By Niki Bhatia
Originally published on Advocate.com November 23 2012 5:00 AM ET
When my younger son was 3, he loved the color pink. I bought him a Dora the Explorer 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. Their father loved to cook, so, I asked, 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.
In many places, 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 open-minded and accepting should begin when they are three, not 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 some of the best chefs in the world 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 be confident, independent and strong women one day? So why limit them in play?
I don't have girls, but growing up I mowed the lawn, helped my father paint, and put in 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.
In researching for my book, I found out that in the early 1900's, all the big fashion magazines promoted the color pink as a great color for young boys. 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 was a great color for women! 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.
Pink is 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 need to label and categorize everything? Why can't we just let our kids be kids. Let them explore. 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 it will automatically flow into our kids. Then maybe our children will be more tolerant and accepting of each other. 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.
NIKI BHATIA is a mother and the author of Pink is Just a Color And So Is Blue, which is available exclusively on Amazon.com.