Book Review: Pink and Blue by Ritu Vaishnav

posted by Shweta Sharan, November 28, 2018

With powerful nudges and visual cues, Pink and Blue by Ritu Vaishnav is a cleverly written and beautifully illustrated book that just might work in getting your child to think beyond gender stereotypes and prescriptions.  

A few years ago, I noticed that the actress Charlize Theron was photographed with her little son, who was dressed up as Elsa for Halloween! I thought this was the loveliest picture I had ever seen. I marveled at Theron's wonderful parenting skills. She is not afraid of letting her son embrace what he likes and in their world, there is no gender-based restriction whatsoever. Imagine the freedom of thought that this boy will grow up to possess! He will see the world in a far-reaching manner, unlike the rest of us.

But how many of us can dare to be like her? The world is a maddeningly restrictive place. 

The astonishing origins of pink and blue

Where does this gender bias come from? When I did a little research, I found something pretty shocking. Here's what Business Insider says.

In the early part of the 20th Century and the late part of the 19th Century, in particular, there were regular comments advising mothers that if you want your boy to grow up masculine, dress him in a masculine colour like pink and if you want your girl to grow up feminine dress her in a feminine color like blue."

"This was advice that was very widely dispensed with and there were some reasons for this. Blue in parts of Europe, at least, had long been associated as a feminine color because of the supposed color of the Virgin Mary’s outfit."

"Pink was seen as a kind of boyish version of the masculine color red. So it gradually started to change however in the mid-20th Century and eventually by about 1950, there was a huge advertising campaign by several advertising agencies pushing pink as an exclusively feminine color."   

Talk about random associations and completely arbitrary connections! There is no logic behind gender-specific toys or products, at all. 

But seeing as our children are conditioned by society and the visual cues around them, how do we go about subtly changing their perception? 

I have always believed that books, art, music and cinema are great ways to nudge kids into thinking for themselves, so when Ritu Vaishnav came out with Pink and Blue, I was thrilled to read it!  

A fun book with subtle but powerful nudges

The title, Pink and Blue, is printed in reversed colors. This is a simple but effective visual tool to get children to see things interchangeably and to train the mind to look at things differently! The book is written in the form of a conversation -- 'Girls like pink. Boys like blue. But boys can like pink too. And girls can also like blue.'

The book then takes us through many scenarios that gently talk about every gender bias that's out there, but in a simple and conversational way that the child understands. Remember, kids are remarkably clever and talking to them without rhetoric or complex explanations is the best way to get them to think. This is why the book works. It acknowledges every assumption we make, and gently tells us that alternatives exist too. The conversation starts with pink and blue but extends to so many other restrictions that are out there -- short or long hair, crying and showing emotions, cooking, and work.

For example:

"Girls Cook. So do boys. 

Because everyone eats. Everyone likes to be fed, especially when they're tired."

The pictures play a secret role too!

The book's illustrations by Vishnu M Nair fill in the blanks beautifully. We are shown men and women who work in different professions, and none of them with gender restrictions.  

I have noticed with my own daughter and with other kids that outright polemics don't work with children. They need stories or simple ideas and pictures to make them think differently about the world.   

For example, when my daughter was 4, I would show her a board book that had a working mum and a stay-at-home dad. The book didn't state that a woman can work and a man can stay at home. It assumed that this was normal and the story was about the little girl and her Sundays with her family.  

I love the note that Pink and Blue ends on -- that boys and girls can make wonderful friends. As a child who grew up in a girls' school, I looked at a men-women relationship in a monochrome manner. The idea that boys and girls can be great friends is a wonderful thing to say. It shows that not only can boys and girls hang out but that there are so many lessons and great insights to be had from one another. 

With humor, logic, gentle persuasion and wit, Vaishnav inoculates a child mind with simple but important ideas. 

We absolutely love Pink and Blue. Buy it. Stock it in your libraries. Make sure your child's school has it. When our face is pressed to the pavement during desperate times in our lives, it is our open view of the world and its possibilities that will help us get right back up.  

Buy now!

Amazon US | Amazon India

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