Pink Is For…

There’s a great story rocketing around the interwebs. A little boy broke his wrist, and the doctor pointed to various kids’ casts. What color did the little boy want?

“Pink,” he said.

The doctor laughed. “Boys don’t wear pink!” he explained.

The boy looked him in the eye. “There’s no boy colors or girl colors!” he said. “I want pink. It’s for breast cancer awareness!”

I thought of that story Friday, when I was in Learning Express. I’d just bought a gift (teething giraffe, indeterminate color) for Ned Batlin’s 3-week-old son Teddy.

Is there anything wrong with this...

Is there anything wrong with this…

An older man — I assume the owner — was waiting on a little boy in front of me. He asked what color something the boy wanted. “Pink?” the man chuckled. “Or maybe blue?”

The boy chose green. I chose to shut my mouth.

But I was upset, and a couple of hours later I went back. I quietly said to the man, “I heard something today you might not even be aware of. I’m telling you because it’s about your business.”

I explained what I’d heard. “It was a joke,” the owner replied.

“What’s the joke?” I asked. “That boys can never like pink?”

He could not explain the hilarity. But he was pretty serious about not wanting to hear what I said.

I told him the “pink cast” story. He said it had nothing to do with him.

...or this?

…or this?

I said that I help run a youth group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. One topic that comes up often is gender stereotyping. From a very early age, kids feel pressured to conform to “social norms.” Pink-for-girls-and-blue-for-boys is only one of many.

Things are changing, of course. Male sports teams at all levels — from pros and college down through Staples — proudly wear pink. The reason is to raise awareness (and funds) for breast cancer awareness, but a side effect is demolishing the notion that “pink is for girls” (or, in jock-talk, “sissies”).

Fortunately these days, most adults realize the dangers of stereotyping children — whether by colors, toys, activities or anything else.

The Learning Express man is not one of them. In fact, he was adamant. “I’m not going to stop making jokes just because of what you say,” he declared.

That’s his right.

Just as it’s my right to buy my toys somewhere else. Someplace that exhibits not only toys on a shelf, but also awareness of the importance of helping children feel comfortably un-stereotyped in a big, wide, wonderful world.

Staples soccer players Ethan Bradeen (left) and Noah Schwaeber support breast cancer awareness -- and proudly sport pink.

Staples soccer players Ethan Bradeen (left) and Noah Schwaeber support breast cancer awareness — and proudly sport pink.

32 responses to “Pink Is For…

  1. Lynnley Browning

    Fantastic post. Our Learning Express merchant does not appear to be kind or expansive in his thinking. He might take notice of young boys around this town — jocks, theater types, all types — wearing all matter of pink, from khaki-style shorts and Nike Elite socks to rubber bracelets and polo shirts. Or, minus the visual cues, he might simply consider the idea that colors don’t have gender. News flash: This young generation is a lot more sophisticated in its thinking than is the prior one.

  2. I guess babies should all wear white and have little tee shirts that say, I’m a boy or I’m a girl…wear red ribbons in their hair or baseball hats.. because gender is different than sexuality, no? Babies all look alike up until they’re two and when people assume your child is a different gender, it makes a sensitive parent more so. I know because it happened with all of my kids. I just read an old article from 1918 where it was declared pink is for boys, blue is for girls and that the opposite idea only came from the poem “little boy blue”. Interesting stuff!! But the writer goes on to say.. blend both colors. We can have a huge conversation about how boys were dressed as little girls, especially for photographs, until the 20s. I love you, Dan, but making a judgement about someone after a quick conversation they weren’t expecting that effects their livelihood is a pretty drastic thing. And I don’t think most adults understand the dangers of stereotyping.. educate us?

  3. Jim Wheeler

    Good for you, Dan. Let’s hope he will get the message when his business begins to fall off.

  4. Jill Greenberg

    I read in Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein that during the Victorian era or before pink was considered a man’s color. Just goes to remind us that such silliness is culturally driven and we can change the rules whenever we want. Color holds no fixed truths only that which we impose upon it. LIke so many aspects of our interactions with people, it is always your /our choice to impose absurd values and rules.

  5. Thanks for going back, Dan, and for having an adult conversation with this guy. That’s the message that all of us need to hear. There’s a lot of shouting going on with few people actually listening, and hopefully your approach will lead the merchant to rethink his position.

  6. Ronald Wimer

    I can’t imagine Dina Berger or Helene Kurtz, of the Age of Reason, steering a boy away from pink. That’s why I love their store.

  7. Boycott time! I didn’t like their attitudes anyway. Neither knowledgeable nor helpful.

    Sent from my iPad

  8. Armelle Daniels

    Great post Dan. In my strong belief that we should “attack issues, not people,” I wouldn’t throw the stone on the old man, who is from an older generation raised so differently, but the issue you are mentioning is for sure one to be tackled. It is up to us, the more progressive ones, to show the “better” way. I appreciate you bringing this up Dan. BTW my husband wears pink, and I find that very sexy!

  9. Tracy Flood

    I haven’t shopped there in ten years. I just don’t like his style.

  10. Bobbi Essagof

    Not the nicest treatment of customers since my kids were little when they opened. Maybe this will get them to adjust their attitude but I doubt it. It’s just who they are. I buy my toys at Age of Reason. They are gems and have always treated everybody the way people should be treated in any situation!
    Sorry to have missed the PARTY. It looked great. Next year????

  11. Honestly, never liked that guy and have always made a point of shopping elsewhere. Would he mock little girls who prefer to wear camouflage cargo shorts instead of little pink tutus? Tell a girl she can’t buy a toy car but instead a fluffy pink teddy bear? How many of those colored rubber band loom sets is he selling to boys? Good for you, Dan, for going back and having a quiet – albeit unappreciated – word with him. Some people just can’t hear over the noise of their own biases.

  12. Instead of being rude, or biased.. maybe the guy was just thinking he was being funny. We would boycott him for this? Wait for his business to fall off? Libel him? What about the jobs of the people who work there? Has someone figured out a way to walk in his shoes? If so.. show me.

    • Mary, he did think he was being funny – he said so. But when I asked him to explain what was “funny,” he simply refused to. He couldn’t explain what the “joke” was.

      I went in to talk to him because I thought I had a way for him to improve his business — that, without realizing it, he was making some little kids (and their parents) feel uncomfortable. I thought, as a toy store owner, he’d know that every child is different; that every one has a right to grow up to follow their own interests, and be whoever they want to be. Unfortunately, he had no interest in hearing any of that. As I said, that’s his right — and it’s my right to now take my business elsewhere. I never asked anyone else to do the same.

      • Good for you, Dan. No longer a Westporter but a life long lover of Westport and this issue is everywhere and needs standing up to on a grass roots level one person at at time. People’s attitudes and behaviors come back to bite or bless them eventually and even though he may not fully understand, perhaps you helped him learn and you were kind and educational, I’m sure. And if he has learned something, I’m sure many Westporters will give him more opportunities for their business. Look at Paula Deen — I don’t think she was malicious but from a different era with ingrained attitudes she may not even been aware of which were so offensive and wrong but now she knows and man,what a lesson she had to learn and I do believe she’ll be given a second chance.

      • Dan, You have WAYYYYY too much time on your hands. Why not find a hobby apart from bashing local business owners on an affluent gold coast city’s blog that is only read by housewives who have also, WAYYYYYY too much time on their hands?

        • Rick Leonard

          Mike, you obviously have little to no understanding of what Dan’s blog is all about and who reads it. 06880 has tens of thousands of readers each day that span the full spectrum of Westport residents, never mind those living in other states and internationally. Many of these readers not only enjoy what Dan writes about but also engage in an active and vigorous discussion on a full range of topics, thanks to the comments section. This dialogue and outlet for opinions, pro and con, helps make Westport a more interesting town in which to live. In a changing media world, 06880 provides a timely and valued resource that newspapers, TV news and even radio no longer touch. By the way, we’ve had our own less than desirable experiences with this business owner. Thanks to 06880, those who deserve to be bashed can be bashed.

  13. Also the entire National Football team, including the coaches, wore pink last season for several games (socks, wrist cuffs, trim on uniforms, etc.) for breast cancer awareness. They did not seem at all uncomfortable, and as you say, why should they? Thank you for this great story.

  14. Armelle Daniels

    And the Everton of America teams wear pink jersey for half their games! (though they are changing next year)

  15. Karl Decker asked me to post this for him — he could not access the “comments” section this morning:

    You were right to speak to the man at the Learning Experience. Silence merely reinforces. And who knows. You did leave him something that will wander about in his mind–a real learning experience for him, maybe. And by the way, did not the expression “to be in the pink” at turn of century mean to be in the best of health? right on top of things? feeling great? — Karl Decker

  16. betsy pollak

    People have been complaining about the owner of Learning Express for at least 15 years, that I know of, yet his business is still here, who knows… He seems driven by only one thing, money… The Age of Reason is the place to go if you want to support a local shop that supports us back 🙂

  17. Michael Calise

    I call it light red

  18. Lori Andrews

    I am SO proud of you, Dan! And proud that you did not remain silent about an issue that profoundly affects children. I am also overjoyed to see the number of positive responses to this blog entry. I am a professor at NCC and also work with an LGBT youth group, I can assure everyone that 99.9% of kids under the age of 20 loathe attempts at gender division. They see gender as something on a spectrum, with each person choosing where they fall on the spectrum each day. They point out, very rightly, that gender is fluid and to force it into a specific box, be it blue or pink, is psychologically unhealthy. And finally, if Learning Express loses some business because of this blog, and it will lose mine, then perhaps it will force the gentleman who Dan spoke to to think about how his words affect others. And that’s how the world becomes a better place… person at a time.

  19. David Marks

    I apologize if my comment on colors offended you or any of your readers in any way. I have never intentionally stereotyped anyone in the past and I will make certain to not stereotype people or colors they prefer in the future. I encourage you to come in to the store so we can discuss this further. Furthermore, I would like to reiterate that I was just trying to be funny, never ever did I mean to make any remarks that could be taken as disparaging to any gender!

    David Marks
    Learning Express

  20. Brooke Batchelor

    I left Westport 11 years ago – and still miss it (hence my subscription to this wonderful blog). When I lived in Westport I was a mother of 3 children, all under the age of 9. I well remember this toy store, but not for good reasons. I found the owner to be unpleasant, disinterested, and an all-round boor. I decided after 2-3 experiences that regardless of the store’s excellent selection I would take my business elsewhere. Funny how so many years later he still is unchanged.

  21. K.G. Johnson

    This reminds me of President Obama’s upbeat finale to his riff on the Trayvon Martin situation, that each succeeding generation does better. That point is – QED – equally valid here. It was a kindness to attempt to make the dinosaur aware of this blind spot (from the prior comments, just one of many: why, again, is that store still in business?) Perhaps your remarks that day led the sales rep. (possibly David Marks, above?) to your blog where he has now discovered … a magic mirror? Intimations of extinction? And, hooray to Mr. Decker: 50 years later, still a wonderful teacher!

  22. Bart Shuldman

    Along time ago my father told me that ‘hate’ was a 4 letter word. He did that after showing me a picture of 22 family members who all eventually died in Europe. You know the story. The picture was the true outcome of hate.

    But hate has two sides. When this guy shows his bias the feeling of retaliation can only build more ‘hate’. In the opposite direction. His employees get hurt, his merchants, etc. Was anything truly solved or more issues generated.

    Dan, great job talking to him. And that is what we need to do-talk. But just my opinion, we have to learn that others have different feelings. Different biases. Whether generational, place of birth or upbringing or environment. And that talking is great. But turning this into the potential bad situation will never solve it. It will only continue to drive a gap.

  23. Oy.. I have been to the Learning Express DOZENS of times over the years, having four kids and ALL their birthday parties and friends birthday parties. I have never once been treated with anything other than a friendly, and businesslike demeanor. They have a great selection, good quality and they wrap beautifully too. I have even gotten into discussions about the latest thing.. he demonstrates stuff at the counter. I was also there when other people were there..during the latest fads when he tried to keep everything in stock and everyone happy. I never saw one instance of rudeness over all of these years. I am not his friend, never knew (or maybe remembered) his name till today, but I can assure Westporters that it’s safe to go to the Learning Express.. he’s still in business because he deserves to be.

  24. Amy Kiester Leonard

    I had a run in with the owner of Learning Express years ago–he basically accused me (in front of other customers) of breaking a toy on purpose so I could bring it back. I (quietly) told him he was wrong, and how rude he was and that I would never shop there again. Funny thing is, out of his sight, two of his employees were standing behind him–giving me the “thumbs up” and quiet applause for speaking up. I never went back there again.

  25. Ginny Gilbertie Williams

    While I like The Age of Reason in Westport, the best toy store in the area is Blinn’s in the center of Fairfield. Family run and the kindest people on earth. Whenever I’m in there I feel like a kid again.