From Diagon Alley to Panem, girls in fantasy world ‘choose’ pink

Besides finishing the Harry Potter series this summer, I got to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, finally completing The Hunger Games trilogy.

catching-fire-book-cover

I am a huge fan of this series. Panem remains the only magical world I have read about or seen on TV or in the movies where gender equality exists. If you know of another one, please tell me. I am not referring to a world where a female protagonist fights against or overcomes sexism. I am referring to a world where there is no sexism.

In Panem, females and males are in power positions. Both genders are, consistently, commanders of armies, directors of films, murderers, heroes, doctors, victims, and presidents. Males and females can be weak or strong, compassionate or cruel, leaders or followers. Characters in Panem are portrayed as complex individuals with conflict and contradiction just like real humans.

So here’s the only passage, the only passage, in the whole trilogy where I found stereotypical sexism from the year 2013 infecting Panem. Both women and men in Panem wear make-up. Vanity depends on profession and geography, not gender, so it’s not the make-up that bugged me here.

But its Posy, Gale’s five-year-old sister who helps the most. She scoots along the bench to Octavia and touches her skin with a tentative finger. “You’re green. Are you sick?”

 

“It’s a fashion thing, Posy, like wearing lipstick,” I say.

 

“It’s meant to be pretty,” whispers Octavia, and I can see the tears threatening to spill over her lashes.

 

Posy considers this and says matter-of-factly, “I think you’d be pretty in any color.”

 

The tiniest of smiles forms on Octavia’s lips. “Thank you.”

 

“If you really want to impress Posy, you’ll have to dye yourself bright pink,” says Gale, thumping his tray down beside me. “That’s her favorite color.”

When I read that section, I groaned. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with one little girl among many declaring pink is her favorite color.  But, in 2013, pink has become such a symbol of the way marketers limit diversity, limit girls, and gender segregate toys and products for kids. How many colors are there in the world? How many “choices”  do little girls get? it bummed me out to see a four year old girl, the only one in the series I remember, get her love for pink affirmed.

I have many complaints about gender stereotyping in Harry Potter, but one of the scenes that really got under my skin is about pink. The Weasley twins’s magical store, Weasley ‘s Wizard Wheezes, is so cool and creative, but it turns out to be as sexist and gender segregated as as any Target. Here’s Fred Weasley doing some marketing:

“Haven’t you girls found our special WonderWitch products yet,” asked Fred. “Follow me, ladies….”

 

Near the window was an array of violently pink products around which a cluster of excited girls was giggling enthusiastically.

 

What’s the problem with this? Just a couple days ago, when I posted about sexism and gender stereotypes at the shoe store, Stride Rite, I received hundreds of comments like this one:

Normal boys will NOT wear pink…It’s just a fact of nature.

 

I remind you once again, that it’s not. Pink was first a “boy” color, a version of red which symbolized strength. Blue was a “girl” color, associated with the Virgin Mary. That’s why in the early Disney movies, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland all wore blue.

How many times, when challenging gender stereotypes, do we hear the argument that these limits placed on girls are just natural?

In 2013, when children and adults see, again and again, that girls in fantasy world, whether its books, TV, movies, or toys, consistently “choose” pink, it appears to validate misconceptions like the commenter’s above. And if girls “naturally” prefer pink, it follows that they are naturally drawn to all those pink things, whether its princesses, toys about make-up, shopping, or fashion.

Of course, what the persistence of pink in the fantasy world really shows, is that writers, directors, and producers all live in and are influenced by the sexist real world. That is why, obviously, that the fantasy world, a world that should have limitless possibilities, where anything is possible, often turns out to be as sexist as the real one. We ought to be showing kids something more imaginative.

 

 

10 thoughts on “From Diagon Alley to Panem, girls in fantasy world ‘choose’ pink

  1. “If you know of another one, please tell me.”

    Bodacious Space Pirates (26 episodes)

    Fairy Tail (ongoing) – you might be a little bothered by the cleavage of the female characters, but the world is as gender equal as can be. The one instance a character tells another “you shouldn`t go around picking fights with girls” the answer is loud and clear “girls and boys has nothing to do with it”, and it`s the one time I remember something like that is even mentioned. The number of character male and female is almost equal as well, among the main characters we have: female – Lucy, Erza, Wendy, Charlie, male – Natsu, Gray, Happy.

    Fullmetal Alchemist brotherhood (51 episodes) – that`s for when your daughters are somewhat older though.

    12 kingdoms (39 episodes) – Japan, where the main character comes from, is sexist, but the 12 kingdoms are not.

    Seirei no Moribito or guardian of the sacred spirit (24 episodes) – the world has sexism in it that varies with the place, but the story has nothing to do with overcoming sexism, it`s about a woman trying to protect a boy’s life ever since his father (the king) ordered his death.

  2. A little off topic, but I thought you’d like to know. My 5YO boy wanted to bake heart-shaped gingerbread for his dad for fathers’ day and even though I had some green icing I wanted to use up, he insisted on making pink for them “because pink is a very loving colour”. He’s obviously absorbed some of the modern marketing messages surrounding pink, but not the bit that says he’s not supposed to like it!

  3. Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic books have gender equality. At least the society in which the story takes place. (In some of the later books, they travel to other societies where there’s institutional sexism.) There are some sexists, IIRC, because not everyone is perfect, but it’s really lovely for the most part. Hell, there are gay and bisexual characters and it’s *not a big deal.*

    I am in the deep minority among her fans in that I love these books better than I love the Tortall books. I love them all, mind you, but I prefer Circle of Magic.

    This is opposed to Tortall where Alanna and Kel overcome sexism. In the Bekka Cooper books, though, which take place in earlier Tortall, the gender situation is much closer to equitable.

    • Hi akichtenwitch,

      Thanks for this comment. I am a fan of Tamora Pierce, she has great characters and female protagonists, but YES, everything I’ve read shows her characters fighting against sexism. A totally valid fight, and important one, but I, at this point, and sick of it. I am sick of seeing girls dress as boys to be heroes. I read my 3 year old daughter a book about where girls aren’t allowed to be a glass blowers because they’re girls. Of course, she overcomes that, but what does a three year old have to hear about these limits? Ehy can’t she just see girls doing cool stuff? And what does it mean to “dress as a boy” anyway? Again, these stories have their place but I’m over it right now.

      Margot

      • Yes! I’m sick of this, too. It’s overdone. Can’t we just see a story in which a girl is a hero in a “traditionally male” way without her actually impersonating a male and nobody making a big deal of her gender?

          • Cool! I’m writing a screenplay (although not for kids or fantasy). Originally I was going to do a male protagonist but I realized it wouldn’t change the story at all if my protagonist is female. So changed it.

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