Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pink is for boys: girls as pirates, boys in pink and princess dresses

This post started when I saw a newspage picture: a pirate Halloween costume. I saw it, I thought the pink a bit odd, but thought, ‘Wow, guess North America is okay to pink and gender for a ‘pink’ boy pirate.” Here’s the picture.
When I moved my cursor, the title, “Girl’s Pirate costume.” came up. Of course…..pink.

The levels of ignorance in branding and in the internet ‘news’ in adding to this socialization irked me deeply. Not just because the idea of adding pink and re-branding to tweens or young girls, not just because as “Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas” starts by saying, “For as long as ships have sailed the seas there have been pirates. And for as long as there have been pirates, some of those pirates have been women.” What was worst was the deliberate socialization policing, enforced on children, who are protected into ignorance, stereotype and cruelty, so rigidly enforced that a ‘pink pirate’ boy WOULD be made fun of. A female tomboy pirate wouldn’t, but her mother would want her to wear the other outfit (‘pink is so NICE.’)

No, actually, pink is for boys.
Before WWII, it was believed that children did not HAVE gender identities, so there were ‘infants’ and ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. In schools all over the UK, including a school two streets from where we lived in Cardiff, the three entrances with the word ‘infants’ in block above the double doors, where all children up to age 7 or so would enter. Pictures of Winston Churchhill and King George IV in dresses are seen in biographies as such. Adverts from Sears Ro. for getting your ‘child corset’ for good deportment and carriage, shows that the ‘manly’ and ‘womanly’ didn’t go down as far as children, not then. The picture shows one or two boys (often parents didn't cut the hair until age 4-6, so even Linda has a picture of an uncle looking like one of this 'girls')

In only a generation or two, now colors are branded, marketed for gender and from diapers to overalls, gendered as colors appropriate for 1 month old babies to 5 year olds is heavily advertised, socially pushed and debated on forums.

That is why this Goth Lolita outfit is considered ‘unisex’, if you notice it is based on the ‘infant’ style dresses and clothing and is for Goth Loli boys and girls in Japan.

But traditionally, pink is for boys, and blue for girls, as it still is in Belgium. One likely explanation I have found is that pink is a more juvenile version of RED, the manly color of MARS, and WAR – while light blue, feminine and tasteful is associated with the Virgin Mary (traditionally shown wearing pale blue and the embodiment of feminine attributes).

From the Guardian, in 1918 the Ladies' Home Journal wrote: "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 colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

Sunday Sentinel in 1914 told American mothers: "If you like the colour note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention."

So yes, boys who were raised in pink frilly dresses went down mines, ruled countries and fought in the second world war. Clothing conventions change over time. Indeed the switch from pink to blue for boys is blamed on a marketing strategy by US department stores. That’s all, it simply made for a more interesting display.

Jump forward today and in a review of bad science, one team made a ‘scientific word test’ where you picked and rated your affinity to words which showed if you rated yourself as ‘gullible’ and ‘cheerful’ then you were a girl and liked PINK. – yeah, no social bias on that one. To test your social bias check out these twins.
Yes, it is an April 1st cross-dressing, (the girl is in the clothes the boy normally wears and the boy is in the girl's clothes and hairband - keep trying to tell yourself the one in pink is a boy and the other a girl) and the mom received lots of comments on how pretty and beautiful her daughter was. The color determines the perceptions of gender, which in this case, is totally incorrect.

But, besides pink saying, ‘this is for girls’, is there any reason that girls shouldn’t have their own pirate look? And what would that be?

The pirate dress up re-emergence recently is thanks to Captain Jack Sparrow, whose open effeminate actions in the first movie launched the interest in Pirates in many boys and girls (and adults), along with a use for black eyeliner for men other than being emo. After the first movie, the fencing club was full of 10-12 year olds wanting to learn saber.

Jack Sparrow was beyond gender, up on screen acting feminine, and getting away with it (and the same year became the number 1choice for straight men if they were to have a romantic relationship with a guy – Angelina Jolie was number 1 for women). Even sexually, it is quite hard to tell with the first film whether Jack is going for the guy or the girl romantically, an added tension which I enjoyed far, far too much. If you have forgotten, here is Pretty Pirate, some classic Jack Sparrow from the first film.


Johnny Depp, whose career has included more than a couple gender bending characters, is the western world’s most acceptable (and sexy) actor who can play male, androgynous and feminine while still taking big money in the box office. You know, the kind of character that parents in North America/UK/Australia think is fine for your girl to pretend to be, but maybe not your five year old boy (and so I’ll show you later).

Indeed, one women’s sandal shop offers a blinged up sandal as “Likely Captain Jack Sparrow's favorite footwear for femmes, the Stingray from Two Lips is a treasure trove of a sandal.” Arg!

Jack Sparrow might have been loosely based on the real pirate Calico Jack, a snappy dresser, vain, heavy drinker and famed ladies man, pirate captain of the Caribbean. He also connects Anne Bonny with Mary Read: two of the most famous female pirates. Mary Read, daughter to a captian’s wife and illegitimate was raised as her brother in order to continue the allowance from her mothers’ mother-in-law. The allowance was just enough to allow them to live, based on her mother having a boy baby. The boy died in the first year and when Mary’s mother became pregnant while husband was at sea, she moved away to hide her marriage then presented her daughter Mary as her son, in order to keep the Allowance coming (enough to buy five loaves of bread a week).

When the mother-in-law died, leaving nothing to her daughter in law or her ‘grandson’ Mary who was 13 at the time, Mary continued living as a male, first as a ‘footman’ as a servant, then joining the navy as a ‘powder monkey’, and probably looking something like this (without the fancy sword).
Finally, coming of age, she enlisted as a soldier and was raised to the rank of officer due to action on the field. She revealed herself to a fellow Flemish officer who was ‘oddly attracted’ to this good pal (she had taken several high risk assignments to be near him) and they married. Her wedding dress was the first female clothes she had worn. But this meant that Mary had to retire as an officer. Due to her popularity, the officers did a whip-round and Mary got enough money to buy and Inn, popular with the soldiers. But when the war moved, the Inn failed, and her husband died. So she returned, as a male, to be soldier and sailor. Working on a Dutch East Indies ship, she was attacked by Calico Jack the pirate and offered to join him as a pirate or die.

With her experience of dangerous missions, the royal navy and dueling history ‘Sailor Reed’ was a great pirate, and with many others enlisted under the Governor of the Bahamas to fight the Spanish as privateers. She was under Captain Jack and once in open ocean, these ‘pardoned’ pirates turned pirate again, taking the ship (score one free ship!). Mary fell in love with a young Englishman on board. They became good friends then she ‘accidentally’ flashed her breasts.

He asked, was she a female? Yes. And romance was born. BUT…

The Englishman had offended another pirate who had it out for him, a death duel pending. Well, Mary, once she chose her guy, didn’t shrink from trouble and got into conflict with the pirate, calling for a duel two hours BEFORE the Englishman’s. With her soldier training, she cut the pirate down with her sword in the duel without receiving a scratch and thus won her man. They determined to keep Mary’s secret until they quit the ship.

But they didn’t count on Anne Bonny. Captain Jack had met Anne Bonny, who had a severe temper (beating one suitor unconscious, killing a servant with a knife), and who hung around the waterfront often dressed as a man. Jack fell for Anne and later wrote a document that she would be with him for a sum of money, which they considered a marriage contract (Anne had the guy come with a dowry). However, the witness they asked to sign the document didn’t see that as marriage and instead reported it to the Governor. Adultery charges threatened Anne with whipping, so she and Jack rowed out to a sloop, Anne kept the crew at bay with a pistol and cutlass while Jack and some companions got underway. Anne would dress as a man, but did not hide being a woman, even disembarking to give birth.

The problem occurred when Anne, with her hot temper, let her eye wander to the handsome Englishman who was in the crew (not the one Mary fell in love with, the OTHER Englishman….Mary). Anne saw what she liked and what Anne liked, Anne got. Except this Englishman, was Sailor Reed, persisted in turning aside Anne’s advances. And the more Anne was refused, the angrier she became until Mary Reed finally was forced to tell her she wasn’t the only woman aboard. Anne kept ‘Sailor Reed’s’ secret but the two women hung out more and more (some say they had a lesbian relationship) which increased the jealousy in Captain Jack. Anne finally had to tell Jack while swearing him to secrecy (and considering she beat up the guys who annoyed her, he agreed).

After several more raids, where they tried to increase their crew, a ship of the Governor’s Navy fired on them. Jack and the men disappeared down below to drink leaving Anne, Mary and a single other sailor to fight off the boarding.

The ship was captured and all brought to jail, where Anne and Mary’s gender was found out. Calico Jack and his men were sentenced to be hung, but Anne was allowed a last visit. Instead of a teary goodbye, she cursed him for not being a real man, as while being boarded. According to the trial, Mary Read had fired into the deck, wounding one of the pirates in order to try to get them to come up and fight. No luck.

After the men were hung, the women had trial after trial (which is how we know the story). No one realy knew what to do with a female pirate, but eventually they were sentenced to hang. At that point, they both fell to their knees and begged mercy ‘We plead our Bellies’: a claim of pregnancy (as to condemn a criminal is one thing but to hang an pregnant woman and thus kill an infant was another). Everything was postponed again. Sadly, Mary Reed died in prison of a fever, but Anne disappeared.

These were not the only female pirates, as only those caught, or famous enough to be in history of the time period were noted. Likely significant numbers of females dressed as males, like Mary Read, were sailors and pirates.

Female pirates were not the faint hearted, but ranged from Pirate Queens (3 of them, one of the Chinese Ocean, one the Indian Ocean and on the coast of Ireland). The greatest pirate of all was a woman, Cheng I Sao (1801), Queen of the China Sea who had a fleet of over 2,000 with more than 80,000 troops. She also lived until 69, dying in peace after a deal with the government.

Even among the 9th century Viking raiders, Alfhild, daughter of King Siward, ran off in men’s clothes and became a raider, then a ship captain, with Groa, another adventuring female as her right hand. Later, Grace O’Malley in Ireland raided the English lords, and took castles in siege in Ireland from a teenager to her seventies, and met with Queen Elizabeth (by invitation). She inherited the fleet of the clan due to her fierce nature. One example of that was after she had just given birth to her fourth child, Theobald, on ship when Algerian Pirates attacked the ship. The crew was close to losing when the Captain came down to get her to rally the men. Directly from giving birth, she ran out on deck and shouted to her men, “May you be seven times worse off this day (in) twelve months, for those who cannot do without me for one day!” (meaning, ‘all you all such wimps that you can’t fight without me ONE day?’) Her crew rallied and defeated the Algerians. Scary woman.

So, no, not running around in pink waiting to be noticed by men, but winning male lovers in duels, beating up men, stealing ships or commanding armies. Those who served in secret often had a tube with them or attached which allowed them to pee standing.

Whether more manly or openly female, the variety of female pirates reflected their personality. I mean, Bluebeard covered his hair and beard with ribbons. That’s what being a pirate was about – being yourself.

So back to Halloween costumes: pirates for girls

I prefer the ‘black leather pirate’ with her femme back-up (not a lot of pink here). Boy or Girl, the one in black, with appropriate Virginia Woolfe’s (male) Orlando style stockings is HOT, and getting me HOT and bothered. Which will likely which may end up getting her/him more candy (as a child OR an adult). Yeah, I must have meant at Halloween, and 'Candy' as treats. hee hee, please come to MY party!

I am not sure what tailor one goes to three centuries ago in order to get the ‘skinny fit’ breeches, but it is certainly a look that gets attention. And after a while, people might even look at your face (not recommended if you are trying to pass as male...even if you are male).

And here is for those with a love of velvet and scarlet (a color exclusive to men for hundreds of years, until the late middle ages due to the expense of the dye, which Rome imported from the Celts), the pirate queen who rules with her decolletage and her fan.

I love the french tricorn hat and the green gloves. A nice look for our revolutionary pirate/privateer either male or female. Again, a host of pirates including one who seems to be holding a rose blade in the front while wearing her lingerie, including stockings with the ‘all so important’ BOOBIE ARMOR (this indicates a ‘fantasy female pirate’). Because of course, being gutted or stabbed through the ribs is nothing compared to the risk of having a scar on these precious treasures of the sea! But one thing I don’t see….pink.

Here we seem to have gone past androgyny to a bit of both, the boy’s pantaloon and the girl’s high stocking and skirt, sort of steam punk pirate. I will say, for any guys who want to imitate this style, that worry not, a nice straight corset with a non-scoop top with deliver the ‘goods’ (at least a size A cup boobies). One unisex nature of corsets: they enhance your breasts, even if you don’t think you have any to start with

During, I think, the second ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films, Jack Sparrow meets the heroine dressed as a sailor lad, and says something like, “A lady should be in a dress or nothing at all, as it happens…I have a dress in my cabin.” after a long argument with some viewers, and several re-watching of the scene it turns out that Jack is propositioning her to be naked, not offering her his crossdressing outfits. BUT, when watching it, it make complete sense that Jack would have not just one but probably several dresses in his cabin, much as Blackbeard and other historical pirates wore ribbons and other traditional female ornaments. Plus dressing as women in order to get merchant ships to slow down for ‘rescue’ was a common ruse of pirates. As a Pirate, you aren’t in the NAVY now right? That’s the point: pirate, outside the rules. As Johnny Depp said about Captain Jack’s sexuality, that it could go either way, as 'it was lonely out at sea.' So a few dresses is not really out of character.

Pirates of the Caribbean, was created and promoted by Disney, a company which have pushed the ‘Princess’ (or in this case, ‘Pretty Pirate’) line so strongly that is it now a common part of dress up play for children. Plus if you go to Disneyworld, you can choose among FOUR different ‘Princess’ Packages for children, including getting dressed in a princess dress, nails done, and rides in a carriage. The whole tiara and pampering, while the guys are offered the ‘cool guys’ package (BLAH!). So more and more young boys want the Princess Package, so many that Disney land is quietly promoting it for boys too.

That is the topic for the next post, is more about Pink, that four letter word, and why can or can’t a boy wear the pirate outfit with pink on it. As well as the common experience of parents to have a child from 2-7 who wants to play ‘Princess’ and have a dress provide interesting comments and tension on parenting boards. It looks at North American views, how boys and girls are raised as well as some contradictions built into social norms, particularly about the behavior allowed for boys and value placed on girls.

13 comments:

Denise said...

Beth, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I never learned all this about Lady Pirates! I also like your takedown of the color pink and the changing outward signs of gender. I'm so glad I'm over prescribed gender and just doing my own.

Wendryn said...

This was fascinating! I learn all kinds of interesting things. I knew pieces of this, but not all of it.

I really love the onesie. If we ever have a child, by whatever avenue, we'll get one, or its inverse.

Olivia said...

Great post and I look forward to part two!

The obsession (even paranoia) with gender, making sure little children are well defined and labelled as male or female, bothers me so much. It's not just a matter of colours, but the style of clothing has to be differentiated as well. The 1970s-80s look for kids was fairly unisex. My nearly-five nephew loves pink and purple, whenever they shop for shoes or clothes he wants those colours. I have a cousin who loved flouncy dresses as a little kid and he has now turned out very blokey.

I don't think it is possible to enjoy the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie too much - and I enjoyed that aspect of it too!

I don't know much about pirate history and your research is fascinating. It may not be that surprising that there were many female pirates - women have probably always had a better chance of doing what they wanted and making their own way, outside of the mainstream.

Linda McClung said...

Beth, I love it when you write these research blogs. You are a great story teller and make history interesting.

I'm glad you were able to get part one posted. I know how challenging it was to write part of it, and when you get back to it a couple of days later you have to start the research over because so much is forgotten.

I like the pink onesie. It was interesting to read that historically pink was for boys. I knew about the lace and high heels, but not the pink.

I think in today's society guys really get the shortend of the stick when it comes to fashion. Women's business suits come in all colours while men's come in various shades of blue, brown, black and grey. The only real colour is in their ties. It's no wonder some boys want to be princesses - all the pretty colours and textures and sparkles and the whole mythology of being someone special and well loved.

Disney is really great with their marketing. Must be, if they can make a 3 part movie based on a Disney ride.

I really like Johnny Depp as an actor. I first watched him on 21 Jump Street. The first time I saw him cross-dressed was in Ed Wood - and he pulled it off quite well.

I often wonder how girls could disguise themselves as guys for so long. What about communal bathing and what do they do when they have their period?

I really enjoyed your female pirate stories - especially Mary challenging the guy to a duel to protect her man. Talk about role reversal. A sad ending for Mary.

I guess I'm still really naive as I never considered Sparrow wearing the dress he referred to. But what you say makes a lot of sense.

I'm looking forward to part 2.

Laura said...

I always get quite an education reading your blog. I guess what they say "Real men wear pink" really is true.

Really like learning about the women pirates. Can't hardly wait for the second part of the blog.

Raccoon said...

That's Johnny Depp, playing ambiguous sexuality. Not at all like Robert DeNiro, in Stardust.

I think the big thing is the "flounce," as in clothes that drape and flow. Deep sleeves, that sort of thing. Now, climbing the rigging is not something that you would want to do in that type of clothing. Too easy to get caught, ripped, tangled.

As for the "child" designation up until seven years old... remember that age 7 was generally a good time for an apprenticeship to start. That didn't really change until the 1800s, when the middle class started paying attention to education.

Neil said...

While I was aware of the pirate ladies, I certainly did NOT know about the gender reversal that pink has gone through. Thanks, luv!

Linda's right, in that today's women can wear anything, from a miniskirt as long as a moderately wide belt to a man's suit, shirt, shoes, socks, and tie. In the case of the latter, she'd be complimented on her fashion sense.

And guys get suits and ties. Drab, drab, drab. And much hotter (for the wearer) in summer than even a long skirt, I'm sure.

I guess I'll just have to save my pfennigs and buy a Utilikilt.

Love and zen hugs,
Neil

Vanessa said...

Not only do I strongly agree with this post and the issue of sexual labeling but I also, simply, loath the color pink. I hate dressing Eirynn in pink and make it a point to dress her in blues, purples, yellows, and greens. Not only that but I find it hysterical when people say, "Oh what a cute little boy!" and I get mock indignant and inform them that SHE'S a GIRL. They get so flustered that it's funny. Makes people think. LOL

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks for the comments, I was worried all the work was for nothing.

Denise: I liked researching it, it was hard to choose what to include. 'The Pink Box' - breaking free!

Wendyn: Yes, there is a T-shirt for boys about 14 with 'Top 10 reasons I wear Pink' as well. This is a clothing linen.

Olivia: I have the data and raw quotes for part two, I just need the time and energy coming togethr in a two day period to get it written (rather than make a MEGA-post).

I agree, I can't quite understand when PURPLE became 'too feminine' for boys too - I guess they get black, brown and grey? Boring!

The wearing of dresses in dress up is more like 'creative types' versus 'mechanical' or 'empathy' - it has more to do with a boy who wants to understand people and things and so plays at lots of things, from being a dinosoar to a teacher to a princess under the development of group gender awareness develops.

Linda: I do have to wonder about guys though as we complain, like so many women complain about high heels yet it was GUYS who invented them and wore them for 100 years writing about how great it made their calves look, same with skin tight breeches, lace, eyeliner and so much more. I think there is a an element of peacock wanting to display fashion that is somewhat dampened today for guys.

Laura: Thanks - There were so many cool women pirates.

Raccoon: I am going to have to check out stardust. Though with Edward Scissor-Hands, Depp was emo with black eyeshadow about 10 years BEFORE emo.

I didn't think about the apprentice thing - but the victorians were the ones that build all the schools and sort of set the 'infants' age - which is I guess what we would consider 'childhood' as after that the poor would work in the mines or making chain (that was a common thing for children, the mother worked on large chain while the children worked on small).

Neil: See, pink is for boys - if you think of it, remember Cinderella, from that time period, the ultimate 'Princess' - is wearing BLUE - a dress just like the little boy wearing at the bottom.

Steal fashion back, at least for halloween

Anonymous said...

Just seen this post and found it great to read. I've often thought the gender "differences" regarding colour etc. rather strange. I'm a guy and I like wearing pink and often get comments about it like "I'm starting to worry about you" etc. When will people stop putting this label on colours. Personally I don't think they should put that label on clothing either - I have suffered from bad dermatitis for a number of years, it's under control now - but only because I have managed to find thin clothes to wear that don't rub on my legs. Being able to wear dresses would put even less friction on my skin and would be much better - but "men don't wear dresses". It's about time these stereotypes were torn down.

Anonymous said...

the picture of the twins is cute got any more pics of thoose kids

Goldilocks*n*Me said...

Wow, what an interesting read!

clay said...

Your ridiculous assertion that children before WWII did not have gender identifies, or that there was no recognition of gender merely because schools had 'Infants' rather than 'Boys'/'Girls' entrances, shows the absurdity of feminist and gay logic (or the lack of it). Boys have always been brought up boys and girls have always been brought up as girls. Simply because it was fashionable to photograph male toddlers in feminine attire (in order to bring our innocence and cuteness of children), doesn't mean that that one-time studio shot was indicative of societies views on the sexuality of children.

There has always been a separation of gender; it is in society's best interests to have it so. I'm sorry to say that your naïve and politically correct fantasies of subversive gender-playing as the social norm will never materialize - sex fantasies, sure, but society will always have a rigidity that refuses to countenance a mainstream blurring of gender.

Anyway, the female body lends itself to femininity - that's why females are smaller softer and curvier. Nature doesn't do things without good reason. But there will always be silly immature women who parrot "gender is socially constructed" and dress their little boys in pink and 'feminize' them (a subtle form of child abuse) to prove fatuous point.

"Among the basic joys of human existence is the division into sexes, the difference between male and female, between penis and vagina, between you and me, even between mine and yours, and these are extremely pleasant and satisfying divisions, or could be; their elimination would not just be insane, but also a nightmare - the peak of repression." Herbert Marcuse