I’ve been thinking a lot about this article in the New York Times Magazine I read last weekend. It’s about the current craze among little girls for all things princess, written by a mother who is struggling with her own daughter’s princess compulsions. The article has some interesting notes on the social construction of gender. For example, there’s a bit about the current designation of pink as the girliest of girly girl colors (and nearly the only color option for girls). It seems that this is actually a fairly recent happening:
The relentless resegregation of childhood appears to have sneaked up without any further discussion about sex roles, about what it now means to be a boy or to be a girl. Or maybe it has happened in lieu of such discussion because it’s easier this way.
Easier, that is, unless you want to buy your daughter something that isn’t pink. Girls’ obsession with that color may seem like something they’re born with, like the ability to breathe or talk on the phone for hours on end. But according to Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, it ain’t so. When colors were first introduced to the nursery in the early part of the 20th century, pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, was thought to be dainty. Why or when that switched is not clear, but as late as the 1930s a significant percentage of adults in one national survey held to that split. Perhaps that’s why so many early Disney heroines — Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Wendy, Alice-in-Wonderland — are swathed in varying shades of azure.
The other bit I found particularly thought-provoking was this bit about the attempts to reconcile traditional and contemporary standards for girls’ roles:
But what to make, then, of the young women in the Girls Inc. survey? It doesn’t seem to be “having it all” that’s getting to them; it’s the pressure to be it all. In telling our girls they can be anything, we have inadvertently demanded that they be everything. To everyone. All the time. No wonder the report was titled “The Supergirl Dilemma.”
Anyhow, it’s a fun read, as well as an interesting one.