Book review: Ritu Vaishnav’s ‘Pink and Blue’

New Delhi | Updated: September 26, 2018 1:56:16 PM

A book raises serious questions about gender norms in a playful manner.

Pink and Blue Ritu Vaishnav; illustrated by Vishnu M Nair Penguin Random House Pp 32, Rs 250

By Indrani Bose

For many progressive left-leaning parents in the West, gender identity is nothing but a societal trap. Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are in full support of their first-born Shiloh, who chooses to use the pronoun ‘he’ rather than ‘she’ although she is female by birth. Shiloh has short hair and wears pants instead of frilly skirts.

Nordic country Sweden, too, has had its schools skip gendered pronouns and embrace the recently-created gender-neutral term ‘hen’. According to a New York Times report, Swedish teachers motivate children to be themselves—boys are cheered when they wear dresses and girls are taught that there is no need to have second thoughts about saying ‘no’.

But such an egalitarian society with no discrimination is not possible in India unless we get rid of the age-old social conditioning ingrained in us. Even though gay sex has now been decriminalised, there is no denying that India is not a country that celebrates gender-fluidity. Ritu Vaishnav’s Pink and Blue is an attempt by a mother to initiate a dialogue about gender stereotypes and to make children understand that gender is nothing but a spectrum before society brainwashes them into thinking otherwise.

The book, which is filled with colourful illustrations by Vishnu M Nair, starts with the age-old cliché that girls like pink and boys like blue. On the very next page, we find: “But boys can like pink too. And girls can also like blue”.

The book also talks about how girls can have short hair and boys can be seen with long hair—and some girls with no hair at all—reminding fashion connoisseurs of Natalie Portman’s buzz cut in V for Vendetta.

As the book progresses, we find all sorts of gender stereotypes—revolving around cooking, crying, playing aggressive games, etc—being challenged. Cooking and crying, for instance, are both traditionally associated with women, but ironically, most of the world’s greatest chefs are men. Vulnerability and sensitivity in a man are also appreciated greatly the world over.

Pink and Blue ends on a positive note with: “But boys and girls can look after each other. And they are both great at giving hugs”, providing readers food for thought regarding a gender-creative society, where the only norm is freedom of expression.

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