Imagine you’re in a room with two kids, one in a green shirt and one in an orange shirt. You also have a table and on that table you have two things: a small cupcake and an enormous cake. Each is set at on a plate, with a napkin, fork, and glass of milk ready to be eaten
You say to Green Shirt, “This cupcake is yours.”
What is everyone going to assume? That the giant cake is for Orange Shirt, right? That’s just how the brain works. There are two sets of things and two people and if Green Shirt gets the cupcake, then Orange Shirt must get the giant cake.
Now, close your eyes and remember the last time you were in a toy store. Most of the store was all sorts of colors, blue and green and orange, Legos and teddy bears and fire trucks and crayons and books and art supplies. But I’m willing to bet that there was one small corner that looks like it was hosed down with Pepto Bismol. Everything in it is pink — baby dolls in frilly dresses and cute kitchens and soft white bunny rabbits and dress-up high heels and Barbie everywhere.
Welcome to the Pink Ghetto, the small cupcake that is a woman’s share of the human experience.
Of course, the Pink Ghetto is most obvious, visually, in a toy store. But it exists everywhere. There are certain things, emotions, actions, and and behaviors that designated as “for girls” or “for women”. Nursing, teaching, librarianship, nurturing, parenting, cleaning, cooking, knitting, emotional intelligence, flute playing, ballet, caring about fashion, being sexy, etc. etc. These things are all in the Pink Ghetto.
There are so many many many horrible side effects of the Pink Ghetto that I can’t begin to enumerate them all in one post. Or one blog. Hell, you could reasonably say that the entire point of feminism is nothing more than studying and mitigating the ramifications of the Pink Ghetto.
But there are some high-level problems that are easy to delineate.
The first is, of course, that society tries to limit girls to the Pink Ghetto. Girls and women look around this tiny corner, full of Pepto-pink, and they say, “This is mine.” They may say it with joy or frustration or resignation or rage, but that message is imparted very early on and it’s reinforced over and over and over again.
The fight of women and girls to get the fuck out of the Pink Ghetto is what most people (including many feminists) consider to be the central mission of feminism. But I’m here to tell you that it’s just one of the problems that feminism needs to tackle.
Because the second problem is also huge. Because women are getting this tiny cupcake, there’s a subconscious value judgement that’s going on. Well, if boys get a giant cake and girls get a tiny cupcake, it must be because girls don’t deserve the giant cake and boys do, right? And if girls are less deserving, the cupcake must taste worse, right? This isn’t logical, but it’s how humans think.
So we devalue things in the Pink Ghetto. An example. Knitting v golfing. Knitting is seen as a female pursuit. Golfing is seen as a male pursuit. About twice as many people in North America knit as play golf (citation: Pearl-McPhee, Free-Range Knitter). But there’s no Knitting Channel. There are no internationally famous knitters. We don’t broadcast knitting for a full week every summer on network TV.
In fact, when a bunch of women ran a yarn-a-month club, the (male) banker who handled their transactions decided it must be a scam or money laundering because there’s no way that mere yarn could be bringing in that much money. True story! No one would cast that doubt on the money that a golfing green makes in fees. Why? Because female-coded hobbies are seen as less important/useful/worthwhile than male hobbies.
This problem — of denigrating things in the Pink Ghetto — isn’t just a Things That Sexist Dudes Do. A lot of women, feminists even, in their effort to punch out of the Pink Ghetto, wound up sneering at all “that girly crap” they’d left behind. I can’t tell you how many old-school feminists, upon hearing that I chose to stay at home to raise my child, lectured me or chided me or just shook their heads sadly and walked away. Hell, I’ve done it. I still do it, sometimes, because it’s hard to untangle human emotions.
There’s a word for this, by the way. Femmephobia. It’s a really important concept. Make a note. We’ll come back to it time and time again.
The third enormous problem with the Pink Ghetto is that it keeps boys and men out.
Anytime society codes something as “for girls”, it keeps out the boys who might be interested. It also keeps other boys (and men) from becoming interested in the first place. Which is bad. Because that cupcake may be smaller than the boys’ cake, but it incorporates really vital and necessary aspects of the human experience: having a basic understanding of your emotions and the ability to talk about them; being a nurturing person; enjoying colors and soft textures.
And just as women should be participate in male-coded things, men should be allowed to participate in female-coded things.
And they aren’t. If a boy transgresses on female-coded behaviors, society directs him back towards “boy stuff” pretty quickly. It’s as pervasive and subtle as the pressures on the girls — from the casual use of “man up” to “boys don’t cry.” The further over that imaginary line he gets, the less subtle that redirection becomes, including emotional abuse, physical violence, and death.
This has far-reaching consequences, too. Inability to understand emotions other than anger and violence leads to more anger and violence, often against other men but also against women. Inability to see women and girls as full-fledged people, with just as much worth as men, also leads to violence against women.
This is another enormous problem that feminism is trying to tackle, just as important as the other two issues. That fact gets lost sometimes in the exasperated stories about yarn clubs getting shut down or overwrought metaphors about cupcakes, but …. what if Orange Shirt didn’t want the giant cake? What if Orange Shirt wanted a cupcake?
There isn’t a good single word for this, but it’s such an important concept that there needs to be a word so that we can start to define it. So I’m going to invent a word. My husband, Master B., suggests Wayag, which is short for “What are you, a girl?” We’ll come back to that a lot, too.