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Belinda Parmar Headshot

Pink Really Does Stink

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When I take my little girl into the toy shop, it's always the same struggle. Though I try and distract her attention, try and get her to choose something different this time, it's no use. She knows instantly which aisle is meant for her. Her eye has been caught and she drags me over to the "girly toys." The pink beacon has done its job.

I'm far from the first mother to get fed up with the pinkification of products aimed at little girls. Many of you out there will have been frustrated time and time again by what a tough battle it can be convincing your daughters that they don't need Barbies and princesses, that other toys (in other colors) are also meant for them.

That's why I've been impressed by the great work going on over at Pinkstinks. Conceived in May 2008, Pinkstinks confronts the damaging messages and false role models that bombard girls through toys, clothes and the media.

Emma and Abi Moore -- the founders of the campaign -- were inspired to start Pinkstinks when Abi returned from the U.S. (where she had been making a film about a female scientist researching a cure for cancer) to find the country obsessed with Paris Hilton's release from prison following her drinking and driving conviction. They couldn't believe that something so vacuous was making national news while women making a real difference -- like the one Abi had just met -- were being ignored. Something had to be done -- the next generation couldn't grow up with Paris Hilton as a role model.

Unfortunately girls are being taught younger and younger that there is a right way and a wrong way to be a woman. I still regularly come across toy catalogs that give the doctor's costume to the boy and the cookware set to the girl. Pinkstinks have already waged successful campaigns against the Early Learning Centre and Sainsburys for overtly gender-defining their toys.

Everywhere our daughters look they are constantly being told: be pretty, be girly, be pink. Be like a princess.

This all may seem harmless enough, but it's actually incredibly damaging, introducing gender stereotyping early on and forcing young girls to start obsessing over image before they've even learnt their two-times table. This, in turn, influences the way they behave -- and the decisions they make -- for the rest of their lives.

Take technology. Some of you will have read before about my distaste for tech's 'pink it and shrink it' tactic when marketing towards women -- namely, the belief that it is enough when designing a product for women to make it pinker, cuter and simpler than the 'male' version. Why do they do this? Because toys for women have been pinker, cuter and simpler since time immemorial. It's not only an outdated way of thinking -- it's grossly insulting.

We are working hard to fight these attitudes and change young girl's perceptions of technology. During the research for my forthcoming book Little Miss Geek -- which aims to overturn the relative absence of women in tech jobs -- I found that one of the key barriers holding young girls back from the technology industry was to do with gender image.

Tech (as well as ICT and Computing at school) is still often perceived as a boy's thing -- and doing boy things hurts a girl's image. If we dress girls as pink princesses from the day they are born, we shouldn't be surprised when they grow up to believe they'll be stigmatized for being 'unfeminine' if they choose the wrong path. The damage is done at an early age, says Emma: "Why are girls making the choices they are making? Because they have been groomed -- and it's this grooming that turns them into paranoid women."

Campaigning agencies like Pinkstinks have never been more important. We need them to win their battle against gender stereotyping and unrealistic female role models. If they do, then the next generation of girls might be free to think less about their image and more about their careers.

Emma Moore -- @PinkstinksUK -- is part of The Remarkable Women Programme, connected by Nokia #RWbyNokia

@belindaparmar is the CEO of Lady Geek and Lady Geek TV