By Sam Kennedy
I had been working at Subway for a month when Monster’s University came out. While other kids at McDonald’s were getting toys of Mike and Sully, Subway wanted to give a more useful gift, and we had a variety of cute, different colored draw-string bags that went with every kid’s meal. While I know I loved the toys I used to get at McDonald’s, I appreciated the bags because it meant I wouldn’t have to listen to little kids complain that they didn’t get the toy they wanted. However, that’s not to say these bags didn’t come with their own set of issues. Actually, only one issue: the color. Although it was never the kids that complained about it.
Each of my coworkers had a different method for distributing bags. Some would simply grab a bag at random, and that was the bag they got. I had other coworkers though who were very adamant as to who got what bag. “Blue and green bags are for the boys, pink and purple bags are for the girls.” This made me bristle, especially when one of my coworkers would “correct” me in front of the customers. “You gave that little girl the wrong bag,” she would scold me. “Wrong bag” meaning a blue one, of course. It drove me nuts. But I didn’t know how to politely tell her that her insistence of assigning colors based on gender was… well, ridiculous.
First of all, what a waste of time and energy. I had a friend whose mother would throw a fit every time she saw her son in anything remotely pink. For some reason, whenever he wore a particular light-pink colored shirt, she would sigh, shake her head, and go, “I don’t know why you’re trying to make such a statement.” For some reason or another, she was convinced that his wearing pink was an act of rebellion and it genuinely stressed her out. My coworker getting worked up over whether or not kids got “the right-colored bag”, reminded me very much of my friend’s mom.
That being said, when I was young, I remember thinking that the boys who wore pink to school WERE cool. They didn’t care that it was a “girl’s” color. Pink is marketed towards girls with such ferocity that at one point when I was younger, I thought that was the normal color for a girl to like. The fact that my favorite color was green was something I prided myself on for not being like other girls. (I now recognize this is a very harmful way of thinking that insists women compete with one another but you live and learn).
Gendering little kids based off of color is a relatively new concept, especially the specific gender differences between colors. Until World War II, blue was viewed as a feminine color because it implied serenity and calmness, like the Virgin Mary. Whereas pink was viewed as masculine and strong because of how close it was to the color red. The insistence of gendering babies was meant to be an elitist act of privilege. It was basically a way for families to say, “Look at how much extra money we have. We can buy different outfits for our kids that let you know RIGHT NOW what gender they are.” This mentality has continued throughout the years, now affecting more than just clothing choices. This was evident in my summer job, as I wrangled with coworkers and customers about the silliness of this color-coding.
Rather than assuming what bag to give a child, I personally preferred to ask them what color bag they wanted. It was amazing how that question would just make their whole faces light up. Whenever I would ask them what color bag they wanted, they delighted in finally being able to make a decision all on their own.
One father came up to me while his kids were eating, clutching a pink bag in his hand. “Excuse me.” He said quietly to me. “Could we get a blue one instead, please?”
I was momentarily confused. “Oh? Sure! Did your son decide he wanted a different color?”
The father looked a little irritated. “No, I just think a blue bag would be better.” With that comment, it clicked, and I tried to not to sigh as I went behind the counter to snag a blue bag instead. This little boy had explicitly requested a pink bag, and here I was, exchanging it because it bothered his father. The father could tell I was judging him and he explained, “I just think he’ll like the blue one better.” I merely shrugged. At the end of the day, this kid really wasn’t going to care that he got a bag from subway. If the color pink bothered his dad that much, it was his own hang-up.
This was one of the tamer experiences I had when it came to dealing with these bags. One of the worst ones involved a mother who was enraged I wouldn’t just give in. She was on the phone while her child was peering up at me over the counter. I held up three bags for the little boy to choose between. “Do you want a purple, pink, or blue bag?”
The mother placed a hand over the mouth piece of her phone to tell me, “Give him the boy bag.”
I bit my tongue to refrain from asking her, “Which one is that one?” I pretended that I didn’t hear her, and waited patiently for the boy to answer. “Ummm…” He hummed, thoughtfully looking between the colors. She looked up from her phone and firmly told me, “I said give him the boy bag.”
I raised an eyebrow and tried my best to look confused, “I’m sorry…?”
“The boy bag.” She insisted again.
“I’m not quite sure what you-” I started to say when the boy finally spoke up and proclaimed, “Purple!” I smiled and happily gave it to him, glad I wouldn’t have to hear the woman say “boy bag” once more. She didn’t look happy, but didn’t say anything.
I would like to note that the majority of bag complaints came from parents with little boys. I didn’t have nearly as many parents get upset with their little girls being given a blue bag.
The marketing industry feeds off of this need for colors to determine, and separate, gender. Go to any toy store and you’ll notice almost immediately the pink aisle, filled with barbies and princesses and “girl toys”. Later on this week, we’ll be posting another article about how toys are marketed differently for boys and girls, and how color can play a large role in it!
Until then though, keep your eyes out for advertisements that are marketed specifically for one gender or another. Notice anything interesting about the choice of colors?
Comment below with thoughts or opinions or add your own “pink vs. blue” story!