Radford's Pink Problem

What possessed Ben Radford to “debunk” a four-year-old is beyond me. What possessed him to do so outisde his expertise without reading up on any of the decades of research into the development and enforcement of gender roles in young children, relying instead on arguments from his personal incredulity, is a question for the ages. What possessed him to double-down on some of his absurd claims after Rebecca Watson exposed their vacuity is–you know what? I don’t care. It simply pisses me off. As a skeptic.

One of Bradford’s original arguments was that maybe aisles of toys aimed at girls were pink because dolls were pink and little girls like playing with dolls. Rebecca pointed out that dolls are not, in fact, pink. As an aside, she noted that this argument was also exclusionary, since not all dolls have pink skin.

Any guesses on which part Radford treated as the argument?

Rebecca apparently believes that most dolls do not have “pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones.” To Rebecca, the claim that most dolls have “pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones” is a “ridiculous fantasy story.” What’s her evidence for this? Did she do any research? Nope, she zoomed in on a screen capture of Riley taken with a cell phone and concluded that few if any of the dolls are pinkish. (Watch the first ten seconds of the video and see how the background colors change every few seconds; this is pretty much the definition of a flawed experiment, as she’ll get different tones depending on when she freezes the picture.)

Who’s right, me or Rebecca? I could cite studies about the dearth of minority skin tones in children’s dolls, but there’s a much easier way to do it. Decide for yourself: the next time you’re in a toy store, craft store, or anywhere else where dolls are sold, look at the skin tones on the majority of the dolls. Are they roughly pink tones, or are they another color? Or do a simple Google image search for “dolls” and see what skin color most of them show up as; according to Rebecca, it will be anything but pink.

Yes, the part where Rebecca took the Photoshop eyedropper to the causcasian dolls and painted the backdrop of the picture that decidedly-not-pink color is completely left out. And no, Ben, it doesn’t matter whether the color in that frame was very good. What matters is that painting the toys the same color as the dolls’ skin changed the color drastically. Even (roughly) caucasian-skinned dolls are. not. pink. They’re a kind of peachy tan that contrasts distinctly with the prescribed color for girls’ toy packaging.

Perhaps if we do this in reverse, Radford will get it. Ben, here is a doll:

This is a doll. Its clothes are pink.
This is a doll. Its clothes are pink.

Here is a doll with girly pink skin:

This is a pink doll. It is terrifying.
This is a pink doll. It is terrifying.

See the difference yet? If you don’t, even with this ugly markup, you may be color blind. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, of course. It’s simply a disability. It does, however, make you unqualified to level any criticism about color.

If you do see the difference, and you’re still making some argument about doll flesh tones explaining why pink is used to market to girls, it’s time to ask yourself why you’re investing that much of your ego and credibility in a crap argument. It’s also time to ask why you’re clutching to that wrong-headed argument when advice on promoting and modeling critical thinking strongly emphasizes the importance of admitting when you’re wrong.

Hopefully Radford will get back to us once he’s had some time to think this out rather than just react to being criticized.

Radford's Pink Problem
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15 thoughts on “Radford's Pink Problem

  1. 1

    Girls with Daltonism must be terribly confused, if skin tone is the rationale for “girls like pink”… And I don’t see a huge lot of light brown toys, books and clothes marketed toward African American girls!

  2. Sas

    I’m tempted to send Radford this hue sensitivity test.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he really can’t tell the difference between light orange and pink; I have a male friend who isn’t even technically colorblind but just still can’t distinguish between pale orange and pink when we look at photos together.

  3. 7

    The weird thing is why Radford felt the need to set this little girl straight in the first place. Lots of people have written about how she was right and he was wrong, but putting that aside, I don’t see the point. Is he trying to say that we shouldn’t let our skeptical guard down even when confronted with adorable children? Or that toy companies are bound by evolution to produce pink products for girls? What was he trying to accomplish?

  4. 12

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he really can’t tell the difference between light orange and pink; I have a male friend who isn’t even technically colorblind but just still can’t distinguish between pale orange and pink when we look at photos together.

    really? fascinating.

    now I’m sort of tempted to force everyone around me whose job isn’t in design to take these tests. just to see what’s actually “normal” for distinguishing color variants.

    annoying my firends; for science!

  5. 14

    Radford is probably also one of those people who believes, I mean, really truly believes, that corporations really only sell things based on consumer demand, rather than what is observably true — corporations aggressively work to create demand for whatever it is they think they can sell, particularly in terms of style and design. (If this weren’t true, the fashion industry would cease to exist as we know it…) Personally, I think the pinkification of toys is a prime example of manufactured demand and a captured consumer market (ie. that since people will buy toys no matter what colour they are, if all toys are either pink or blue, pink and blue toys will sell due to lack of other choices). I still remember being a kid, and while there were pink toys, toys aimed at girls didn’t used to be uniformly pink.

    It’s probably an enormous cost savings to the manufacturers if they only have to colour things two or three colours, since they then wouldn’t have to buy as many pigments and colouring agents for the materials. I wouldn’t be surprised if the colouring agent suppliers find that this saves money, too, because they may have been able to phase out some colours in response. All of which is a positive incentive to standardise on a limited colour palette.

    Tangentially, I must be tired. I read “And in the right column, an ad about evening skin tone. For black people,” and I was like, “Wait, what, black people aren’t a different colour late in the day as they are other times, huh?”

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