Proud That Your Daughter Bailed on Pink Princess Dresses? Maybe Don’t Be
A six-year-old girl declaring her hatred of pink has basically internalized sexism
“I don’t like princesses,” my daughter’s seven-year-old friend proclaimed proudly. “Or pink.”
“Me either,” chimed in another little girl, one of six we were having over for my younger daughter’s seventh birthday, along with one boy. We were in search of a movie to watch, which, they announced, shouldn’t be about a princess. “I hate Frozen,” one said, and the others quickly concurred.
Not long before this, my daughter and her friends were whole-hog into what psychologists call “PFD,” or pink frilly dresses. “We have noticed that a large proportion of girls pass through a stage when they virtually refuse to go out of the house unless they are wearing a dress, often pink and frilly,” psychologist Diane Ruble and her colleagues wrote in a 2011 paper. Some mothers said their daughters began expressing PFD desires as soon as they could speak, and insisted on wearing pink to all occasions, from hiking to horseback riding. As many as 74% of three- to four-year-old American girls demand PFD, according to a follow-up paper by psychology professor May Ling Halim.
But why? The psychologists knew the phenomenon couldn’t just be attributed to cultural norms, since many American parents fight against cultural norms, attempting to shield their daughters from dressing as Frozen royalty Anna and Elsa, trying not to pinkify their toys. Besides, those norms were so recently created. Little boys stopped wearing dresses only a hundred years ago, and pink has been considered a girls’ color for less time than that. Meanwhile, pink is an ungendered color in some other cultures and countries, so the PFD phenomenon couldn’t be biological.
PFD feels so innate in part because kids police gender so strongly themselves. Perhaps the most powerful way kids learn about gender is not from the media or from their parents, but from one another. At two years old, most kids understand the two assigned sex groups, and by age three, the stereotypes associated with them. From there they construct what psychologists have called a “gender reality.” Arizona State University child development professor Carol…