Ages 2-5Feminism

Wearing All The Colors


As those of us who are Otherwise Persuaded know, Hannukah came early this year.

Among other things, this allowed my kid to spend the Christmas holidays in New Orleans visiting her Christian cousins.  The little girl cousins are much younger than she is – five and three years old.  She enjoyed this visit a lot, but each night she would call me, ruefully.  “Monroe keeps saying I need a bow.”


“When we’re playing.  She keeps saying, You’re a girl, you need to wear a bow.  I say, but you don’t wear a bow.  And your mom doesn’t wear a bow.  And your sister doesn’t wear a bow.”

“What does she says then?”

“She says, you need a bow.

I laugh.  “She just started pre-school, right?”


“Yeah.  That’s when they get it.  Don’t you remember?  With you it was pink.  Every day with the pink.”

The kid was silent.  Then she said, “I forgot all about that.”

We put my kid in pre-school when she was about Monroe’s age – Dr. Skull had stayed home with her until then.

It was a religious pre-school, because those were the only affordable ones in our little Arkansas town.  Just after school began, she started with the questions about toys and jobs: “Is this a girl-toy or a boy-toy?”  “Girls can be firemen, right?”

“Boy toys?” I said.  “What do you mean? There’s no such thing as boy toys or girl toys.”

“Yes, there are,” she insisted.  “Trucks are boy toys.  Dakota says so.  Balls are boy toys.   Blocks are boy toys.  And balls. And dinosaurs,” she added, a little less certainly.  “Can’t I play with dinosaurs?”

“Good God,” I said.  “Of course you can play with dinosaurs.”

“Dakota says dinosaurs are boy toys.”

“Well, Dakota is wrong.”  I was making dinner.  I looked at her, standing playing with bread dough at her tiny red wooden worktable, the one her father and I built for her from a kit when she was five months old.  Whenever I made bread, I gave her a fistful of dough to play with.  She made it into a tar pit, and trapped her dinosaurs in it.  Spike, our dog, a goofy terrier mix, sat intently by the table, waiting to see if some scrap of tar pit just might fall off.

Spike 2

“What does the teacher say?” I asked.

“She says don’t fight.”  The kid ran two of the dinosaurs into the tar pit at once.  They roared ferociously.

Then there was the color issue.  Purple had been her favorite color since she started knowing what colors were.  But one day when I picked her up from pre-school she announced that pink was her favorite color now.

Well, really it went like this:

“What’s your favorite color?” she demanded.

“Oh,” I said “Blue, mostly.  I like gray, too, though.  And green sometimes.  But I guess blue.  What’s yours?”

“Pink,” she said flatly.

“Oh, yeah?” I glance at her in the rear-view mirror.  We are driving to the Harps.  “I thought you liked purple.”

“No.  I like pink.”

I considered this.  “Okay.  What kind of pink?  Bright pink or light pink?”

“Girls like pink.  Purple is a boy’s color.”

Then, about a week after this, at the first parent-teacher conference, her teacher, a child of about twenty-two, shiny blonde, dressed in white and shell-pink, told us that the kid learned well, that she had some trouble with skipping (who knew they graded on skipping?), and that she was working hard on her problems.

The teacher then smiled sweetly and said that the kid was “much happier” on the days when she was wearing pink and had bows in her hair.

“Huh,” I said.  “Really.”

“Yes.  We’ve all noticed it.”

In that classroom, girls liked pink.

And – a connected problem – boys could want any job when they grew up – fireman, doctor, soldier, farmer, astronaut, auto mechanic, whatever.  Boys could play with any toys.

Girls had to want to be mothers.  Or, just possibly, pre-school teachers.

Girls played with dolls or the kitchen corner. And Barbies.

Girls did gymnastics or the “Spirit Squad,” which seems to be a kind of dance team (spangled leotards, fishnet hose, high heels and heavy make-up – for four years olds).  They did not do what the kid did, which was Aikido.

And girls had to like pink.

The kid said she wanted to wear pink because she liked pink, because pink was her favorite color, because she loved pink.

I didn’t argue with her.  She was getting pushed around enough at school.  But we kept having the same conversation over and over:

“What’s your favorite color?” the kid insisted.

I repressed a sigh.  “I have a lot of colors I like.  Gray.  Green.  Blue.  I like blue a lot.  I like green.  Black is a really good color too.”  Then, because I knew I had to, or we’d be doing this all night: “What’s your favorite color?”

“Pink,” she said furiously.  “I LIKE PINK.”

Two or three times a week, we had this conversation.

Once or twice, I tried to have the enlightened liberal parent dialogue with her: “You know,” I said.  “It isn’t true that certain colors are boy colors and certain colors are girl colors.  Some people believe that, but those people are wrong.  Yap yap yap blar blar blar  you do get what I’m saying right?  And who are you going to believe, some four year old git in your pre-school class, or me?  Didn’t you notice I have a Ph.D.?”

“Yes,” she said.  “But I LIKE PINK.”


Finally, I pulled from that pre-school and moved her to a (much more expensive) Montessori school.

Her teacher was still very young, and still a far-right Fundamentalist.  Her fellow students still nearly all came from far-right, fundamentalist homes —but still, things got better; because although there were fundamentalist families, there were also Muslim families, and Jewish families, and Indian families.  And there was also the head of school, a woman in her sixties who spent every summer in Alaska studying the behavior of Kodiak bears in the wild.  And here the teachers taught about all the jobs people did, bringing in parents doing those jobs, parents who had jobs like doctors and police officers and soldiers, and these were parents of both genders and all races and religions.

And before winter break my kid told the kindergarten about Hanukkah.  The Muslim kids told about Eid.  The Christian kids told about Christmas.  Everyone sang everyone’s songs.  They all did art about all these holidays.

And the kid came home and said to me, “I like all the colors.  All the colors are good.”

“Yeah,” I said back.  “Me, too.  Colors are good.”




Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. Wait, purple is a boys colour?
    It’s one of the few girls colours here, together with pink and interestingly turquois.
    And yes, it definitely started when my oldest started kindergarten. Before I had bought all kinds of stuff. OK, that’s not true. I bought boys clothes because all the rest of the world thought it was amazingly original to buy pink stuff* and everybody was happy. I’m a rather un-pink person. I own a few things in brigh rhaspberry pink but certainly no light piggy pink. So, she started to prefer the pink items and started to refuse wearing the boy-coded stuff. And not only boy coded stuff. I remember when she refused to wear grey leggins which had some fucking lace on them.
    “Grey is for boys. Girls mustn’t wear grey!”
    That day reason triumphed.
    Me: “Is mummy a girl?”
    Kid: “Yes”
    Me: “Is this mummy’s wardrobe?”
    Kid: “Yes”
    So I started pulling out grey stuff (uhm, I don’t have lots of grey stuff. I’m also an un-grey person)
    “So, if mummy is a girl, and these are mummy’s things, can girls wear grey?”
    Kid: “Yes!!!”
    She actually loved those leggins, as does her little sister.
    Fortunately our kindergarten is really cool. they have a big dress-up box and all kids are allowed to wear everything and nobody is allowed to shame the boy in the princess dress.
    They also have cuddly dolls that are for all children (and those dolls are anatomically correct!) and lots of building material (my absolute favourites are Magformers. A really cool, but fuck expensive toy).
    The problem was other children. I swear, as soon as I heard “Alex said…” I started to brace myself for some renewed stupid.
    “Alex said that girls can’t like Star Wars!” “Alex said that boys are allowed more than girls” “Alex said…”
    I think at one point I might have use inappropriate language as to what Alex said…

    Both kids are trying the “what’s your favourite colour” routine, too, trying to make me admit that Yes, it’s pink…
    *Which is another problem: you can’t just buy “kids stuff”, it’s either for boys or girls so you have to be careful not to send out the message that girl stuff is inferior to boy stuff

  2. Girls were also not allowed on the slide or the jungle gym at that pre-school. My kid says she climbed up on the slide the first day and the boys told her to get off, that slides were not for girls: they were boy toys.

    The teachers did not enforce this rule — the little boys did — but OTOH the teachers did not *stop* the little boys from enforcing it.

  3. I still remember when I was 4 or 5 at Montessori and I told a little boy that he couldn’t play with dolls because they were girl toys. After correcting me, the teacher had a discussion with my mother and told her she had to buy me a copy of the Free to Be You and Me tape, which she did. Best Montessori advice ever.

  4. I wear almost exclusively black and grey (hey, my hair is purple and I don’t want to clash with it, also I live in New York and we don’t really do colors), but yeah, my three year-old daughter has a terrible case of PINK. We get a lot of hand-me-downs and I do my best to pull out the nice green/orange/grey/brown/blue things, but the clothes she *wants* to wear are pink. The winter boots she chose at the store, pink. Her favorite hat, pink. Her favorite My Little Pony, Pinkie Pie. Once in a blue moon she can be persuaded to wear something green or orange, as long as it is sufficiently sparkly.

    I also have a 6 year-old son whose favorite color is purple (and he does get teased for wearing a “girl’s coat” – which it is, because the boys’ section of Target does not have anything purple in it), so I guess on the whole we strike a pretty good balance in the Everybody Can Wear All The Colors department, as long as those colors are pink and purple.

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