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April 17, 2010

Don't Drink the Pink Milk

The following is a "conversation" we had on Twitter last night with green marketing consultant and mother, Lynn Miller (@organicmania), about strawberry milk.

Well, it wasn't really about strawberry milk. It was about sexism... and gender conformity... and, well.... strawberry milk.

For the record, we're not posting this to pile on her after the fact or beat a dead horse or anything. We don't think she's a bad person and we don't expect everyone to be perfect (we certainly aren't) but since kids can be so easily influenced we thought it was worth a discussion.

The conversation was interesting to us, and we think it's a good example of why language matters. We're not going to change a sexist society completely, but every little bit of effort to change does make a difference. We're glad she was able to see it from our point of view and hope that other people might learn from this conversation too.

It started when we noticed these comments:

Now we're definitely not fans of the "pink milk" either. We don't think flavored milk (i.e., sweetened milk) necessarily belongs in school and we're big supporters of healthy eating and everything organic. (Not that we always eat healthy, but at least we know that we should be!) We agree with telling your kids not to drink the pink milk, or telling them that they can only have it occasionally as a treat, or whatever your personal healthy eating rules happen to be as a parent. But we definitely aren't down with using scare tactics of "becoming girly" to enforce those rules.

It also brought us back to the whole soy makes kids gay controversy from awhile back, which was another situation where a children's health concern was expressed in a less-than-ideal way. We're not directly comparing the two because we know that the mom in this case doesn't actually believe that flavored milk is going to turn her son "girly", but there are some similarities. Maybe kids shouldn't have excessive amounts of soy/pink milk, but it's not because they're going to turn gay/girly.

Here's the rest of the conversation:

We didn't respond again after that, because it seemed like she got our point. And we have to give her points for engaging with us, because we can only imagine what it's like to have a couple of Evil Sluts randomly show up to take issue with something you've said on Twitter.

We did discuss her last tweet a little bit and whether it really means that he hasn't "learned" that pink milk is bad for him because it will make him girly. Who knows what he might have said if she had questioned him further to see if he understood why the pink milk wasn't good for him. He might not have offered up "girly boy" as an answer to her question, but that doesn't mean that he didn't internalize any messages from that "joke".

But of course this isn't about us over-analyzing an interaction between a mom and child that we don't even know. The larger point is just that it would be great if we could continue to move away from these old ideas that boys shouldn't be girly and that anything or anyone that is girly is somehow less than, and just work towards helping kids to figure out who they are as individuals and be comfortable with themselves. So if us starting up a conversation like this one helps even a tiny bit, then we're happy.

1 comment:

paul said...

Very engaging essay. I drank some pink milk as a child, and I'm afraid that it has made me a little girly. Not gay. Just a little effeminate. I'm just sayin'. I like the way you handled the pink milk lady and got some meaningful conversation going. We all need to be aware of how sexist and weird our language is. I recently responded to a video on Twitter of a very penis-like sea worm being grabbed by a guy, and noted, "That is SO gay!" Of course, it's a riff on the cliche, but... I know it's not necessarily cool. Thanks 4 the essay. Foppishly Yours.