Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sam and His Pink Shoes

Someone recently sent me an article about a controversy sparked by a picture of a little boy, Sam, wearing what appeared to be girl’s pink, zebra- striped flats.  The picture, posted on Facebook, received overwhelming support and LIKES but stirred up a heated debate on the internet. 
Poor Sam’s mom was criticized by family members who feared that this kind of behavior might turn him gay!!  Wow, if that were true!  Maybe THEY should read the article published in the journal Pediatrics about a study which found that  children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.
Read more:,8599,1994480,00.html#ixzz2EzVwGM3q

Judging from the picture, Sam appears to be carefree and confident.  He was quoted as saying, “Ninja’s can wear pink shoes too!”   Yes, he is only 5 and five year olds do not understand they nuances of the adult world. Five year olds don’t understand racism, bigotry, discrimination or gender specifics.  If they do, it’s only because they learned it from the adults around them.  Really, if you think about it, most  3 and 4 year old boys would  love playing  with dolls, strollers and the kitchen sets.  But somehow the dads, and moms too, feel that they need to be more manly and start overloading them with Ninja’s, dinosaurs, race cars and such.  Otherwise they might become too soft!!   

I don’t deny that men and women are inherently, biologically and hormonally different.  In Sweden there was a movement at one school to do away with gender specific toys and practice gender neutrality in the preschool.  Instead of addressing the kids as “him” or “her,” the teachers referred to the children as “friends", by their first names, or as "hen" - a genderless pronoun borrowed from Finnish.  I guess that would be like the English pronoun “it”?   Gender neutrality, as it equates to gender equality, is good.  But to totally deny our gender differences is wrong too. Being more gender neutral does not have to mean referring to ourselves as IT’s.  Gender neutrality is also not an attack on our masculinity or femininity.

I have 2 boys and I see how different boys and girls can be.  They play differently; they interact with each other differently.  But is it because that is the way we have been programmed to believe for so long?   Is it because WE steer our boys and girls in a certain path…or towards certain toys or colors…because of our expectations of what it means to be a man or a women. 

The focus on Sam and his shoes makes me ask, is pink inherently a feminine color?  In the early part of the 19th century, fashion magazines promoted pink as the perfect color for men.  Red was considered a very strong, masculine color, and pink being derived from red, it was only natural!  Blue, on the other hand, was considered cool and dainty.  Go figure!!  Maybe 50 years from now, after more incidences and debates instigated by the likes of Sam and my son, our society will decree that pink is gender neutral!!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sorry It's Our School Policy!!!

When I wrote my book, Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue, it was with my younger son in mind. He is now starting to like Ninjago, Beyblades, Pokemon and other "boy" things but still has an affinity for the pink and purpley things too. 
After the publication of the book, I was really excited about going into his school and reading the book to his class.  It was these kids that I really wanted to reach with the message of the book. After all, they were my son’s classmates and friends who interacted with him on a daily basis.  A few of them have had play dates with my son and I recall one child saying, “He has girl’s toys.”  This would be grassroots effort to teach
about  gender stereotypes, not being judgmental and keeping an open mind.

I asked my son’s teacher if I could come and read the book to the class. I had developed a whole lesson around the book and was eager to go and speak to the kids. She was also excited but needed approval from the principal. To my disappointment, I was told by the principal that the school does not promote any authors and so I could not come read to the kids. Mind you, I had not asked for a letter to go home announcing my visit or asking parents to buy my book for the occasion.   

At first I was upset but decided to approach it differently.  The point was to have the message reach the children. I decided to send the teacher a copy of Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue and she could  read it  to the class at her own convenience.  Instead of just putting the book into my son’s folder, I gave a copy to the office to be delivered to the teacher.   After inquiring about it, I received a call back from the principal.  This time she  had the school counselor on the line with her,  as a witness apparently.  I was told that as a  school policy not even the teacher would be allowed to  read my book to the class!!
I taught preschool and kindergarten for many years before I became a mom.  Many preschools and kindergartens invite parents to come read to the kids, or talk about different things.   The community sometimes is full of free teaching resources.  Yes, sometimes they get a little advertising for their businesses too such as a dentist coming in to discuss oral heath.  But these outside, real life resources are a great, valuable learning tool for kids at a young age.   Visits by community resources outweigh  the value of any worksheet  or lecture.  These are tangible experiences that the kids will remember for a long time to come.  For me, going to read at my son’s school was not about selling books.  It was about spreading a message about gender stereotypes, not making judgments and learning to appreciate individual differences. 
Interestingly, last year I was told by the same  principal that it is school policy that they do not discuss or talk about different cultures in school!  What better way for diverse group of people to gain cultural understanding of ideas, thoughts and ways than by learning from their peers who represent different cultures.  To me, culturally diverse is not the same as culturally aware.  Though we may live in a culturally diverse surrounding, understanding and appreciation comes from knowing.   In fact  there should be  a week set aside every year when parents and students of all backgrounds can talk about  the various cultures represented in a school.   I realize schools have international days but this would be more informative than entertaining. What a wonderful way to learn about the new, global world we live in!
Whether about books or about cultures, closed minded policies create an atmosphere of intolerance and segregation. My first introduction into our school was a child yelling out from the bus window, “Hey you brown lady!” Now I understand. There are kids being bullied or teased for  wearing turbans, having “funny” accents, eating a “weird” food or just appearing to be different . Then there kids being harassed for being too “tomboyish”... or not boyish enough.
I can only hope that my children will fare well and not be hurt by the ignorance and intolerance of others. I hope that my son’s friends will somehow come to learn and understand that the colors you like and what toys you play with do not mean much. After all…. pink is just a color and so is blue….what truly matters is what’s deep inside of you! I hope they  will come to appreciate that we can all be different but our differences are our uniqueness and they make us special. 
As for our principal and her narrow minded policies, some things are just better left unsaid.....

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Origins of Pink and Blue....

Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue……

 When my younger was 3, he loved the color pink.  I  bought him a Dora doll, a stroller and a couple of   other dolls  he asked for. While in preschool, he wanted My Little Pony, Littlest Petshop and Zoobles, which apparently were marketed mostly to girls. Then one day,  I heard my older son telling my younger one that he was “like a girl” because he liked the color pink and enjoyed playing with the kitchen toys . After hearing him taunt his brother, I had to have a serious talk with him.  In my mind, teasing like this is what leads to bullying later.

 I tried to explain to my older son that they are just toys and pink was just a color like red or blue. I told him how he also liked the color pink when he was little. I needed him to understand that toys and colors did not define who children are.  Colors were just colors, and toys were just a way for young children to learn about the bigger world around them.  We even talked about how their father loved to cook, so what was the big deal about a little boy playing with the kitchen set.

My two boys became the inspiration for my book, Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue which is available exclusively on

 Anti-bullying and anti-teasing education often starts in middle school.  Unfortunately, by this age, many kids already have an engrained set of beliefs and ideals. Research shows that children’s personalities are set by the time they are 5.  They have already built a sense of what is right and wrong by the time they are about 10.  Teaching kids to be accepting, open minded and tolerant should begin when they are 3, 4 and 5 not 10, 11, 12. If they learn young that we don’t all have to fit into a mold, they will become better “tweenagers” and teenagers.

 Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue hopes to break some of the old gender stereotypes about children’s toys and gender specific colors.  Why should the play kitchen be considered a “girly” toy. Aren’t most chef men? Don’t we want our boys to be nurturing dads and husbands? So what is the big deal with little boys wanting dolls and stroller?  Why are all toys for little girls aimed at making them domestic divas or princesses in the land of all things pretty and pink?  Don’t we expect that our little girls should grow to be confident, independent and strong women one day?  So why limit them in play with fashion, easy bake ovens and everything from the land of enchantment?

 I don’t have girls but growing up I mowed the lawn, helped my father paint and put in pre-glued tiles. I was athletic and loved sports of all kinds. Most of my best friends in college were men. Today, I love to cook and take care of my boys. But I can also figure out how to fix the chain link in a toilet tank!  And I still love to paint!

 When my older son was little, I bought a kitchen set for him to play with. If the look on my husband’s face could kill!!! He couldn’t understand why I would buy such a toy for our son. I had to remind him that he was a great cook himself! When our boys were little, he helped to change diapers, bathe them and feed them. To me, that made him a greater man!

 I did a little research online to find out more about where the whole notion of pink and blue came from.  In the early 1900’s, all the big fashion magazines promoted the color pink as a great color for men. Being a shade of red, it was considered strong and masculine. Blue on the other hand, was thought to be cool and dainty, and as such, a great color for women!  

 A little know but very interesting fact about the color pink  dates back to the Nazis. Yes THE Nazis. During WWII, the Nazis captured millions of prisoners. In order to keep track of them all, they established a color coding system. We all know that the Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David on them at all times. It was sewn onto their prison uniforms in the camps.

A whole series of color coded inverted triangles, pointing downward, allowed camp officials to identify the “crimes” for which the prisoners were incarcerated. For instance, political prisoners wore red triangles, emigrants wore blue triangles, real criminals wore green triangles, Jehovah’s wore purple triangles, and “asocial women (lesbian) wore black triangles. And finally, the pink inverted triangles identified those the Nazis thought to be gay!!

 It wasn’t until as late as the 1980’s that pink for girls and blue for boys became a widely accepted norm in our society.  Except for the Nazi reference,  many interesting facts are included at the end of  Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue on a special “Did You Know? Page.  There is also a page full of discussion questions and activities for parents and teachers. 

 Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue is not a book I want parents and kids to read and then forget about.  One of the main lessons I want readers to come away with is that so many of our societal norms and ideals change over time.  There was a time when the woman’s place was in the kitchen.  But that’s not the case anymore.  There was a time when only men wore pants or only women took care of the kids.  There was also a time when wristwatches were considered too feminine and real men carried pocket watches. Today, men sport wrist watches not only as a fashion statement but also as a status symbol.  Gender roles are changing and so should our attitudes about what it means to be a man or a woman.

 Pink is indeed a beautiful color… and so is blue. But what is it about our society, that we have this need to put everything in nice little boxes?  Why do we have a need to label and categories everything! Why can’t we just let our kids be kids? Let them play explore and learn more about themselves and their world.  Isn’t our ultimate goal as parents to assure that our children grow up to be self confident, happy, secure and productive men and women?

 If we as adults become more open-minded, then a positive, unbiased attitude will automatically permeate into our kids. Maybe our children will be more tolerant and accepting of each other and see individual differences as something to celebrate… rather than ridicule. When kids are accepting, they are less likely to tease or bully. So let’s spread the message that toys are just toys… and Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue!!!!

Pink is Just a Color and so is Blue is available exclusively on