I bought my daughter a snow shovel recently. She loves playing with the real one even though it’s taller than she is by at least a foot, and since she’s young enough to think it’s fun, why the heck wouldn’t I put her to work? Except I had to face the annoying decision of whether or not to buy her the pink one.
If she had been with me, I obviously would have asked if she wanted the pink or blue one, but on this shopping trip, I’d mercifully gotten out of the house by myself. She used to hate all things pink, which made it easier, but now she’s come around to where she likes it but it isn’t necessarily her super favorite color. When I have to make the decision for her, I start overthinking. Buying the pink shovel sends the message that girls want to do the same things boys do. But it also somewhat reinforces the notion that things haveto be pink for girl to be interested in them. Right or wrong, the people who design and buy products will look at sales numbers and largely assume that pink items are being bought for girls, while blue or “gender-neutral” versions of the same items are being bought mostly for boys and probably for some girls too.
It gets even more frustrating when the same toys are priced differently depending on what color you buy (which fortunately wasn’t the case with the shovels). A few years ago I got involved in a minor tussle in Groupthink at that other ladyblog over computer-generated pricing differences between virtually identical block sets that came in pink or primary color versions. (Sadly, the thread can’t be found by the Googles.) The pink version not only came with a slightly fewer pieces, it wasn’t discounted nearly as heavily as the other. While many attributed this to sexism at Amazon, a closer look showed that since the items were listed separately instead of as alternate versions of the same product, they were being priced differently because of how they sold. The primary version was much higher on the best-seller list (but still not terribly high), so it was likely discounted more in the hopes that parents searching specifically for that set would not only choose to buy it at Amazon since it undercut the competition, they’d buy other toys there as well. It was acting as a loss leader. Sales on the pink set were abysmal, so there was no point in discounting it; it wasn’t as likely to draw people in. This wasn’t sexism on the part of Amazon. If any sexism was involved, it was customers being less likely to buy blocks for girls, being less likely to buy pink blocks if a boy and girl were sharing them (or if the dad didn’t want to play with pink, or in case the girl later might get a little brother!), or being less likely to buy pink blocks for boys. Coincidentally, as of Cyber Monday a similar set is priced lower in pink (ranked #608 in Toys & Games) than primary colors (#163). Maybe it sells so well that the computer doesn’t have to discount it as much to bring in sales? Retail pricing has all kinds of complicated peaks and valleys.
In the end, I decided to get the pink shovel. She loves it, though I still don’t think she particularly cares what color it is. In the end, I decided I care more about sending the message that girls want this sort of item than I care about it having to be fucking pink.