Pink is for Boys: How Societal Expectations Can Lead to Bullying
Have you ever been watching a football game on TV when the cameraman finds a young fan in the crowd openly weeping after their team loses? It's probably safe to assume that those weeping children weren't born with that particular priority in their life. More than likely they grew up seeing that sports were extremely important for their loved ones.
The point is that we as parents have tremendous power to shape and mold the priorities of our children. It's an empowering point to be honest. But it also means we have to be pretty deliberate and conscious of our lessons, our messages, and our actions. If we can teach kids to weep about college sports, surely we can teach them to internalize empathy and kindness towards others as well.
But unfortunately we aren't the only ones influencing our children. Society itself plays a huge role as well. And I don't mean to be a gloomy Gus, but society does not always have their priorities straight. Society teaches our kids all sorts of absurd and confusing things from a very young age. And I honestly believe it's a big part of why we still have so much bullying in schools.
Bullying is a behavior that could have many deep-rooted causes. But there is one particular source of bullying that I want to focus on: societal norms and expectations. Society is not only very effective at teaching kids what's "important" - it also does a wonderful job teaching them exactly what they should look like, and how they should act, and what they should enjoy. They are absolutely bombarded with it from birth.
Just imagine in your head what the "girls aisle" at Toys R' Us looked like for a second. It was absurdly pink right? Every single box on the entire aisle was pink. Kids learn this very quickly. It doesn't take long until girls are supposed to like pink and boys are not supposed to like pink. Girls are supposed to have long hair and boys are not. Girls can paint their nails, boys can not. Boys like the truck books, girls like the unicorn books. If you do not conform to my new understanding of the world, you are wrong.
Now imagine this scenario: You walk into Target with your 4-year-old son. He sees some purple slippers with Paw Patrol on them and he wants to buy them. What do you say? Unfortunately, I believe lots of people would say, "Those are girl shoes, son. They're purple and they have lace. And they have that flying girl dog on them. Let's get the Spider Man ones." But what in the world does the 4-year-old actually learn in this scenario? There are colors he can't wear? Lace is bad? He can't like the girl dog? Does any of that make sense? How is he supposed to process that? "I liked those shoes. Does that mean something about me is wrong?" That could be a seriously heavy blow to his self-confidence.
If you look at it objectively, the entire scenario is absurd. I do know one thing that the 4-year-old learned for sure though - there are certain ways that he, and other boys, are supposed to look. And if there are ways you're supposed to look, that suggests that there are ways you can look that are wrong. That lesson will be deeply ingrained. If that same 4-year-old sees another boy happily wearing his new purple shoes at school, he'll probably tell him they are girl shoes and break his heart. And the cycle of bullying from ridiculous societal norms only grows and continues from there. There are insiders and there are outsiders - there are people that exist who are wrong and they are less than me.
The confidence of children everywhere is being broken every day as they're told by peers that they don't look right. They weigh too much. They're wearing the wrong brands. It all begins with something as simple as allowing our little ones to be convinced that there are some colors that don't belong to them. We don't even have to be that parent actively telling their son they can't wear purple to be complicit. All it takes is passively allowing society to teach our kids these lessons without deliberately intervening and telling them it's absurd.
When I saw the cover of the book Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman for the first time, I knew that this book was going to address these concerns about societal norms, and I deeply hoped that it would live up to my expectations. I'm very happy to say that it did. Pink is for Boys should be required reading in the curriculum across the country in every kindergarten classroom. It should be basic education for all toddlers. It's as straightforward and important as Hands are Not for Hitting and Everybody Poops. Every little boy and girl should be deliberately taught that colors do not belong to any gender. This should be basic stuff.
Pink is for Boys not only throws absurd societal norms about colors out the window, it also teaches equality among boys and girls - the activities they're allowed to do and the things they're allowed to like. Every color in the book is associated with something in life - something that's for both boys and girls. This could actually be the book you use to teach the colors themselves - because the colors are mentioned one by one, and every beautiful drawing has a color theme.
"Purple is for boys. And girls. And unicorns, because... unicorns!"
The greatness of Pink is for Boys comes from even more than Pearlman's important lessons. The illustrations by Eda Kaban are instrumental in making Pink is for Boys the instant classic that it is. Her art just makes me happy. It's like something straight out of a classic hand-drawn animated film. Something I could swear I remember loving as a child. It's somehow vibrant and new but timeless and classic at the same time. I will be actively keeping an eye on her future work.
Picture books can expose children to important messages and new thoughts in very accessible ways - ways that are stronger than our words alone. They can convey these messages through art and through feelings. This is how we can be deliberate in counteracting negative and absurd messages from society. It's not enough to be passive about the whole thing. We must actually have these conversations - and we need powerful voices of authority (like a beautiful book) to help tip the scales. Society's influence can be strong. Pink is for Boys is just the book we need in order to begin this particular discussion with our kids. There are no wrong colors. You can like what you like. Be true to yourself and be confident and be kind.