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Pink rules; The case of Sasha Lawton, the little boy being brought up 'gender-neutral' by his parents, has divided opinion on the role of gender in parenting. Should it make us question the way we introduce children to clothes - and do we need to move towards a world without blue and pink divides? Are we letting our little girls down by dressing them head-to-toe in the girliest colour of all? Two mums debate.

Yes, says Kate Pietrasik, who runs unisex childrenswear brand Tootsa MacGint, mum to Ruby, two "It was dress-up day recently at my two-year-old daughter's nursery and the children were asked to come in a costume of their choosing.

Most mornings I deliver her just in time to enjoy a second serving of breakfast and as the table of toddlers begin to tuck into bowls of cereal many stop, mid-spoonful, to stare up at us whilst I struggle to take off her coat. It's an amusing sight.

But as I pushed open the door to the pre-school room that morning it was an amusing vision made all the more so with the addition of fancy dress. With spoons held aloft sat a fireman, a monster, a couple of policemen, a teddy bear and a Bumble-bee. And then I noticed the girls.

Each one in the same shiny frilly polyester dress in varying shades of pastel pink and purple, most with a sparkly tiara-shaped hair band.

I left the Hawaiian surfer to tuck into her cereal and headed to the office, my head buzzing with determination.

It wasn't the fact the girls wore frilly dresses and sparkly headbands which irked me, it was that each one was dressed identically.

It saddened me to think that whilst the boys in my child's playgroup that day pretended to be a variety of fun characters, the girls got to play just one role - a princess. Situations like those were why I took the decision last year to shift from designing womenswear and accessories to childrenswear and begin my own unisex label.

As a new mother who had moved to Britain after living more than a decade in France, I was shocked at the segregated aisles I found in most of the UK's toy and clothes shops.

Much emphasis seemed to be placed dangerously on a girl's appearance whilst boy's stuff encouraged action and valued toughness, the rainbow now divided up according to male or female.

The idea that a colour is synonymous with gender seems odd to me. I'm sure the sole reason is as an attempt by the manufacturers to squeeze more money from us and as a result, toy brands actively no longer encourage boys and girls to play together.

Girls now learn from an increasingly early age that the pink stuff is for them, and dividing up the goods in this way means more sales.

The parents now deciding to raise their child as "gender-neutral" are no doubt responding to and challenging these stereotypes.

I don't believe in hiding a child's gender and what I do isn't about rendering children genderless - nor is it about forbidding girls to wear dresses, or outlawing pink.

It's about not wishing our children to be defined or restricted by their gender.

Clothes for children should be built for sturdier purposes than the changing vagaries of style - to be passed from sibling to sibling, or friend to friend regardless of gender.

Many were shocked by the news of parents choosing to conceal their child's gender. More worrying for me is what led the parents to make such a decision.

Although all parents need to think beyond the messages marketed and give their children a well-rounded childhood I believe ultimately responsibility lies with the manufacturers, designers, government and society as a whole.

If we continue to force stereotypes then there will be consequences such as parents who feel the need to hide their child's gender.

We should be providing our children with a childhood void of limitation, free from restrictions and full of opportunity."* www.tootsamacginty.com No, says Nicola Jones, co-owner of Wish in Barry, and mum to Taiya, 11, Belle, eight and Farron, five months "I think people need to lighten up about pink.

There's nothing wrong with little girls being girlie - and we should let them be little girls. It's innocent fun. Our shop is doused in pink; we sell pink clothing, pink gifts and we host pink parties. We set up the shop because we thought there wasn't a party option for girls once they pass play centre age - boys have Quasar and go-karting and now little girls have pink parties.

It's a little girl's heaven. On arrival they'll have a pink Cinderella cocktail, everything is pink in the shop including our microwave, then they dance to Lady Gaga on the Wii and they're given a makeover with rainbow glittery nails. Then they have their hair done with princess curls and they're sprinkled with pink fairy dust, it's all really magical.

We're not trying to make them into little adults - there's no make-up, just glittery tattoos and it's all princess and fairytale-like.

The parents provide the party food and usually it's pink but we don't say it has to be.

My own children love pink, as do I. I have pink nails and Samantha the shop co-owner and I are getting our cars done pink.

When I was younger, I loved my dolls and I was a very girlie girl and now my girls are the same. But I'm open to how people want to bring up their children and I would never say there was a right way to do it. Boys can wear pink, too; my young nephew loves pink. But little girls should be allowed to be little girls. My children are little girls and they have pink rooms, pink carpet, pink everything and I like them to be girlie.

People need to lighten up - it's harmless and there's more in the world to worry about than a colour.

Pink is beautiful and there's plenty of time for them to go out into the real world - why not keep them protected in this lovely, pink bubble for now if it makes them happy? There's certainly a demand for pink, we're always busy and we've gone from strength to strength - we're just about to introduce a walk-through fairy door for the children and have a funky new nail bar at the front of the shop.

We know what girls want at all different ages and our aim is for things to be magical and girly whilst keeping in mind how young the children are. We don't think there's anything wrong with indulging our little girls in a fairytale fantasy - it's great seeing them walk out with a smile and of course a sprinkle of fairy dust. My girls are pretty little girls and it's their choice what their favourite colour is. And I disagree with the idea pink makes girls weak - my children are independent, strong-willed and are certainly not waiting around for their princes to come. They're also sporty - even if they're running around in pink tracksuits."

* www.wishparties.co.uk PLUS: Mix up your neutrals for this season's easiest trend PLUS: Grab a good book - 20 of the best around for spring
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 7, 2012
Words:1142
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