Ritu Vaishnav’s Pink and Blue is an attempt by a mother to initiate a dialogue with her little one about gender stereotypes. It encourages kids to question these notions before they begin to shape their thinking and offers adults an opportunity to initiate this very necessary discussion. A discussion that needs to happen – it’s never too early, or too late! While we reviewed the book, there were some questions in our mind that we wanted to ask Ritu, and she agreed to answer them for us. Here are the excerpts:
1. Most people venture into the world of writing when an event around them inspires them. What was the inspiration for this book?
The immediate inspiration, or trigger, was a conversation with my then two-year-old boy who declared one day that he wasn’t going to use anything pink because it was a “girl’s colour”. This was shortly after he joined playschool and pink had been one of his favourite colours up until then. It rattled me to see how early gender stereotypes begin to affect our kids. Moreover, it was disheartening to notice how kids begin to self-censor and deny parts of themselves in order to fit in with other people’s ideas of their gender. I didn’t want my son to force himself to like or dislike things or force himself to behave a certain way or judge other kids based on these very narrow ideas of gender identity.
2. Children are themselves innocent of the whole gendering process. It is the adults in their lives who typically introduce them to limiting notions of what they ought to do. Wouldn’t it have been a great idea to have written this book for adults then?
I feel the debate is already going strong in the adult arena with several strong and articulate voices spreading awareness and making a powerful case against gender stereotypes and rigid gender roles and expectations. (I’d suggest Chimamanda Adichie’s book, We Should All Be Feminists for all the adults). Of course there’s a long way to go and we must all lend our voice. But much is being said and much is being written for adults on the matter. Comparatively, there’s hardly anything available on the subject for kids, especially preschoolers.
Research shows that gender stereotypes begin to form by age 2 and become firmly ingrained by age 10. Wouldn’t it be more effective then to tackle these notions and have these discussions and debates in primary schools and even in preschools when these ideas are just beginning to form? The problem is that adults can sometimes lack the vocabulary to bring this complex issue down to the level of a preschooler. I’m hoping the book might serve as a tool to help them do that and start the conversation as early as possible. So in that sense, it is for adults as well. And I do know people who have picked it up to have a talk with the adults around them too.
3. Stories, typically, are the chosen vehicles for message-driven books aimed at children. What were your reasons for choosing the non-fiction, albeit very interesting, format?
The book just poured out spontaneously. My son said something, I felt strongly about it, I went through catalogues of various publishers trying to find a book that might help, didn’t find one and just started typing on my computer. It all happened within the course of a day. So I didn’t really sit and think and plan out the book. I just sat on my computer and that’s how it came out.
But now I’m wondering why it came out that way. I’ve always leaned more towards non-fiction as a reader and all my writing experience has been as a journalist, so perhaps a direct factual format was what came naturally. In real life too I prefer a very direct no-frills approach to communication, so maybe that worked its way into the book too. It’s very difficult to say why one writes how one writes. So much of it flows from the subconscious.
4. Books like Pink and Blue are catalysts for dialogue on the gendered view of the world. On the other hand, they could also become a tool in the hands of grown-ups, to create a new order, where children will be denied toys of their choice and clothes in their favourite colours. Your thoughts?
The idea that enlightened young girls can’t wear pink or play with dolls or enlightened boys can’t have superheroes is just replacing one set of stereotypes with another! The purpose is to not force upon our kids our own ideas of what they SHOULD like and instead give them the freedom to explore a wider range of toys and activities and experiences. We have to add to their options and not subtract from them. Editing their world and experiences to suit our own preferences or our own ideas of who they should be is exactly what we need to resist as parents. The aim here is to give our kids the freedom and confidence to understand and accept who they are and grow up to be the best versions of themselves. They should not get weighed down by others’ ideas of who they should be.
5. Much of gender education is about unlearning rather than learning. What impact do you think your book will have on children who read it, in terms of propagating the message in other children?
I hope the book plays a part in teaching children to question stereotypes and apply logic and reasoning before believing and internalizing what someone tells them. When someone throws a stereotype at them, I hope they can reflect and say, “but that’s not true for all boys/girls” or “but boys/girls can do/like that as well”. I hope it gives them the confidence to like and do what comes naturally to them and not deny their own natural selves out of fear of judgment. I also hope it encourages them to be more kind and accommodating and less judgemental towards other kids.
Have you picked up a copy of the book yet?