Wellies. Yes I realise this might seem an unlikely place to start. But I'm all fired up about them. I know, I know, it might seem trivial. But bear with me. Because, sometimes, the microcosmic detail reflects a macrocosmic problem. And this is one such occasion. Let me explain.
Wellies. I just popped into the children's welly aisle in a well known supermarket to chuck a pair in my trolley along with the six pack of pinot grigio I had actually gone in there for in the first place. My daughter's number one recreational activity at the moment is puddle jumping, mine is taking the edge off the day with two glasses of chilled white before going to bed at 8.30pm: everyone's a winner.
So here was the choice: pink background with dark pink stars, pink Charlie and Lola, pink and purple with rabbits, or, and this is the one that really got to me, pink with a picture of a princess, and trimmed with the words 'Waiting for my Prince'. So, I turned the air blue with a few post-feminist mutterings, and checked out the boy's selection. The usual suspects: dinosaurs, aliens, monsters, trucks. A good example of one of those moments in life when 'having a choice' doesn't really mean you have a choice. I left with just the wine.
Being the mother of two girls I see a lot of pink. Somedays I look at my daughters and realise they are dressed entirely in varying shades of the colour from top to toe. It is absolutely unavoidable, no matter what your principles. Go to any high street shop or supermarket, for any item, from socks to sunglasses, and you are barely offered any other option. And it's not just the colours, it's the 'motifs' too: little kittens with diamante tiaras, miniature handbags, 'daddy's little princesses'. The world of toys fares no better, and I even got the same treatment myself recently when I was being talked through the various handset options for a mobile phone upgrade; the salesman suggested, 'How about this one, in girly pink?'. Reader, I savaged him.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the notion of 'pink for a girl' is a fairly new one. Up until the 1940's it was blue for girls, and prior to the twenties, there was no tradition in our culture of associating a colour with either sex. Looking back on my own childhood, I don't remember ever owning anything pink. Photos of myself pushing guinea pigs around in toy buggies are in existence, but the buggy has red stripes, and I'm wearing blue dungarees and a green shirt. For very special occasions I seem to have preferred a natty little number made of brown velvet trimmed in cream with what looks like an old doily. But no pink.
It's not so much the colour that I have a problem with; it's what it stands for. The whole notion of the 'pink princess', the idea that my fabulous and intelligent daughters should, before they have even started school, be being given the message that being a girl is about pleasing men and having nice accessories, makes me seethe, particularly as it runs so counter to my daily efforts to encourage them to have interests, ambitions and horizons even broader than my own. Last summer my then two year old had to pick a prize from a selection at the fairground. The prizes were split into sections for boys and girls. For boys, the 'active' - pop guns, trucks, bows and arrows, juggling balls; for my daughter, the 'passive' - hair brushes, dress-up dolls, tea sets, mirrors. Finally she chose a pink mobile phone. Clearly a Chinese export, it bore the typically baffling and mistranslated slogan, 'Benign Girl'. For me, that just summed it all up.
So how did it come to this? It does seem strange that the Zeitgeist is spewing out 'pink and girly' items in this way when my mother's generation worked so hard to free us from a life spent playing kitchens and doing our hair. But after every revolution, they say, is a lost generation, and I can't help wondering if we aren't all fumbling around a bit right now, making a good show of knowing what we're doing, but secretly feeling a bit muddled. I guess it's not surprising. We thought we could 'have it all', but actually we find ourselves having to make difficult choices between the dazzling careers we spent our first three decades building for ourselves, and being with our small children who we prize more highly than stardust. Our menfolk must feel equally confused, landed as they are with educated and feisty women who make them participate in housekeeping and childcare in a way that would have been unthinkable or even humiliating to their fathers and grandfathers.
With all the pieces of the gender puzzle chucked around so chaotically, perhaps we are searching to find some sort of order, clarity and simplicity. Maybe there is something reassuring about the predictability of our colour coded world. Perhaps we need the comfort of things being reduced to 'pink and blue'; we might not be able to find our way through our relationships, careers and psyche's, but at least we know where we are in Mothercare.
Of course this doesn't make it right, especially not for our dearest daughters, striding out into the brave new world of the twenty first century clad in pink with the slogan 'Passive Princess' stamped across their developing chests. What can be done to help them find their way? First and foremost we need to show them that there are many many more exciting things to do than waiting for princes, who tend to be unreliable anyway. Other than that I'm short of suggestions. For now, I will ponder solutions as I finish my pinot, and head to bed. There's a hard days childcare ahead of me tomorrow, and a mountain of laundry. And most of it, for now at least, is girly pink.
There is more reading and thinking to be done via the campaign Pink Stinks at www.pinkstinks.co.uk.