Pink is for boys, blue is for girls

Another thought on pink and blue.

The truth is that until the 1950s, when marketing to children took off and teenagers arrived on the cultural scene, it was more common that pink was the colour for boys and blue for girls – the opposite of today.

The advice to mothers in one Sunday newspaper in 1914 (March 29th, Sunday Sentinel, USA) was “if you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue forthe girl, if you are a follower of convention.” The Ladies Home Journal, at the end of the Great War (June 1918), advised mothers that “there has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

Isabelle Pitt (of the Development Trusts Association) who put me on to this, suggests that pink was watered down from fierce, and military, red – while blue was associated with the Virgin Mary.

Research with over 3,000 children that I published recently, together with Professor Agnes Nairn, in the book ‘Consumer Kids’ tracks the gender stereotypes the children face and the rising trend of the sexualisation of girls that goes with it. Some of our most revealing work in that was looking in depth at Barbie, Action Man, David Beckham and Victoria Beckham.

The commercial world that children experience is as if the women’s movement had never existed.

Early learning boycott

I was introduced recently (thanks marjorie) to Emma and Abi Moore, who have THE best campaign of 2009 under the title of ‘Pinkstinks‘.

As Emma emails me to say, “there is a culture of pink invading every area of girls’ lives which we believe sells children the lie that there is only one way to be a ‘proper girl’.

Winners of a Sheila McKechnie Award, Emma and Abi are launching a Christmas boycott today of the Early Learning Centre – arguing that the chain is one of the worst offenders on the high street when it comes to the ‘pinkification’ of girls’ toys.

“It seems so hypocritical to us” Emma explains. “The ELC claims its toys are ‘designed to help children explore the boundaries of their imaginations and creativity, to make learning fun and help children be all they can be’,” says Emma. “Then you look at its website and see that the fancy dress outfits available for girls are, in the ELC’s own words, very ‘feminine’ fairy, princess or old-fashioned nurses’ uniforms. Boys, on the other hand, can be doctors; police or firemen and action figures like pirates and knights. We believe this is blatant gender stereotyping and certainly doesn’t stretch any boundaries for girls.”

This is a great campaign. Today’s marketing assigns simple and very separate roles to girls and boys – and whips up peer pressure to police the difference.

Good luck Abi and Emma!

Upside down economy

Whatever we are being told, I would argue that according to one test, the economy is far, far from being in balance.

Why? We still have a deep ‘borrower bias’.

Despite the fact that we are in a ‘credit crunch’, borrowers (the people who want scarce credit) are getting a far better deal than the savers (who have the credit). It is the exact opposite of what should be the case, and reflects the fact that we have a long way to go before we are free.

2009 has been, in the words of Peter Warburton, a bonanza year for borrowers. The base rate on loans has fallen fast, from 7% a year ago to 3.9% in August. But for savers, the very people with the money that the banking system ought to be fighting for, have had a torrid time. Cash ISA rates are down from 4.4% to 0.4%, instant saver accounts from 2.4% to 0.2%.

Don’t hold your breath for normality. We are in an upside down economy.

So you want a low carbon life?

Ulrich Beck, the German sociologist, once said that modern culture condemns us to try and “find biographical solutions to systemic problems” – i.e. that we pretend that individual action can deal with issues that are collective in nature. Nowhere is this more true than the attempt to live a low-carbon life.

Slightly left over, I have to say, from my last job, but Prashant Vaze and I have co-written a report published today by Consumer Focus, which sets out a framework for a new energy infrastructure – A New Energy Infrastructure Final (2)

The current regulatory model does, more or less, what it aims to do, which is to encourage an efficient supply of energy to meet the country’s demand. What it does not do, which is the challenge of low-carbon living, is to encourage an efficient use of energy. We argue the case for opening up who can invest in and provide energy networks and the potential for new co-operative models.

Drawing on a national survey, we can show that, in terms of a public view, twice as many customers would prefer to see new energy cooperatives emerge to lead this than would turn to the current ‘big six’ utility firms.

Inspiring tenants

I had a day of listening to and meeting inspiring tenants from housing cooperatives today. Josef Davies Coates lives in the Sanford Housing Cooperative, a wonderful example of eco housing. We met to talk about how the collaborative movement, around open source, in the digital world, and the cooperative movement, in the ‘analogue’ world, are combining. He is pictured below with Synnove Fredericks from the Hub, a fast growing community workspace across cities.

Later, I listened to Nic Bliss – twenty years a housing cooperative member – and the co-author of a fantastic new report on housing coops. Today, around one in a hundred houses are cooperatively owned and those who live there wax lyrical about what it means to them.

Satisfaction rates are higher than any tenancy and the report (the Commission on Cooperative and Mutual Housing) cites the people living there: “a village feel in the big city” (Jude Bramwell), “you look out for your neighbour, knowing your neighbour will look out for you” (Margaret Cope),”my children have been brought up in the coop. What a place to grow up! They immediately had a circle of friends” (Helima Zindani) and “virtually no incidents of anti-social behaviour in the coops” (Syed Maqsood).

If you like people, you will love what these coops are doing.