How Target Convinced Me to Choose Pink

When a shopping trip becomes a lesson in choice

One afternoon, my husband and I were Christmas shopping in Target for our kids. We have six together, sort of a modern-day Brady Bunch, ranging in age from 12–21. This was the first year shopping wouldn’t threaten to put us in the deep red if we bought more than candy canes, so it was a pleasure to amble about the store. But we kept running into a family we’d seen in the parking lot, a family that had unloaded from their minivan like a loud theatre troupe with awful casting.

Both parents spoke harshly to their two little boys, ordering them around with every word, every direction. The mother stood out to me the most. Dad seemed to be playing a supporting role in this tragedy. Believe me, I understand losing patience, snapping at your kids, sometimes losing your shit over stupid stuff. All parents have had that experience and I’m sure most of us have lost the best of ourselves in public once or twice. But this was continual aggressive speech, not scolding or reprimanding for unruly behavior, but simply being mean regardless of what was going on, as if there wasn’t even a correct way to walk from the minivan into the store. Or breathe. The sounds of their voices made me anxious and it seemed clear I was witnessing this family’s modus operandi.

At one point, the family walked through the bath department, adjacent to the boys’ pajamas where my husband and I were searching for something to fit our youngest. I wasn’t actively watching them, but their negative presence was constant and loud so by default I eavesdropped. The older boy, maybe about seven, stopped by one of the shelves.

“Oh, Mom I want these towels. Can you get them for me? Please, please, please?”

Mom turned and yanked her son away pushing her face into his as she growled at him. “That is not an appropriate color for a little boy.”

Not, “You don’t need new towels”.

Not, “It’s almost Christmas and we’re buying for others today.”

That is not an appropriate color.”

The towels were hot pink. I’m pretty sure my face turned approximately the same shade. How, today, is this still a thing? My husband and I stared at each other. It wasn’t abuse, exactly, but I can’t explain how difficult it was to not step in and say something. But what do you say and why? And how would it make a difference? As I stood there, heart stricken for this kid, a familiar loop played in my mind: No one ever said anything to me when I was a kid about what was going on in my home. My extended family, teachers, friends’ parents surely all knew — friends’ parents wouldn’t let them sleep over my house, my grades were big, fat zeros, I hardly spoke at school and family witnessed firsthand. Sometimes my mother and I fled to drive around for hours. Sometimes we slept at neighbors’ homes. And yet no one ever said to me what was happening was wrong. It was all I knew.

Is that evening in Target all the boy knows: vitriol and shame over a color?

Several minutes and pointless arguments later, like Mom was digging for a fight to pick with her seven-year-old, the little boy, head down, tried to walk away. Right toward us.

“I don’t even want a family anymore.”

Dad stepped in then and led him back to their family stage and eventually the four disappeared from earshot. So much said in just a few words, from such a young boy. What is going on in his mom’s head, I wonder. Is she resentful of her children? Has she just lost a job? Someone close to her? Is she exhausted from not seeing any return on long shifts? Is any of this an excuse for such prolonged nastiness?

Around the same time as this shopping trip, someone asked me if I was concerned that people would think my children’s book about Gloria Steinem was only for girls. It has a hot pink cover, after all. I admit when I first saw the cover, I wondered the same thing. I’ve never been a fan of pink. But since Target, I’ve started incorporating it into my wardrobe to try to get acclimated to the idea. I even bought a pale rose colored book titled Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies. I find myself defending pink now, which is weird because it’s like being in a relationship with a color, which is admittedly a little odd. Pink has become a statement, a symbol, and somehow accepting pink feels like accepting women. So now I realize I’m suddenly defending a lot more than a color.

And when a mom tells her son he can’t have anything pink, she’s sending more than one message, undoubtedly.

But I admit, I still wondered, will boys be interested in my book? Would boys even admit they are interested in this book? And now I wonder, will mothers buy this book for their sons?

We have so much work to do.

However, the Target travesty confirmed to me that this book is for boys. Gloria spoke for women; she’s a feminist icon. But she spoke for boys and men too. Feminism is not only for women, just like pink is not only for girls, and in fact, I believe it’s equally important for boys to be brought up in a culture of awareness. Boys need to recognize and become angry at the absence of girls or women in their history books, in their video games, on their sports teams or in their clubs, in current events. Boys need to understand how far we’ve come and how far we all still have to go.

To understand it’s not at their expense, it’s in conjunction with their own empowerment.

But it’s not just the kids. It’s parents, too. There is a long-standing misinterpretation of feminism. It’s my hope to help change that. And whether or not mom and dad are going to buy something for their sons is totally their prerogative, but boys need to know that they can choose pink.




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Jess Rinker

Jess Rinker

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