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The Mamafesto: We need to stop putting our kids in pink and blue boxes

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Why pink and blue aisles are hurting your kids

Society — through marketing and mainstream media — seems intent on stuffing children into outdated, traditional gender boxes. Head to any department store and you'll see what I mean. Aisles of (usually boring) blues and browns when it comes to boys while the girls' side is all pink and frilly. The toy aisles aren't any better.

The boys' section is filled with action-filled toys like blocks, trucks and lots of violently-themed toys (guns galore), while the girls' aisles are again stuffed with the "three P's": pink, princess and passiveness. The difference is astounding, especially when most kids actually see and play beyond pink, blue and gender stereotypes.

When my son was young, he didn't quite fit into the so-called boy mold. He preferred his hair long, "like his daddy," and would have rather played with baby dolls over trucks. As he grew older, he declared pink as his favorite color and took to spinning around with a rainbow-colored, homemade tutu before spending an hour hyperfocused on blocks or LEGOs. He straddled the stereotype of what it supposedly means to be a boy or girl. He liked what he liked, and didn't realize he was stepping outside of any lines. And many of his friends were the same — girls who scoffed at dresses while digging in the dirt, another boy who always had his special doll in tow. When given options, these kids seemed to try a little bit of everything.

But as my son, and his friends, grew up, they started to notice the heavy gender divide. One day after school, my son grumbled to me that some kids said that boys couldn't like pink because it's a girl's color. Thankfully, I had the perfect response, crafted by my friend Melissa Atkins Wardy of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies. "Colors are for everyone," I told him, and it soon became a staple saying in our home.

Some people have asked why I'm so worked up about opening up the options our kids have. The problem is that it's incredibly limiting. Girls shouldn't feel boxed in to toys that 99 percent of the time relate only to princesses, beauty, crafts or home ec. And boys shouldn't feel as if they need to fall into a narrow sense of masculinity based on what's marketed toward them.

Think back to your own childhood. Odds are, there were just LEGOs, not LEGOs for girls and ones for boys. The "My Buddy" doll was marketed specifically at boys, and most toy catalogs showed boys and girls playing with the same toys side by side, not segregated by pink or blue. When we limit our children to certain stereotypes, we limit their creativity, their originality and sometimes, their personality. Gender stereotypes also teach them that anyone who steps outside traditionally-crafted boxes are somehow wrong or bad. So, let's offer our kids more. Let's offer them choices and allow them to express themselves, whether that's in pink, blue or all the colors in-between.

More on kids and gender

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Parents finally reveal gender of 5-year-old child
How gender-neutral parenting encourages healthy development

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