Tuesday 22 April 2008

Polly Toynbee on Girlification

Polly Toynbee recently gnashed her teeth over Girlification's triumph over Feminism. The Toynbee rant ranged from glass ceiling stuff to "the pink disease is far worse than it was 20 years ago".

Mention of the "pink disease" pricked up my ever-vigilant ears as I'd only recently contributed to a discussion about pink book covers (it was about the highly pink cover of my friend Fiona Dunbar's book Pink Chameleon) at The Bookwitch blog where Ann Giles (who is no witch)wrote:
I’d like to know if they sell more books with pink or lilac covers (glitter optional) because they are pink or lilac, or if the pink and lilac puts more prospective buyers off? Not all girls love pink and lilac. Lots of parents are allergic to pink and lilac, after years of nothing but. (from Think Pink)
I commented that a clever book like Pink Chameleon - which re-imagines a high tech fashion future - should have a sticker on the cover, warning: "Smart Inside".

Toynbee had some pretty shocking back-up research for the girlification rant:
A report from the American Psychological Association shows how sexualisation harms girls - and it's getting worse, more of it and more extreme. One study showed how anxiety about appearance harms brain function: girls were asked to try on a swimsuit or a sweater in a private dressing room, supposedly to give their opinion. While waiting they were asked to do a maths test. The girls given swimsuits did much worse than those in sweaters, as thinking about their bodies, mostly negatively, undermined their intellectual self-confidence.

At the end of the day, ridiculing girliness is negative in its own right, isn't it?

As the mother of a girl who is just emerging from a strong anti-pink phase and entering a more fashion conscious age, I say: let's not suck the fun out of being a girl. What will really empower a girl is permission to be whoever they want to be.

P.S. The second book in Fiona's Pink Chameleon series is Blue Gene Baby - with a BLUE cover.


  1. I'm not sure how indicative that study is. Anxiety about appearance would indeed harm brain functions, not just about math, but about any kind of capability, if one is consumed by it. But it's not just psychological manifestation (mind), it's anthropological (culture). The anxiety does not come from being girly alone, however. Did they, for instance, perform the same test on boys? How old were the girls? Do they devour fashion magazines? What do they watch on tv? Do they come from a matriarchal or patriarchal society? You can imagine the difference in results across borders and sociagraphics.

    I guess I'm pretty sensitive about any judgment placed on what it means to be a girl. It should be empowering to be one, pink and ruffles and all. Or black nailpolish and scruffy jeans. Girly can mean so many things and wear many different outfits.

  2. Did you catch my follow-up blog in the Guardian?


    Clearly pink makes people have an opinion. And all because Fiona worried about her book.

  3. >girly can mean so many things and wear many different outfits

    excellent point, candice - and girliness should not equate to airheadedness in the same way that a boy can be a jock and still love reading (like my son, actually)

    and bookwitch, yes your piece in the guardian was fascinating. your informal study was more food for thought: "I put my gut feeling - that pink book covers don't sell purely because they are pink - to the test with a group of children aged eight and nine. Blue and white books were universally popular. Nobody liked the green classic. The boys loved the brown, classic looking adventure book, but at the sight of the pink book the girls were all excited, and the boys shook their heads in disgust."

  4. Not sure about pink, my daughter moved onto purple very quickly. hmmm

  5. hey jon, congratulations on getting an agent! for some reason, your blog refuses to let me congratulate me there ... or comment. so hey, here are my good wishes. me happy for you!

  6. I wonder if the colour pink isn't the issue here, it's the self image being sold to young girls (actually, being sold to all of us). There's an article (today's Metro, well I had to read something on the way to work) which brings up the Size Zero thing, and how girls and young women are aspiring to this size, even though many of them don't quite know what it is, exactly. In the same paper there's a report of a eating disorders specialist having died (implied through organ failure) as she weighed only 30kg.
    On the pink issue, my daughters only question on our recent visit to a castle was why there wasn't any pink armour.

  7. I question the validity of comparing girlishness with the sexualization of young girls. I think young girls gravitate toward pink and princesses and tiaras to define themselves as not a boy and by 8 or 9 they grow out of it because they recognise its childishness. With my daughter the pink phase was just that .. a phase. Far more damaging I feel is the imposition of fashion industry ideals for what a woman or girl should look like. The Bratz dolls are foul. Thongs for 7-year-olds are criminal. Suggestive writing across an 8-year-old's jogging pants is disgusting. But to compare that with whether or not a book-cover should be pink makes a joke of a serious issue.
    I'm the opposite of princessy but I would never have denied my daughter her brief fling with all that glitters and is pink.


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