In Defence of Pink by @JumpMag

When I say that I am the founder of a gender-neutral magazine for kids, and mention my objection to the ‘pinkification’of girls, there are generally two responses.

‘Oh, cool. I hate this obsession with pink for girls’.


‘What’s wrong with pink? My daughter likes princesses. Why should you tell me that it is wrong for my daughter to love pink?

To clear up this misunderstanding, I would like to state publically –I don’t hate pink. I don’t think there is anything wrong with girls liking pink, or wanting to be a princess. When my daughter was younger, she was often clad in pink, from top to toe. She even had a [gasp] Disney Princess bedr

My 12 year old daughter isn’t a fan of pink anymore, but she has more nail polish than I have! It doesn’t stop her climbing trees, playing football or doing anything that she wants to do.

I don’t want to ban pink, or stop girls wearing pink. I am for MORE choice, not less. Right now the choice for girls is not, ‘Which colour of shoes do you want?’, but ‘Which shade of pink shoes do you want?’Why limit girls to pink and purple shades, when we have a whole rainbow of colours?

When we look at the range of toys available for boys and girls, and how to make them ‘gender neutral’, we often see a troubling thing happen –the disappearance of ‘girls’toys’. German blogger Charlott Schoenwetter makes this point in this excellent post Pretty In Pink (in German, but worth a read, even if you have to throw yourself on the mercy of Google Translate).

Charlott tells the story of a school book Mathestarts 4, which showed two children, a boy and a girl, buying toys. In the book released in 2005, Thomas buys a football goal and a Gameboy, while Tanja bought a doll and a toy horse. When the book was reissued at a later date, Thomas still bought a football goal, and swapped his Gameboy for a camera. Tanja now wanted a badminton set and a board game compendium. Thomas didn’t wish for a doll in this new edition; instead all ‘girl toys’ were removed completely.

What is the take-away from this kind of change? That boys’ toys have positive associations and girls’ toys are negative – or perhaps frivolous. We shouldn’t make girls feel bad about liking Barbie dolls, just as young women shouldn’t be made to feel they are betraying feminism by wearing lipstick or high heels.

The ‘pinkification’of girls is part of the trend to ueberfeminise women, and this is what I’d like to challenge. The pressure that young girls are under to be feminine, to be pretty. Girls are faced with ‘perfect’images that they can never live up to.

The singer Lorde tweeted this picture recently, pointing out the difference between two photos taken on the same day –one photoshopped to make her look immaculate, the other her natural skin, including imperfections.

i find this curious – two photos from today, one edited so my skin is perfect and one real. remember flaws are ok 🙂


Girls look at pictures in magazines and compare themselves with the flawless celebrities shown there. The use of photoshop isn’t restricted to evening skin tone; entire bodies are altered, waists slimmed, necks lengthened, legs stretched. No wonder one in five 7-11 year olds have been on a diet (as research by Girlguiding revealed last year)

Boys don’t escape unscathed either. Not every boy wants to be an explorer or a scientist. Not every boy loves football, but if you were to look at products aimed at them, you would never know this. Where birthday cards for girls are a sea of pink and glitter, cards for boys are a raging river of testosterone and adventure.

How many boys have been told, ‘No, that is for girls’, when they started playing with a toy kitchen? And how do we expect boys to grow into men, who respect the rights of women, and work towards an equal society, when toy kitchens and household goods are in the Girls Department?

Kids mirror the behaviour they see at home, and they learn by playing. Giving them access to toys and games that present girls as their equal, means that boys will just assume that this is the way things are.

A recent study showed that girls whose fathers did their share of housework were more ambitious in their school and career choices, than girls who watched their mother do all the work.

Gender-neutral toys, games and product are good for boys and girls, because they don’t preinstall ideas into their head, about what men or women are good at, or should be doing. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and ban pink toys. Lets give kids the choice of all the colours, not just the pink and purple ones.


Jump! Mag is an online magazine for kids, which aims to inspire, educate and entertain in a safe and girl-positive environment [@JumpMag]



To Be a Girl by Bungling Housewife


What does it really mean to be a girl? Does our society demand too much of them? Or too little (yeah right)? Is there really such a thing as being too ‘girly’ or not being girly enough?

Being a girl these days isn’t too easy. Everyone seems to have their own pet ideas about what makes a girl or what a girl should or should not do. Right from the time a girl is born, she’s seen as an object, a ‘doll’ to be dressed up, to be made ‘pretty’. As she grows older, this idea is reinforced again and again and again: a girls job is to look ‘nice’, to stay well groomed, to wear nice clothes and above all else, to always match her purse to her shoes. As she grows older, this list of what a girl needs to be is added to, little by little. A girl needs to learn how to cook, she needs to be neat and be capable of multitasking. A girl should always have time for her appearance, no matter how busy she is. A girl should always be careful not to darken her complexion or put on any excess weight. A girl should be capable to keeping her house neat as a pin without any help. A girl needs to always guard her ‘reputation’ and her modesty. Nice girls don’t hang out with friends too often, they stay home with the family. If, God forbid, anything bad does happen, it is somehow always the girl’s fault for just not being careful enough.

It is the girl who needs to compromise in her relationships, to always put others happiness above her own. It is a girl’s job to keep her husband happy and her children clean, fed and well-behaved. A successful girl will marry, keep house, cook, clean, raise her children, manage the household, and all while balanced precariously on pretty heels beneath a pretty dress. Boys will be boys, their sins (no matter how big or small) forgivable by those that love them and by society at large but girls can never have that option. A girl must always be perfect because any mistake she may make will haunt her for the rest of her life. A boy will get multiple second chances but a girl, she will get only the one chance and so she better make the best of it.

Society expects a lot from girls, but it’s not the high expectations that break a girl, it’s the lack of appreciation it implies. All this is your duty ladies, so of course you have no choice in the matter so why should we appreciate you? What do you want, a medal?

Yes. A medal would be nice. But short of that, at least a good word here and there won’t kill you. Girls are the mothers of all nations and all families and they are stronger than any boy can ever hope to be. It won’t kill you to appreciate them from time to time.


Bungling Housewife: I’m an Anthropologist by training, a housewife by choice, a voracious reader, a lover of fantasy fiction and Sci-Fi, a new mommy, an observer of human nature, a closet optimist and a cupcake enthusiast. I write about all of the above and anything that might strike my fancy :)

The science behind sex differences is still in dispute, by @feministborgia

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

In November 2013 a study was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA’ titled, ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain’. Now if you don’t know what a connectome is, don’t worry, the term was only coined in around 2005. It refers to a map of neural connections in the brain, and it exists as a way of trying to connect the physical structure of the brain with its function. Fancy new terminology aside, the purpose of the study was to measure structural connections within the brains of just below 1000 young people (aged 8 to 22) and their results showed some interesting differences. Using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (an MRI technique that measures the restricted diffusion of water) they found that after the age of 13 there were significant differences in how the brains of men and women were connected. In the study men’s brains were found to connect more within a given hemisphere. and women’s had great cross connectivity (seen below the connectome maps published, showing the male brain in blue and the female brain in orange:

As you can see, the male brain shows more longitudal connections whilst the female brains shows more transverse connections.

The abstract for the study states, ‘the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’, having earlier noted that ‘Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills’.

The publication of this paper resulted in a number of excitable and fairly familiar newspaper headlines:

The Telegraph announced boldly ‘Brains of men and women are poles apart’, (demonstrating once and for all that broadsheets aren’t immune to headline puns) telling us that women’s brains are set up to have better memories (for anniversaries!) and gauge social situations better while men’s brains coordinate their actions with their senses, so can navigate better (not to mention be better at parking cars).

The Independent declared these differences, ‘could explain why men are ‘better at map reading”.
The Belfast Telegraph gets the prize for the best reporting on this, by first reminding us that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ before going on to declare that the study has shown ‘men and women’s brains are wired in completely different ways, as if they were species from different planets.’

With the possible exception of the Belfast Telegraph (who seem to have got themselves hopelessly overexcited), you can’t place too much fault on the reporting here. It is a clear cut case of ‘science says’, and in this case has the benefits of a peer reviewed journal to back it up. The study itself made reference to differences in male and female behaviours, stating that men have better ‘motor and spacial abilities’ whereas women show, ‘superior memory and social cognition’. Unfortunately, whilst this paper may make that claim, the preceding study (of which the participants of this study were a subset) does not back that up (abstract here ). Of the 26 behavioural measures made for comparison (for example executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition), 11 showed sex differences that were non existent, or as small as 53:47 (the expected sex outperforming the opposite only 53% of the time), Even in those areas where the differences are meant to be the greatest (spatial or social awareness) the performance difference was only 60:40-a measurable and noticeable difference for sure, but hardly enough to declare difference species.

My problem is not with this study or with their results, but rather with the way the conclusions have been drawn, and with the extrapolations. They have shown interesting differences in how men’s and women’s brains connect with themselves, but then rather than taking any further interesting steps, drilling down further into the data, they have attached some male/female stereotypes and called it job done. One of the authors has even suggested that the ‘hard wired’ differences found could explain the ‘gut feelings’ that women demonstrate more than men, and which makes them good mothers (‘intuition’ and ‘mothering’, or indeed ‘nurturing’ was not in fact measured in this study).

There could be other reasons than ‘men are better at map reading’ for the differences observed. Men’s brains are frequently bigger than women’s brains, the difference in the wiring could be due to physical necessity (there are also studies on this).

Then there’s the most interesting part of the study that has been the least discussed: the structural differences are not observed in a significant manner until after age 13. And we have to ask ourselves why. One of the proposed explanations is that this is the approximate average age for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. There are massive changes in the body, hormones flooding everything, the logic seems to be that the brain changes at this time too. However there is a better explanation, and one less routed in speculation. See, there’s this thing called neuroplasticity. It refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour or environment. Literally as you learn, your brain changes shape. Then we have to bear in mind that gender as a social construct is learned. It is taught. Little girls aren’t born liking pink. They are taught that girls like pink, and that they are a girl, therefore they then like pink. You put those two things together and what you end up with is the possibility that, rather than being innate, related to the release of hormones at puberty, the structural differences in the brains are programmed in by telling girls that boys are boisterous and girls play nice, that boys are good at maths and girls are caring, that boys build things and girls decorate them. But no mention is made in the study of any consideration of gendered activities in their subjects, or indeed any activities that may (and in fact do) influence how our brains are wired.

If you take this into account, the claim that ‘sex differences are hard wired’ seems a little less proven than it was before.

I am very fond of saying ‘peer reviewed journal or it didn’t happen’. But we have to be able to treat even these studies critically. Their data may be fixed and immutable (tho that is not always the case) but the conclusions have more room for movement. And the people making those conclusions are not immune from sexism.

The study may have shown that men and women’s brains connect differently. But it hasn’t shown why. And it hasn’t shown that the differences are innate. It has shown they are learned. ‘Men and women are taught to be different’ is a less interesting conclusions perhaps, but it is a more truthful one.

Post script: If you are interested in this subject, may I recommend the very excellent Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. Her article on this study was also very useful to me.

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

See also: Extra, Extra! Scientists Misunderstand their own Research by @Marstrina