’s a big machine to disassemble: Disney, the media, the sexualization of girls, “happily ever after,” and the entrenchment of gender roles. Like everything else, my greatest influence is in my own home. I won’t ban Barbies and princesses, but we’ll continue to have some frank conversations around here about what’s truth and what’s fiction.

*********

 

handsome in pink

When I was approached about sponsorship by Oakland entrepreneur Joanna Hadley, who runs Handsome in Pink (with her partner Helena Simon), the clothing line who’s mission is to squash gender stereotypes in kids’ clothing, believing pink can be masculine, blue can be feminine, and everyone should feel empowered by what they wearing, I was like hells yes! (’cause I’m classy and very formal).

Also, I just finished reading this (amazing, life-changing) book, which states that people hear you better if you tell them what you want, not what you don’t want. And I want Col and Rose to know that pink and purple are for anyone, and that someday a girl will be president.

In Joanna and Helena’s words:

Handsome in Pink (HiP) is a groovy Oakland, CA clothing line that started in 2007. Our mission has always been to empower people (babies, kids, & adults) by undressing stereotypes and offering clothes that actually reflect who we are and what we like to do. We believe that colors (such as pink and purple) and active imagery (such as firetrucks, tool belts, and electric guitars) belong to everyone and should be mingling, not dividing up along gender lines.

Hip2

Handsome in Pink is offering 10% off all clothing to 6512 readers. Go here to check them out.

Handsome in Pink website

Handsome in Pink Facebook page

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26 Responses leave one →
  1. Evonne permalink
    May 15, 2013

    Rachael, I occasionally read your your posts in the morning and marvel at what you do… Walk by your house as I take Noveto school and we both delight in your healthy chickens and thriving farm… I just want to say… Girl, you got it going on!!! So awesome!
    What a bright light you shine in little Durango.

  2. May 15, 2013

    That last shot of Col slays me.

    While my daughter has a plethora of girlfriends that live in our neighborhood, my closest mom friends in the ‘hood all have boys that are older than her. We spent every afternoon together at the park, regardless of weather, where those boys learned to include the little girl dressed like a princess every day. Being well mannered gents, they included her in their games, generally gave in to many of her demands and often let her win at games until one day they realized she could beat them soundly at Monopoly and Madden Football without any help, thank you very much. The damage was done however – at the ripe old age of 11, she has already developed an appreciation for boys who treat her ‘like a princess’ – which to her means with respect and manners. And boys who do not recognize her self-declared princesshood, who show disrespect or bad manners in front of her? Well, they are banished from her kingdom.

    I really sort of like her current definition of princess. It’s not so much about fairy tales or happy endings, it’s about being treated with respect. How do we get Disney & Barbie on board with that concept?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 15, 2013

      I guess Mattel and Disney would have to find a way to make money off respect and manners. :)

  3. May 15, 2013

    Sooo good. I’m with you. I don’t wanna be screaming that princess is the devil….. but I secretly think she is. Have you heard of Mighty Girl Media? They’re pretty awesome…. http://www.amightygirl.com/
    My girls are now 10 + 14…. and though really truly I attribute their independent awesomeness to just being themselves…. I am also grateful that we sidelined a lot of cultural crap so it rarely ended up on their soul plate.
    xo~
    s

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 15, 2013

      I agree. It’s an interesting position to want to make room for your children’s ideas/interests/opinions while secretly being quite sure that Disney is simply bad for the planet.

      Also, thanks for the link. Good resources there!

  4. David permalink
    May 15, 2013

    Karin and I fell in love after dancing for a few hours without really talking to each other. Just saying… it happens. Though there was a lot of magic back in those Storyville days.

    -David

  5. Molly permalink
    May 15, 2013

    I just ordered a short stack of feminist kids books after saying no to The Little Mermaid live performance. Harriet the Spy, Pippi, Annie Goes to Work, etc. I’m with you.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 15, 2013

      Molly, check out Stephinie’s link above. Right up your alley.

  6. May 15, 2013

    This is awesome.

    I have two boys and I limit TV. I give them a mixture of supposedly gender type toys. But I’m fast loosing the gender equality battle. My 5 year old is already coming home saying girls only like pink and they are not as strong as boys and girls cant play with boy toys. I so want them to see girls as strong and capable not just pretty and alluring. Or weaker for that matter. There needs to be a change in the ways girls and boys are portrayed in the media.

    The only thing I can do is talk about it. I say all toys for all children. Mummy loves what you call boy toys and she is a girl. Does that mean she cant play with them? I say Daddy loves pink. I keep questioning. Why can’t boys play with that toy?

    I guess the only thing we can do is set our example, point these things out and talk about them. I think your kids are going to grow up into awesome unique clever individuals!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 15, 2013

      Yes, keep asking the questions.

      Maybe you can buy your husband a pink get-up for fathers day, and let him change your boys minds with that!

  7. May 15, 2013

    I love the concept behind this clothing line! And, of course, I loved your post and your musings on gender roles and Disney and Barbie. As you know, I’m fighting the good fight over here as well, and it is h.a.r.d. when the princessification of our girls is so pervasive in this culture. But thanks to companies like HiP, it’s not impossible, so thank you for sharing this!

  8. Jamie Schuster permalink
    May 15, 2013

    While I totally get that Barbie and Princesses are not what they were when I was a kid (in the 80’s), and I limit my own daughter’s exposure to them, I don’t think that ‘wanting to be a princess’ is so horrible.

    As a child I loved, loved, loved fairy tales of all sorts, but the princess ones were my favorite. I wanted to be one of them, but not because they were skinny, blonde, and had happiness ever after. People in fairy tales often had morals that I wanted to have. To me, traditional fairy tales emphasize beauty (of the natural world and inner kind), gentleness, love, and to be quick witted. In traditional stories, you needed to work hard and be kind to the old and disadvantaged. I don’t think those are bad messages at all.

    In our house, we have a few Disney Princess movies which I off set with traditional examples of the classic fairy tales. When she plays with her princess dolls, they aren’t looking for husbands, they are solving mysteries. She wants to be a princess when she grows up, but her version is hardly looking like a Disney movie.

    I get that most moms feel that Barbie and Disney Princesses are horrible, and I agree that full submersion would not be healthy, but to me, they are just a small piece of what society is selling our daughters as a whole these days. To focus just on one aspect is missing the whole picture. I worry a lot more about the types of clothes she has available, the types of mainstream media she will see/hear, and what her friend are saying to her. Our society wants to push her into skimpy clothes and expose her to adult situations every chance they get. So, if she wants to fight ghosts and solve mysteries with dolls wearing ball gowns and tiaras, I guess I am ok with that.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 15, 2013

      That’s nice that she has a larger, more creative and complex concept of “princess.”

  9. Jamie Schuster permalink
    May 15, 2013

    Also, I wanted to add, that I had read somewhere that in the 70’s and early 8o’s clothes were hardly gender specific and it was sometimes hard to tell if a child was a boy or a girl (as said by a preschool teacher).
    I am sad that we have lost that.

  10. May 15, 2013

    my hubby often wears pink, and doesn’t care what he looks like. He has bought a girls sweater before and hand knit gloves. whatever. he likes something, he gets it, doesn’t matter which ‘sex’ it was designed for.

    We have issues of being given free stuff from the family except it’s often disney, pink, glittery etc. My daughter is only 3 so I can’t even explain much to her yet, but she gravitates towards the stuff like a moth to a flame. but then it’s free clothes etc.. hard not to accept them.

    I feel like if there is something you strongly don’t want your child to have they end up wanting it strongly somehow. I guess it’s our job as parents to explain things to our kids so that they see the ‘bad messages’ for what they are.

    I came across this today! super timing for your post! you might have seen it already though.. http://rhythmofthehome.com/2012/11/powerful-princesses-for-boys/

    • Jamie Schuster permalink
      May 16, 2013

      Oooo that one is a good one!
      It’s funny, my son is very ‘boy’ in the fact that he very naturally picks up what ever longish thing that happens to be around and uses it as a sword. Cars, weapons, and all other ‘manly’ subjects enthrall him. At the same time, if any of my children end up as a knitter, crocheter, or doing any other craft that is seen as more feminine, my bets are on the boy. I would love for him to grow up and think along the same lines as your husband :)

  11. May 15, 2013

    When I was in a co-op preschool (about 44 years ago, we were 2 years through 4 years), we had a dress-up box, and there was a boy in my class who always wore the prom dress when we had free time to play. Some of the parents were concerned, but they realized there were only “girl clothes” in the dress-up box, so they got some “boy clothes.” They got some small sports jackets, clip-on ties, a few fedora-type hats, a policeman’s hat, a fireman’s helmet, etc. The little boy was thrilled! He continued to wear the prom dress but selected the fireman’s helmet to go with it. It was just his super excellent fashion sense, and since us kids didn’t worry about it, the parents managed to get unbent, too.

    I feel like the princess thing for girls is nasty, but as a child, I never identified with the princess. When I was younger, most of the stories we read had male heroes, and I had no trouble identifying with them.

    I worry about the similar unfairness for boys. I haven’t worn makeup for years, and I wear men’s clothes all the time–button-down shirts, ties, the occasional jacket. If I were thinner, it might be called Annie Hall–but even the fact that we have a name for the style of women wearing men’s clothes, “Annie Hall,” suggests a seal of approval. I wear these clothes at work and nobody looks twice at me. I don’t think it’s fair that my male colleagues would lose their jobs on the spot if they wore women’s clothing to work. To my way of thinking, as long as we’re all clean, dressed in a way that covers all our private bits and doesn’t sport logos that are offensive to others, it shouldn’t matter whether we’re wearing “boy clothes” or “girl clothes.”

  12. Michele permalink
    May 16, 2013

    Last week I walked into our bathroom and looked at all the barbies that surround the tub. They’ve been there forever, but for the first time I realized that the boy doll has a kiss mark on his cheek. Like, a manufactured one that is permanently there screaming “Barbie likes to kiss all over this boy!” There’s always a learning opportunity and another chance to have another conversation about reality.

    I will say the Princes and the Pauper Barbie movie has a better than normal ending. Rather than being whisked off by the prince (after he realizes he loves her), she travels for three months then get’s her own business before getting engaged. A pleasant surprise!

    The hollyhocks are up! I’m always impressed with what survives the layers of ice and snow. :)

  13. Jennifer permalink
    May 16, 2013

    So, I don’t remember for sure where I first heard this, but I believe NPR (or something in Mothering?) did a piece on it. Back in the 1800’s boys were actually dressed in pink and girls in blue! Still gender specific but interesting how we’ve completely switched gears. (Please don’t quote me on the date, obviously one could google this and find the complete story!)

  14. May 17, 2013

    Next time she asks for Cinderella, consider reading the original Grimm’s version. You will be much less concerned about the fictions of the prince and love and what all and more concerned about the harsh moral about the evil stepsisters. I think they balance out quite nicely, myself. I think any six year old can get loud and clear the message about greed and superficiality in the stepmother’s cutting off her daughters’ heel and toe, and in the end, the sisters’ eyes are pecked out by birds at the wedding. It tempers the whole glitter and glam aspect quite nicely.

  15. rose permalink
    May 19, 2013

    I like to look at fairy tales symbolically and I’ll teach my girls to do the same in age appropriate ways as they get older. Those evil stepsisters are the voices of the inner critic that need to be managed so our dreams don’t wither away, the prince is our inner masculine that can lead us to take inspired action to change our circumstances. Cinderella saves herself and falls in love in the process. All the disney versions have the princess finding love as the main focus, but I tell myself and my girls that finding a mate is a really important part of our lives, but it’s only one part and there’s no telling when it will happen so it’s best to just go on about the business of living your life until it does. And as for the falling in love after only a few hours, I have experienced love at first sight with not one, but two husbands so I know it can happen. The first time didn’t work out so well, but I’m twelve years and three kids into the second and it’s not too shabby. ;)

    My other thought is about teaching girls the Art of Sacred Adornment. Making a ritual of self care and beauty that is fulfilling in and of itself and has nothing to do with attracting a mate. My Iris (5yo) is a lot like Rose and often asks me after having brushed her hair, filled it with barrettes and put on every necklace and bracelet she can find, Mama, how can I be more beautifuller? i look forward to helping her learn how to adorn herself in a way that feels good and empowers her to go out in the world and do her thing while hopefully instilling the belief that she is beautiful no matter what she wears or how she looks.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 20, 2013

      I like your interpretation, Rose. I also think it takes a sophisticated and discerning mind to see beyond the sparkly allure of “happily ever after” to “Cinderella saving herself.”

  16. Amy Carney permalink
    May 22, 2013

    I loooove this post….it is the perfect description…..and seriously what else do we need besides beer, bacon and books? Well I know really lots of things , but let’s pretend we don’t. What a great story to share as we all get ready to ride another season of summer and revel in being 1 year older…thanks for sharing

  17. May 22, 2013

    love it! just another mama who has always encouraged her son’s love of pink (and orange, red, green and brown). i sew dinosaurs on pink baby bibs; same concept. and when i sell baby items, i so often get inquiries along gender lines, and i just play dumb. i let them know that i am open to making them whatever color or style of diaper they want, and that it doesn’t matter to me what gender their baby is. i hope it’s that one person at a time ripple effect thing, and that as a whole, society will get over it eventually. ps quinn likes barbies.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 22, 2013

      “i so often get inquiries along gender lines, and i just play dumb.”
      Love this mb!
      I’ve put stuff on freecycle and had people ask similar things:
      Is it a girls or boys infant seat?
      You mean, does it have vaginas or penises on it?

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