Rebecca and Riley: Tempest in a Doll’s Tea Party

January 2, 2012


A fresh new year and Rebecca Watson is already upset about something I wrote. Is it January already?

Rebecca recently wrote a piece for her Skepchick blog called "Intellectual Cage Match: Ben Radford Vs. A 4-Year-Old," in which she critiqued a blog piece I wrote for Julia Lavarnway's recently-launched blog "We Are SkeptiXX." It was an analysis of a viral video featuring a four-year-old girl named Riley who complains about gender stereotyped marketing. In order to understand the context it's important to read my original post, which can be found at the link above.


There's much wrong about Rebecca's rebuttal to my article, so I'll jump in.

1) Rebecca begins by accusing me of "misrepresenting" research last year on a different topic; we had a long, drawn-out discussion on the subject which is easily available for anyone who wishes to look for it. I explained why Rebecca was wrong in her interpretation, and the whole thing ended with Rebecca contacting one or both of the authors who she claimed I misquoted; a year later, neither one has yet claimed that I misquoted or misrepresented them, their research, or the conclusions I quoted from their papers. Strange that Rebecca neglected to mention that...

2) Rebecca writes, "It takes a lot to strawman a 4-year old, but Ben's done it. For starters, most of his takedown involves literally taking the 4-year old's words at face value instead of comprehending what she's saying with her limited vocabulary."

There's a very specific reason I focused on Riley's words "at face value" for the purposes of discussion: They are concrete and objective. We can all agree on what exactly she said, we can read it and listen to it and quote it for reference in case of dispute. Anything much beyond her words is interpretation (more on this later). Julia's statement, in her response to my article on the We Are SkeptiXX blog that the point of Riley's rant was that "aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls'" is a perfect example. To Julia, that was obviously the gist or thesis of Riley's comments. But that was not the gist that I, or another viewer I corresponded with, interpreted from her Riley's words.

The point isn't that Julia, Rebecca, or any one of us, is necessarily wrong, but that the problem with discussing interpretation is that it brings us back to subjective opinions. Like a piece of art, a dozen different people may have a dozen different interpretations. Certainly we can each argue for our own interpretation, but it's like people arguing about different interpretations of the Bible: It's often circular, and there's rarely a meeting of the minds or consensus about interpretations.

Of course it's not enough to just analyze her words (that's why I did so only briefly); it's only a starting point. There's nothing inherently wrong with discussing various interpretations, as long as people acknowledge that they are essentially subjective opinions, and that other people may have equally valid interpretations. When we stick to the original, objective, indisputable words that Riley spoke-whether she's four or forty-we stick to things we can all agree on. This is actually standard practice for skeptical investigation, which is my specialty (and something Rebecca has, to my knowledge, never done): You focus on what exactly the person said.

So when I insisted that Riley was wrong in her claim that girls are forced or "tricked" into buying or liking pink items or princesses, my purpose was not to be pedantic, but instead to keep the discussion grounded and rooted in objective evidence.

3) "Ben goes on to guess at why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. One of his guesses is that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Apparently Rebecca was so busy facepalming herself that she didn't read what I wrote closely... Do I explain why girls decided that pink is for girls? Nope, I say that no one knows; here's the direct quote: "girls were later assigned the color pink for reasons that aren't entirely clear." Misrepresentation or misreading? Either way, Rebecca is wrong. A closer reading shows that I never claimed or suggested any link between "why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys" and "that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Rebecca confuses two separate issues; the question "Why are most toys and clothing items for female babies and young girls pink" is a different question than why society chose pink and blue to represent girls and boys, respectively. I did not even try to answer the latter question (in fact I wrote that "reasons that aren't entirely clear"), while the former question can be analyzed as follows:

"One obvious reason is that dolls are by far the most popular toys for girls. What color are most dolls? Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned. There are, of course, dolls of varying skin tones and ethnicities (the popular Bratz dolls, for example, have a range of skin tones). But since most girls play with dolls, and most dolls are pink (a green- or blue-skinned doll would look creepy), it makes perfect sense that most girls' toys are pink."

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.

4) "Here's another reason Ben made up for why girl toys are pink: Pink is also the most popular color for girls' items for the same reason that white is the most popular color for new cars: that's what most people prefer. Get it? Popular things are popular because they're popular. Pink things are popular because people prefer them."


I'm not sure what Rebecca doesn't understand about this, but I've spelled out the logic below, maybe this will help:
1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls' toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls' toys are pink.

I can do a Venn diagram for her, but it's valid.

5) This is perhaps my favorite Rebecca-ism:

"Girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability. Riley understands this, but apparently Ben does not."

Yes, Rebecca is really saying that four-year-old Riley understands that "girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability."

It's clear that Rebecca is putting her own spin or interpretation on Riley's comments. Julia Lavarnway, in her piece on We Are SkeptiXX, had a very different interpretation than Rebecca does, saying that "Aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls.' That is what Riley is really complaining about." Of course Rebecca assumes that her interpretation is the only correct one; I'm wrong, Julia is wrong, and anyone else that doesn't agree with her is an idiot.

But if you listen closely you find that Riley doesn't talk about gender roles; that's Rebecca's spin on it. Riley's not talking about unfuckable prudes or boys being called fags; she's noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink). She complains that girls are "tricked" into buying pink items, a claim Rebecca apparently agrees with. Riley actually contradicts herself at least once in the video, for example when her father points out that boy are not forced to buy "different colored" (i.e., non-pink) items. I'm not sure which contradictory position of Riley's Rebecca endorses; probably both.

Are there people and parents who freak out if their young daughter plays with G.I. Joes or acts like a tomboy? Of course. Are there people and parents who freak out if their young son likes to play dress-up and wear pink? Sure there are. No one is saying that those people don't exist, or that their narrow-mindedness is not a problem. But this is specifically about Riley Maida, her comments, her father's comments, and the public's reaction to them, not about whether gender stereotypes exist (of course they do).

6) I actually wrote (and submitted) a much more detailed piece than the one that appeared on We Are SkeptiXX blog. It's unfortunate that it was not posted earlier (and is still not available) so that Rebecca could read the whole piece, since she misunderstands a lot of it.

Instead of trading insults with Rebecca, I'd rather look critically at the issues Riley raises. Of course marketing and advertising is going to feature pink toys (since many girls prefer pink-whether it's genetic, cultural, or both is another matter) and girls playing with dolls and princesses. Most TV commercials don't depict girls playing with gender-stereotyped male toys like WWF action figures and rockets-and why would they, since girls prefer dolls? If you're a company marketing to girls, you're going to depict girls playing with toys that girls prefer to play with; you could of course make gender-contrary ads (boys playing with princesses and girls playing with racing cars, or even men in lingerie), but why would you? No advertiser in their right might would do that--not because they are part of some sinister sexist stereotyping marketing conspiracy, but because there's little point in funding a marketing campaign that will appeal to a minority of consumers. Rule #1 in communication and marketing is "Know Your Audience"; you don't pitch BMWs to teenagers, beef to vegetarians, or princesses to boys. There are lots of toys that girls rarely appear in commercials playing with.... I'm not sure where the assumption comes from that girls only play with toys that they see girl actors in commercials playing with.

I think the discussion gets more interesting and much more productive when we as skeptics focus on real-world evidence and objective claims. We can speculate all day about why a particular girl likes pink, or whether boys or girls are harmed by not having opposite-gender toys marketed to them, but in the end it's mostly opinion. If there are studies showing that girls or boys who play with gender-stereotyped toys are damaged in some way, let's review them and discuss them. If there's some evidence (or reason to believe) that removing the "Boys" and "Girls" aisle signs in toy stores would have some beneficial effect on girls, let's talk about it.

Personally, I think the whole idea of distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is silly. I don't have a problem with girls being tomboys and playing with Superman, or boys playing with princesses. It doesn't bother me either way, I think Riley and every other kid should do what he or she wants. I'm not defending gender-stereotyped colors and toys, in fact I think the whole idea is ridiculous, and if parents buy into that they need to get over their hangups. But nor do I see any sexist marketing conspiracy in it. I don't see any specific harm or damage done if a girl plays with a pink princess, or a boy is given blue instead of pink or another color. Who cares?

Parents--not toy companies or toddlers--control what their children play with, from clothing to toys. Instead of blaming toy marketers for providing products that parents are free to buy or ignore (as Riley seems to), parents need to take responsibility. If you don't want your little girl to play with Barbie, don't buy her one. Ideally parents should offer their boys and girls a variety of gender-neutral toys and colors, and let them express their own preferences.

But little girls who express a desire for pink dolls and "girlie" items should not be denied them, nor made to feel like they "shouldn't" like those things because they reinforce gender stereotypes. It's insulting to suggest that the reason a girl wants pink is that she must have been influenced by marketers and the media: "I don't care what you say, you don't really like pink or want a Barbie... you're just buying into consumer culture's sexist expectations of what you should want." She might like pink dolls because she saw them in a commercial, and/or because her friends have them, and/or because she just likes the way they look, and/or because her mother or grandmother had one like it, and/or countless other reasons. Or she just might like pink dolls, and shouldn't have to justify her preference. I think kids should be kids, and allowed to like or dislike any toys or colors or clothes without their decisions being second-guessed by adults. Riley may be four years old, but she's not stupid.

It's clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don't think anyone is arguing or disputing that. It's the link between that and what Riley says in this video that's much less clear and focused. We all agree that what Riley said is not literally true: girls aren't tricked or forced into buying anything. So let's broaden the scope to a larger claim: Marketers encourage girls to buy (actually, their parents to buy) pink items and princesses, and boys to buy superheroes and non-pink items. Okay, so where does the discussion go from there? What exactly is the evidence of harm, and the proposed, evidence-based remedy? What is anyone suggesting be done about it?

Rebecca doesn't offer any answers; she's too busy hurling insults, being outraged, and trying to keep her head from asploding. I've tried to provide a level of considered, critical analysis about this topic. In the end, I think that Rebecca, Julia, and I more or less agree about 95% of this topic, and that much of the perceived disagreement is either factual (Rebecca claims that most dolls aren't pink; I claim most are); or interpretation.

I'll end on a different note. Rebecca and I can disagree about this and other topics, but it's disheartening to be called "idiotic" and described as less intelligent than a four-year-old by a friend and skeptical colleague. I counted about a half-dozen insults in her piece, and it's clear Rebecca enjoys being outraged at various things. It's often the case that outrage and insults substitute for truth and accuracy; it's easier to call someone stupid than it is to engage them respectfully. It's easier to have knee-jerk, facepalming reactions than it is to thoughtfully see if there's some misunderstanding on someone's part-or, god forbid, even some common ground. For my part, I take my cues from Ray Hyman, one of my heroes and one of the founders of both CSCIOP and the modern skeptical movement.

If you haven't read Ray's piece "Proper Criticism," you should; it's what guides editorial policy in Skeptical Inquirer. It's a short piece explaining how best to deal with people and claims you disagree with. I'll quote a few short sections: "Many well-intentioned critics have jumped into the fray without carefully thinking through the various implications of their statements. They have sometimes displayed more emotion than logic, made sweeping charges beyond what they can reasonably support, failed to adequately document their assertions, and, in general, failed to do the homework necessary to make their challenges credible.... If we envision ourselves as the champions of rationality, science, and objectivity, then we ought to display these very same qualities in our criticism. Just by trying to speak and write in the spirit of precision, science, logic, and rationality-those attributes we supposedly admire-we would raise the quality of our critiques by at least one order of magnitude.... The principle of charity implies that, whenever there is doubt or ambiguity about a...claim, we should try to resolve the ambiguity in favor of the claimant until we acquire strong reasons for not doing so. In this respect, we should...convey the opponent's position in a fair, objective, and non-emotional manner. We should avoid using loaded and prejudicial words in our criticisms. If the proponents happen to resort to emotionally laden terms and sensationalism, we should avoid stooping to their level. We should not respond in kind."

Just because someone disagrees with you, or has a different opinion than you do, doesn't mean the other person is a stupid, dishonest asshole. Even a four year old knows that.

 

 

Comments:

#51 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 6:36pm

So Ben Radford feels justified in criticizing Rebecca Watson for failing to show proper evidence while completely failing to respond to criticism that the study he quoted in his article was poorly done and many of the facts he referenced were incorrect?

Also, I’m not sure how he thinks his argument about the color of dolls is valid. Since when have Caucasians had bright pink skin? And since when is “most girls’ toys are pink therefore most girls’ toys are pink” a particularly meaningful argument?

#52 Dorion on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 6:37pm

@49 BigFrankieC: Well said. Some people like to fight. Doesn’t mean one has to join the fray. I say lead by example, and vote with your feet.

#53 F. Bacon (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 7:25pm

While the crudeness and insults were endearing for Madalyn O’Hair, they don’t really work for R. Watson.  It just makes her a pain and not a learned one.

#54 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 7:48pm

It’s really fascinating to see what people have read into my piece… They believe it’s a discussion about sexism, or male privilege, or social pressures on girls to conform to gender expectations, etc.

It’s not. Here’s what it’s about, topic by topic:

1) Examining whether Riley’s claim that girls have to buy princesses (and can’t buy superheroes or non-pink dolls) is true. This claim, I assume we can all agree on, is false.

2) Discussing the association of blue for boys; I state that we don’t really know why pink is for girls. As far as I know all this is true, but I’m happy to be corrected with better information.

3) Examining why most girls’ toys are pink; I give 2 reasons: 1) that most dolls are pink (or roughly Caucasian skin colored); and 2) that some research (published in a peer-reviewed journal and discussed in Time magazine) suggests that girls may have a pre-disposition for the color pink. I never claimed the link was conclusively proven, but I did cite a study. As far as I know all this is true, but I’m happy to be corrected with better information.

4) Pointing out that Riley’s observation that culturally pink is for boys and blue is for girls is true, but rather obvious and banal. This was my opinion, and I think most people would agree that her noticing the pink/blue gender assignations is not terribly insightful.

5) Discussing why Riley’s video might have been so popular, and her father’s motivations for posting it. This also was my opinion, and I admitted I could be wrong.

I’ve summarized and simplified a bit, but that’s the outline of what I wrote.

Can anyone quote the sentences where they think I discussed sexism, or male privilege, or social pressures on girls to conform to gender expectations?

Or am I missing the point, and the complaint is that I DIDN’T address sexism, male privilege, and social pressures, when I should have?

Any help would be appreciated, thanks.

#55 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:05pm

I would like to remind everyone that the opinions expressed on this blog are not the opinions of CFI. As stated:

Consistent with CFI’s mission, Free Thinking will offer uninhibited, unsparing, and provocative observations and insights on a variety of topics of interest to CFI and its supporters—including the supporters of CFI’s two principal affiliates, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism…

Now for some unavoidable legalese: As indicated, we want our bloggers to be opinionated and candid. To ensure frank and open discussion, the content of the blogs will not be discussed with the management of CFI and its affiliates prior to posting. Accordingly, the viewpoints expressed on Free Thinking are the viewpoints of the individual blogger only and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of, nor should they be attributed to, CFI or its affiliates, or any of their directors or officers. CFI and its affiliates disclaim any responsibilities for statements set forth in the blog. Similarly, any comments posted by visitors to the blog are solely and exclusively the responsibility of that visitor. CFI and its affiliates disclaim any responsibility for such comments. Notwithstanding the foregoing, CFI and its affiliates do reserve the right to remove comments that are considered obscene or potentially defamatory under prevailing legal standards or serve no significant purpose (e.g., repeated comments consisting of a string of nonsense words).

I haven’t taken an official poll, but many CFI employees (including me) disagree with Ben Radford’s conclusions. I believe Ben’s blogs on this issue are not based on scientific facts and that he has a blind spot on women’s issues.

#56 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:06pm

@Ben Radford

Regarding 3), that study has been criticized many times for its methodology. I understand that you didn’t claim it proved anything, but even a cursory review of the research on the subject should have turned up, for example, Jadva, Hines, and Golombok’s 2010 study that demonstrated no color-preference whatsoever in infants.

In addition, I think most commenters are having issues comprehending your assertion that most dolls are pink because they are Caucasian. These are two distinct colors. Respond to that criticism, please.

You have been “corrected with information” regarding the blue and boys assertion—you can find that by following the link in my comment above.

#57 Garnetstar (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:08pm

What happened to your “blue has signified boys for millenia” argument, Ben?  You just quietly dropping that now, since everyone’s shown you that that only came in around 1940?


A statement that inaccurate throws doubt on everything you say.

#58 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:08pm

In addition, there’s a logical issue with using the “most dolls are pink” as the reason why “most girls’ toys are pink.” This is circular reasoning (made even more explicit by your explicit acceptance that most girls’ toys are dolls). As long as you continue responding to this criticism of your argument by reiterating, people are going to continue taking issue with your reasoning.

#59 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:17pm

Oh, and my response to PZ’s hit piece about the pink preference study is this:

PZ seems to think that I endorsed the study and claimed it was rock-solid research; I did not. I accurately and correctly reported the results of a peer-reviewed study published in a reputable journal. The fact that the study can be criticized as having flaws is not a failure of journalism or research on my part. I did not misrepresent the study in any way. If PZ or anyone else can provide any evidence that the study was retracted (and therefore I should have known better than to cite it), or references to published research that contradicts the study, I’ll be happy to see it. Until then, criticizing me for accurately quoting research is somewhat bizarre.

#60 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:20pm

@Ben Radford

I provided a reference above about color preference, and it wasn’t that hard to find. I don’t think it is available for free, but the abstract is available here. In addition, I honestly believe that any search of literature regarding this would have produced critiques of that studies methodology, as would a careful reading of the study in question anyway.

#61 JonHam (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:29pm

@16

You’ve posted an interesting anecdote. Its problem lies in its sample size however.

I had the misfortune to be on the other side of the counter during that Marketing Phase. I believe the Hotwheels - a toy tie in, were accompanied by Tinkerbell - movie/toy tie in.

While in your singular experience, your child chose the ‘awesome’ girl toy, the overwhelming majority went the other way. Indeed, for most parents, it is as simple as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toys. It doesn’t matter what the toy is, all that matters is the label. The looks of derision I would get, when running out of one gender and offering the other, were quite telling. The tears and shame in the eyes of children forced to recieve a toy of the wrong gender, were also quite telling.

In my experience, as both the ex-employee of a Marketing company, a sales rep, and as a consumer myself, what happens is that we respond to the labels given to products by marketing, not the other way around.

The two clear labels are ‘gender’ and ‘socioeconomic status’ labels. Go to a supermarket, look at the objects in trolleys and bags about to be checked out. Its very easy to determine where one is placed in their society by the products they choose. I’m not a genius, but it doesn’t take one to note the difference between offbrand and trademark. Quality? The same. Price? Markedly different.

If I’m at a Hardware store, and a woman in front of me is buying a drill set and its not pink, what is the assumption made, and shared in knowing looks between the men behind her? “Its for her husband” its automatic, its now instinctive, and its imposed on us by marketing and corporate strategists.

#62 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:30pm

1) See my post about the pink preference study.

2) “In addition, I think most commenters are having issues comprehending your assertion that most dolls are pink because they are Caucasian. These are two distinct colors. Respond to that criticism, please.”

Sure, here’s what I wrote, that most dolls are “Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned.” I’m not sure how you want me to quantify that; Caucasian pigmentation (especially the colors used in plastic dolls) tend to be pink, or much closer to pink than other primary or secondary colors. Is anyone really saying that most dolls aren’t a roughly pink color? Evidence please?

3) Here are the references I used for my blue=boys citation: How Did They Do That?, by Caroline Sutton, (Morrow and Co., 1984), p. 54; and The Big Book of Amazing Facts, by Malvina Vogel, (Moby books, 1980), p. 349. If my sources are wrong then I’m happy to admit that, but I don’t know that your source is any better than mine. Just because we both consulted different sources with conflicting information doesn’t mean I’m wrong, or should not have offered it.

#63 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:32pm

Melody, thank you for publicly posting that “many CFI employees (including me) disagree with Ben Radford’s conclusions. I believe Ben… has a blind spot on women’s issues.” I’ll have to talk to Ron about that.

#64 Island Adolescent (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:33pm

Ben, people responded to you.

You ignored them, and pretended they never did, and then claim nobody ever responded to you.

Class act.

#65 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:39pm

I think it’s very important for people to know that the views expressed on this blog are not that of CFI. I also think it’s fair that I express my opinion about your blog posts on women’s issues.

#66 mrmisconception (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:39pm

Oh oh Melody, you contradicted Ben and made him look bad, better duck and cover.

#67 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:42pm

“In addition, there’s a logical issue with using the “most dolls are pink” as the reason why “most girls’ toys are pink.” This is circular reasoning (made even more explicit by your explicit acceptance that most girls’ toys are dolls). As long as you continue responding to this criticism of your argument by reiterating, people are going to continue taking issue with your reasoning.”

Okay, please provide some evidence that any of the following are not true:

1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most dolls are pink, or roughly Caucasian flesh colored
3) The majority of toys that girls play with are dolls

thanks!

#68 John (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:43pm

#62

YAY, a rational response.

Clearly this is anecdotal, I’m not even trying to claim otherwise. Also, there were quite a few people in the McDonald’s who were giving me the stinkeye, but, and here’s the important point: *I Didn’t Care*. I had a kid who had made a choice based on awesome, and I did the right thing in supporting that. The fact that random people I don’t know didn’t approve didn’t enter into squat other than me looking at them like “Please, fucking PLEASE say something.” Oddly, they didn’t. Funny that.


As well, the problem with marketing surveys is that they are leading as hell, no doubt, but, if client doesn’t like a marketing campaign, it doesn’t happen. The marketing/advertising company has to make the client happy, and they do that by coming up with a campaign that consumers respond to. Sadly, people respond well to crap, no matter what else they claim. That’s because people will lie to look better to their friends, or did you really think that everyone claiming to watch naught but PBS actually did.

Products that should not have sold well, like Bratz, did so because no matter how outraged people CLAIM to be, at the end of the day, they had no real problem with them.

Take Levis, who, in a fit of utter stupidity, took women at their professed word, and for a while, in the 90s IIRC, offered womens jeans with actual numbers. Not this “size 8 petite” shit, but you know, a waist measurement and an inseam measurement, done in actual inches. You know just like men’s sizes, so that once you know your numbers, you can just buy your clothes quickly and conveniently.

It was a good try, one that logically should have worked well, because it was removing a real problem for women. Except, well, vanity, self-conciousness, and a host of other completely silly things made this really smart idea into a grand failure. It seems women, the same women who complained about the stupidity of fake sizes would rather wear a “Size 3” than reveal they have a 38 inch waist, or whatever damned number was wrong. The reasons behind this are relatively unimportant in this case. Levis stopped marketing the product, and I think the entire project was quietly killed some years ago.

It didn’t matter what the marketing company Levis uses wanted, the client wanted it dead, consumers weren’t buying, it was dead. If you want to blame someone for the preponderance of craptacular advertising, look in the mirror, If people stop responding “well” to it, the advertising *goes away*. Really.

#69 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:44pm

1) I saw your post about the pink preferences. I’m not saying you were necessarily wrong to cite it—we’ve all cited studies that turned out to be poorly designed or otherwise faulty. But a two-second search, literally, turned up a study that offers at least some evidence that that viewpoint may be false, and, more importantly, a full reading of the study (which PZ did) turns up issues in their methods (particularly regarding control.) Your surprise that skeptics are point this out is, frankly, surprising to me. The skeptical community, more than most, actually considers reading a full study, and searching for counterarguments, part of the preparation for an argument.

2) I’m just not sure how to respond to this. You make the proposal that most dolls have Caucasian skin and are therefore pink. The burden of evidence is on you. I agree that most dolls are Caucasian, but you have to actually reasonably demonstrate that their pigmentation a) can be considered truly pink, and b) even if it is that it is the cause (of something, I’m not sure what you think it causes) not the result of sexist stereotypes.

3) In 1927, pink was the color for boys. I’m not sure how “conflicting sources” vanishes this fact away. [reference.] Even if boys in some ancient culture were swaddled in blue.

In addition, I’d love for you to respond to the criticism of your logical argument that most girls’ toys are pink because dolls are pink.

#70 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:47pm

Sorry, I posted this while you were posting your response about the logical argument.

1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most dolls are pink, or roughly Caucasian flesh colored
3) The majority of toys that girls play with are dolls

The problem is not that these are untrue (though, again, I disagree that pink=roughly Caucasian).

The problem is that you use your conclusion in your premises of the logical argument. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you argue that the reason why most girls’ toys are pink is because dolls are pink. Your conclusion is practically the same as your premise. Yes, if dolls are pink, given that dolls are the majority of girls’ toys, girls’ toys are mostly pink. That isn’t an argument that addresses why this is the case, merely demonstrates that it is.

#71 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:49pm

“Ben, people responded to you. You ignored them, and pretended they never did, and then claim nobody ever responded to you.”

I didn’t ignore anyone… People have been responding to me in over a dozen forums and threads from Facebook to four different blogs. I’v had literally hundreds of people responding to things I wrote over the past few days. I can’t be everywhere and respond to everyone, so save your indignance. I’m making an effort to respond now, though snide comments like yours are making me regret it.

#72 Will R (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:54pm

@Ben: I’ll respond to your new points. Maybe my response won’t magically “disappear” this time?

#1: Riley never claimed that. That’s your…interpretation, if you will. This was addressed specifically and clearly by Rebecca Watson. Riley never said girls “have to” buy princesses and boys “have to” buy superheroes. Her dad specifically asked her if if boys and girls could buy toys meant for the opposite gender, and she said yes.

#2: You actually do pose an answer that we know why pink is for girls. You say that it has been selected for by evolution. You’ve also been corrected on your assertion about blue for boys going back “millenia.” No comment on that, I suppose?

#3: You claim that you only go with objective scientific evidence, so provide it. Other people (Watson, PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds) have posted evidence demonstrating that your claim that the skin of dolls is pink is false. Further, people have countered that Caucasian skin tones are nowhere near pink, but closer to beige and tan. No response for that? For your second response, you did not quote “some research,” you quoted one single article. PZ Myers has completely demolished that study at Pharyngula. Go look there if you genuinely want to know why it is wrong.

#4: You miss the point. What’s great about the video is that it shows a kid engaged in critical thinking. Why do you feel the need to debunk and take a four-year-old to task? And just because you think most people would agree with you does not, in fact, mean that most people do agree with you. State your opinion and stop trying to appeal to the masses.

#5: Not only could you have been wrong, but it was completely irrelevant to your stated topic of examining Riley’s claims. And it borders on conspiracy theorizing.

As for quoting stuff to you where you discussed those things, that’s a bit disingenuous. It’s not about quoting somewhere where you said “girls are more/less X than boys.” It’s about how you are using discredited research to assert evolutionary biological differences between genders based on an outdated model of hunter-gatherer societies (a topic that has been used to further sexist claims). It’s about you claiming that preferences are not influenced by marketing and media. It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles (“It’s not like anyone cares,” you said in response to the idea that boys and girls are pressured into certain consumerist patterns). It’s about you claiming to be completely objective when, in fact, you are being completely subjective (where, exactly, is the “dirth” of research that you say you could have cited to support your claims? Still waiting…).

Your stubborn refusal and digging in your heels is indicative of your privilege. You are refusing to accept evidence that is contrary to your preconceptions, even when it is presented to you in the manner which you feel it should be (“proper criticism”). The complaint, sir, is that you have not addressed your own male privilege that leads you to make such silly and unfounded claims.

Finally, in the time it took me to write this, there were some further comments. Let me just also address this:

“Okay, please provide some evidence that any of the following are not true.”

Did you seriously just ask us to prove a negative? YOU are the one making the claims. YOU are the one that needs to provide evidence. Further, no one is debating #1 as far as I can tell, #2 has been addressed on multiple blogs, and you need to provide evidence that #3 is true. It’s your claim, you prove it.

#73 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 8:59pm

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you argue that the reason why most girls’ toys are pink is because dolls are pink. Your conclusion is practically the same as your premise. Yes, if dolls are pink, given that dolls are the majority of girls’ toys, girls’ toys are mostly pink. That isn’t an argument that addresses why this is the case, merely demonstrates that it is.”

No, I agree with you; you’re right that the argument doesn’t address why this is the case, merely demonstrates that it is. You’re 100% correct; I never claimed that that example explained why most DOLLS were pink, just why most TOYS were pink. I was just making the point (I think I even called it “obvious”) that toys and dolls are two similar but different categories. I apologize if this was unclear, but you can see why I’ve been puzzled at people claiming the logic is wrong, when we agree that it’s a true statement—just that I wasn’t making any claims beyond that.

#74 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:02pm

Other posters have mentioned not being able to see their posts. I’m just testing to see if this one shows up.

Ben Radford, you’re a disgrace to CFI. This post demonstrates an utter disdain for both skepticism and humanism. Apparently you are one of those otherwise sane people who lose their grip on reality when feminism and sexism are the topic of conversation.

#75 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:03pm

But that’s not what you wrote (@ #73)

Rebecca wrote this:

“Here’s another reason Ben made up for why girl toys are pink: Pink is also the most popular color for girls’ items for the same reason that white is the most popular color for new cars: that’s what most people prefer. Get it? Popular things are popular because they’re popular. Pink things are popular because people prefer them.”

And your response was this:

I’m not sure what Rebecca doesn’t understand about this, but I’ve spelled out the logic below, maybe this will help:
1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls’ toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls’ toys are pink.

You weren’t trying to just demonstrate that most girls’ toys are pink, which you wouldn’t even have managed since your logic is circular. You were trying to demonstrate the reason WHY girls’ toys were pink.

#76 Melody (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:08pm

Ben, some people are claiming that you have deleted dissenting viewpoints. So please tell us if you have deleted any comments.

#77 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:08pm

For clarity’s sake, the above is in reference to your original article where you write:

One obvious reason [why most girls’ toys are pink] is that dolls are by far the most popular toys for girls. What color are most dolls? Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned. There are, of course, dolls of varying skin tones and ethnicities (the popular Bratz dolls, for example, have a range of skin tones). But since most girls play with dolls, and most dolls are pink (a green- or blue-skinned doll would look creepy), it makes perfect sense that most girls’ toys are pink.

This is essentially saying that “most girls’ toys are pink because a large subset of girls’ toys is pink” which is….tautologous, I suppose, but not really a good reason.

Moreover, I did that google image search you recommend. And I didn’t see any dolls with “pink” skin color. I saw many dolls with pink clothes, whose skin color was not even close to the same color as their clothes. Check it out.

#78 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:20pm

#1: Riley never claimed that. That’s your…interpretation, if you will. This was addressed specifically and clearly by Rebecca Watson. Riley never said girls “have to” buy princesses and boys “have to” buy superheroes. Her dad specifically asked her if if boys and girls could buy toys meant for the opposite gender, and she said yes.

Listen to the first ten seconds of the video and see what you think it says. If I’ve got wrong, I’m not the only one; see this piece on Jezebel, which quotes her as asking ““Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses! Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses! So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”

I can’t link to it, but it’s easy to find.

#2: You actually do pose an answer that we know why pink is for girls. You say that it has been selected for by evolution. You’ve also been corrected on your assertion about blue for boys going back “millenia.” No comment on that, I suppose?

That’s not correct. Please provide a quote of me saying that pink is for girls because of evolution. (If you’re referring to the pink preference study that PZ loves to hate, you are confusing a social color association for a personal, gender-based preference; they are not the same thing.) I’ve provided references for the blue-boy link going back millennia; they may or may not be wrong, but I was not sloppy or wrong in citing them just because someone else has other references saying something different.

>>Caucasian skin tones are nowhere near pink, but closer to beige and tan. No response for that? For your second response, you did not quote “some research,” you quoted one single article. PZ Myers has completely demolished that study at Pharyngula. Go look there if you genuinely want to know why it is wrong.
I’ve already addressed this elsewhere. Yes, I provided one study; that’s one more study than you and PZ have provided.

>>You miss the point. What’s great about the video is that it shows a kid engaged in critical thinking.
You’re welcome to your opinion; I don’t think noticing color differences is particularly insightful or critical thinking.

>>It’s about you claiming that preferences are not influenced by marketing and media.
Nope, never said that. Please provide a quote or admit you’re wrong.

>>It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.
Nope, never said that. Please provide a quote or admit you’re wrong.

As for the pink dolls / most toys logic, I’ve addressed that elsewhere in my correspondence with infinitegames.

#79 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:24pm

There’s no need to reference a study to understand that beige is not pink, and pink is not beige. That’s simply ridiculous. As are you.

#80 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:26pm

I mean, I’m white. (“Caucasian” is an invented term with racist history, I don’t like it.) I have pink clothes. They don’t blend in with my skin.

I do have beige and tan colored clothes. They DO blend in with my skin.

But, hey, maybe black is white. Roughly.

#81 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:30pm

@ Radford #78

Just because the first 10 seconds of the video say one thing doesn’t mean you can infer that nothing else in the video qualifies that statement. Rebecca also quotes directly from the video, refuting that point. You can’t just address this by selectively quoting the opening of the video.

I’ve already addressed this elsewhere. Yes, I provided one study; that’s one more study than you and PZ have provided.

PZ’s criticism should be enough to discredit the study you cited. However, I’ll note again that I did provide a link to a study demonstrating that there is no color preference among infants. I could be wrong—I’m not a biologist—but from what I’ve read, if color preference were innate (as the study you linked suggests), we would see color preferences showing up before social conditioning begins seriously (although even at that age, there are indications of social conditioning being responsible for some preferences.) This study does not conclusively demonstrate that there is no innate color preference, but it does show that there is evidence on the other side, and the only study you’ve shown against it has been discredited.

As for the pink dolls / most toys logic, I’ve addressed that elsewhere in my correspondence with infinitegames.

I don’t particularly care about this, at this point, but you haven’t addressed it. My posts at #75 and #77 explicitly argue, from your articles, that you used “most dolls are pink” as the reason why “most girls’ toys are pink” which is not sound logic.

#82 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:31pm

>>“This is essentially saying that “most girls’ toys are pink because a large subset of girls’ toys is pink” which is….tautologous, I suppose, but not really a good reason.”

You may not think that it’s a good reason, but at least you agree it’s correct! I think the misunderstanding is that I’m making a complex argument; i’m not, and I state that it’s “obvious.”


>>Moreover, I did that google image search you recommend. And I didn’t see any dolls with “pink” skin color. I saw many dolls with pink clothes, whose skin color was not even close to the same color as their clothes. Check it out.

Okay, well, I don’t know what to tell you if you truly believe that the color of most dolls is not some close approximation to pink.  If you think that most dolls are closer to red or green or yellow or blue or purple, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’m certainly willing to concede that some may be closer to beige or tan, but that’s still much closer to pink than just about any other color.

#83 Melody (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:32pm

Ben, I’ve already told you that over 70% of people have a yellow/orange skin undertone. Most dolls skin reflects this. Dolls don’t have pink skin! So let’s just get over that one.

#84 Josh, SpokesGay (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:32pm

Come on Sally. You know that as soon as you put on a pink outfit you become totally indistinguishable from your clothes. Can’t tell where your blouse ends and your face begins. It’s like an invisibility cloak of Pepto Bismol.

Seriously Radford - you’re literally saying one color is a different color. Are you out of your gourd?

#85 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:33pm

>>It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.
Nope, never said that. Please provide a quote or admit you’re wrong.

That’s easy. It’s when you said that “nobody cares” whether Riley plays with princess dolls or superheroes.

As any person who has ever been to elementary school can attest, lots of people care. A lot. And for some unlucky souls, their parents care a great deal.

But unfortunately I don’t have a scientific study at hand corroborating this piece of common sense, so I guess you had better just dismiss it out of hand and continue pretending like Riley has no point.

#86 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:37pm

@ #82

Sorry, this conversation is too fast for my fingers!

By saying it is tautologous to propose a premise that says “Most toys are pink” and deduce from that that “most toys are pink” is not to say it is correct reasoning to propose that “most toys are pink” is the reason why> “most toys are pink.” [I’m simplifying and leaving out words, I assume you can follow…]

You’re saying that P is true implies P is true, and I agree that that is true, but proposing P as a reason, a cause, or whatever of itself being true is a <i>problem.

You assume your conclusion and then use it as the reason why it is true. That’s a fallacy. You can’t argue that the reason why girls’ toys are pink is because they are pink—that’s simply reiterating a premise as a conclusion. I know I’m repeating myself a bunch here, but I’m just not sure how to state this problem more clearly.

Sorry if I sound curt or rude, it isn’t my intention at all. I just don’t think I’ve been able to accurately express the logical issue I see.

#87 charles (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:39pm

Oh good grief, another outbreak of Female Persecution Complex from Watson and her little clique. I was hoping the new year would usher in a reprieve from this nonsense…most little girls who I know LOVE pink things and dolls, and will run straight to them in the toy store whether or not there’s a sign saying “GIRLS”. Likewise, most little boys that I know are attracted to toy trucks, cars, weapons, dinosaurs, etc. I see no evidence that these kids are “conditioned” in such directions by their parents, who are mostly liberal and willing to let their kids play with whatever toys they like. The few boys who prefer dolls are perfectly free to play with them, as are the girls who like cars and dinosaurs. The “GIRLS” and “BOYS” signs at the toy store serve the same purpose as the “AUTOMOTIVE” and “GARDEN” signs at Wal-Mart - to facilitate the locating of what the customer is seeking. If you are looking for a toy dinosaur your searching time is cut in half by the presence of the “BOYS” and “GIRLS” signs. To the best of my knowledge no toy store is going to prevent any little girl from examining or purchasing a dinosaur, if that’s what she wants.

#88 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:42pm

“PZ’s criticism should be enough to discredit the study you cited.”

I agree. As I’ve said many times. I accurately and correctly reported the results of a peer-reviewed study published in a reputable journal. The fact that the study can be criticized as having flaws is not a failure of journalism or research on my part. I did not misrepresent the study in any way.

I didn’t see the your reference to the Jadva, Hines, and Golombok 2010 study; where can I find it?

#89 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:45pm

Fair enough. I’m sure you’re busy reading any number of comment threads right now!

Here is the study. As I’ve said before, I’m not a biologist, so I admit the potential that I’ve misunderstood parts of the study. But I think it provides at least some contrary evidence regarding innate color preferences.

#90 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:46pm

My link got cut off, sorry. the link is here

#91 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:49pm

One of the relevant sections is here:

Four pairs of stimuli were used to evaluate infants’ preferences
for colors on their own. These stimulus pairs examined the
hypotheses that boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink, as well as
thatinfants show these sex-typed color preferences when brightness is controlled. Two pairs of stimuli compared pink (hue=
234, saturation=235, luminance=191) and blue (hue=146,
saturation=240, luminance=115). To ensure that the color of
the stimuli matched the shades of pink and blue of existing toys,
two toys (a doll’s dress and a building block) were scanned
directly into the computer and their shades of pink and blue were
recorded. Because pink and blue are made up of different brightness (luminance) levels, with pink being brighter than blue, and
because differences in the brightness levels of colors have been
Arch Sex Behav
123shown to modify infants’ color preferences (Cohen et al., 1979),
two additionalstimulus pairs were used to controlfor brightness.
The pink was matched for brightness with the blue to produce red
(hue=234, saturation=235, luminance=115), and the blue
was matched for brightness with the pink to produce pale blue
(hue = 146, saturation = 240, luminance = 191). Thus, there
were four pairings: pink/blue; red/pale blue; pink/pale blue; and
red/blue.

The authors also explicitly reference the study you quoted:

We did not see sex differences in preferences for pink or
reddish colors over blue, nor did we see sex differences in preferences for angular versus rounded shapes. Therefore, our findings did not support Alexander’s (2003) suggestion that differences in color or shape preferences explain sex differences
in toy preferences, at least at this early stage of development.
Indeed, the causal relationships may be the opposite. Sex differences in toy preferences may contribute to sex differences in
preferences for colors or shapes. For example, girls may learn to
like pink because many of the toys they play with are pink. Alternatively, or additionally, they may learn this color preference
through social or cognitive mechanisms. For example, girls may
learn to prefer pink through modeling older girls who like pink,
or through cultural labeling of pink as for girls. Similar mechanisms could explain sex differences in shape preferences. In addition to suggesting that the different colors of sex-typed toys could
drive boys and girls differential interest in them, Alexander
(2003) has suggested that females and males may have evolved
to prefer pink and blue, respectively, a suggestion that has been
reiterated by others (e.g., Hurlbert & Ling, 2007). Our findings
argue against these suggestions as well.

#92 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 9:54pm

>>It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.

That’s easy. It’s when you said that “nobody cares” whether Riley plays with princess dolls or superheroes.

Hmm. Okay, I see what you’re saying…. I was responding to Riley and her situation, where her father clearly doesn’t care if she plays with superheroes. We don’t see her interact with anyone else, so simply going by what’s in the video, it seems like nobody cares. I have many friends with kids whose parents don’t care what their boys or girls play with, as long as they’re having fun. You seem to be assuming that Riley has people around her (other than her dad, of course) who force or urge her to conform to gender roles. Do you have any evidence of this in Riley’s case? Or do you just assume that all girls experience that pressure? If so, why?

#93 Josh, SpokesGay (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:00pm

Ben, for goodness’ sake. Can’t you at least acknowledge that beige isn’t pink? Cripes, you were badly wrong on that and you’re making yourself look ridiculous by doubling down on it!

#94 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:03pm

Why do YOU assume that Riley only interacts with her father, or that her father’s lack of caring is representative of the culture at large?

#95 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:06pm

And yeah, the pink/beige thing really makes you look bad.

#96 Melody (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:07pm

A pink skin undertone would be blue/red. I can’t think of a doll that has that skin color, but there may be a few. This idea that dolls are pink just has to go.

#97 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:08pm

“Fair enough. I’m sure you’re busy reading any number of comment threads right now! Here is the study.”

I read through it, and I agree, thanks for sending that. It seems pretty solid; I’ve been shown evidence that what I wrote was incorrect, and I’m happy to concede that the evidence for pink preference among girls is weak or non-existent. I’ll be happy to correct that after I sort through other potential errors.

Again, I never claimed or suggested that the study I cited was definitive. I accurately and correctly reported the results of a peer-reviewed study published in a reputable journal. The fact that the study was flawed is not a failure of journalism or research on my part. Could I have done more research? Yes. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy after the fact to criticize. At the end of the day, I was wrong about that statement.

#98 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:12pm

>>Ben, for goodness’ sake. Can’t you at least acknowledge that beige isn’t pink?


Sure, absolutely. Beige isn’t pink, but it’s a lot closer to pink than most other colors (yellow, blue, green, etc.), if you look at a color wheel.

For goodness sake, can’t anyone acknowledge that?

#99 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:12pm

I mean, the mere existence of an aisle of gender-coded toys should be evidence enough that Riley’s father’s attitude is unusual in this culture. But I guess I have to prove to you that sexism exists, and gender roles exist, is that it? Fantastic. I’m sure you think you get lots of skeptic points for questioning the existence of gender roles. Tell me, what’s your position on racism: does it exist or not? Racial stereotypes: just a figment of the imagination of dark-skinned people or what?

#100 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:13pm

Ah, so your excuse is that beige is MORE pink than green?

Brilliant.

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