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Pink stinks

Katrin Schlusen / db
April 23, 2013

Children's toys often clearly target either boys or girls - in that case, toymakers often favour the color pink. The "Pinkstinks" campaign fears old stereotypes are on the rise.

girl in pink dress and flowers : Simon Burt/PA Wire URN:15846229
Image: picture-alliance/empics

"This is the pink empire," bookseller Anna Schulte says and points to a shelf behind her at Cologne's Mayersche bookstore, laden with products in all shades of pink: tiny suitcases, scrapbooks, drinking bottles, books, muffin pans, jewelry boxes, pens and much, much more.

Each product is decorated with the image of an illustrated figure: Princess Lillifee, much beloved by little girls in Germany up to the age of eight.

A girl playing with a paper castle of Lillifee. Author: Victoria Dannemann.
German girls adore LilifeeImage: DW/Dannemann

Adults often buy these products as an additional small present, or else children choose them, Anna Schulte says. She declines to say how often pink Princess Lillifee goes over the counter at one of the city's largest bookstores every day, just that it is "really often." Close to the regal pink shelves, Spiegelburg lures boys with products emblazoned with a pirate theme. Blue is the color of choice.

Once a color for boys

Pink for girls and blue for boys - in Germany, this distribution of colors is by no means traditional. During the era of Emperor Wilhelm (1879-1888), the allocation of colors was the exact opposite, says gender researcher Stevie Schmiedel of the Pinkstinks organization. The Prussian military uniforms were dyed royal red and thus pink was a color reserved for boys. In the 1930s, US textile firms established the present trend when they began to offer girls dresses in pink and boys clothing in light blue.

Pinkstinks is a Hamburg-based association that targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. Girls should be allowed to be different from "pink." Stevie Schmiedel criticizes that figures like Princess Lillifee are delicate and slender, suggesting that this is what girls should be. "She feeds the horses, but she herself never eats anything," Schmiedel says. "Of course, there are doctor and pilot Barbie dolls - but they are not the ones that sell."

Old photo, children dancing and holding hands Foto, um 1914.
In 1914, pink was a color for boysImage: picture-alliance/akg-images

Bookseller Anna Schulte has an explanation for the surge of the color pink in toys: "Today, girls are allowed to be girls and show it, too." In contrast to the 1980s, it is socially acceptable again, she says.

Pinkstinks fights against role stereotypes. They say that producers of children's toys have discovered even the youngest children as a target group. "Color-coding facilitates consumption," Stevie Schmiedel says, adding it is a global phenomenon that is by no means limited to Germany or Europe. "We receive mail from Argentina and Brazil."

Damaging messages

But she sees a stationery collection for girls as young as eight year old that accompanies the TV casting show Germany's Next Top Model (GNTM) as particularly perfidious. The show features a jury that includes German fashion model Heidi Klum judging young women competing for a contract as a fashion model.

The show began in 2006. "In 2006, 70 percent of girls in Germany thought they were pretty," Schmiedel quotes a study by Bauer Media. In 2012, only 47 percent of girls "felt they were not too fat," according to a similar study by the University of Bielefeld commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO.) Schmiedel says that proves TV shows like GNTM insinuate to young female viewers that they should look like the candidates in the show - who are regularly admonished by the jury that they ought to wear a size 2.

fashion models (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for IMG)
GNTM is a bad influence, critics sayImage: Getty Images

The Pinkstinks group - 30 percent are men - would like to see the world of children's toys become more versatile. Schmiedel is convinced: girls should have more access to toys that foster spatial thinking and boys should be able to play with dolls. She says many children are raised as if defined role patterns existed, a notion challenged by other parents.

At the Mayersche bookstore in downtown Cologne, Anna Schulte says the adult world appears to be separated into pink and blue, too. Just a few steps from Princess Lillieffe's "pink empire," there's a huge display of romance novels. Many of the books covers are a shade of pink.

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