The Riley Chronicles – Episode II

The last couple of days the skeptic-blogosphere I follow has been very concerned with the colour pink.

It all started when Ben Radford from CFI (Center for Inquiry) wrote a piece for the new blog We Are SkeptiXX about a video by a little girl called Riley. In this video she has a bit of a rant about the girl’s toys at a toy store and why they’re all pink and princess-y. Julia, who manages that blog, posted his piece with a reply included. You can read it all here: What’s Small and Cute and Pink All Over? Almost Every Toy in the “Girls” Aisle of the Toy Store.

It was subequently picked up by Rebecca Watson over at Skepchick, and covered in the blogpost Intellectual Cage Match: Ben Radford vs a 4-year old. It was also mentioned by PZ Myers and have been extensively commented on all three blogs.

All well and good. Read it all if you feel like it. The various points in his argumentation has pretty much been picked apart and analysed every which way in the posts and comments. It is also worth mentioning PZ Myers’ comment about Radford’s claim that “girls exhibit a significant preference for the color pink”, which he covers in his latest post We still haven’t explained pink.

In the latest instalment of this saga, Ben Radford has written a response titled Rebecca and Riley: Tempest in a Doll’s Tea Party. Oh, yes. He did. He went there.

Let me backtrack for a second. Here’s a quote from Radford’s first post:

Rather than metaphorically patting Riley condescendingly on the head, let’s take her seriously, and examine the truth behind her statements and questions. After all, girls’ ideas and opinions should be respected and taken seriously. If her rant is worth discussing, let’s discuss it.

An agreeable sentiment. No arguments from me there. But he’s a master at condescension it turns out. Not just in the same post, but look what he pulls out in this latest rebuttal; the opening paragraph reads:

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

Nice one, lets start out by being objective and light-hearted, right? Then we have this one later on:

This is actually standard practice for skeptical investigation, which is my specialty (and something Rebecca has, to my knowledge, never done)

Ooh. Another nice one. Appeal to authority is usually frowned upon, appealing to your own authority in a discussion you just described as being over ”essentially subjective opinions”? Well, I leave that for you to judge. I’m not impressed.

I’m not going to go through all his replies to Rebecca, that is up to her to cover, but I wanted to bring attention to this one in particular where he tries to wade his way out after really stepping in it in his first post:

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.)

Ad-hoc much? To help out I included an image illustrating the difference between skin-colour, commonly referred to in fashion and cosmetics as “nude” and the colour known as “pink”. See how they’re the same? No, it’s not about camera white-balance. Hell, go to Google’s image search and type “Barbie” and you’ll figure it out soon enough. Oh, you already suggested that. OK, I clicked your link, and lo and behold: it turned up a load of dolls with skin-coloured skin. If you search for “Barbie” you’ll notice that a large portion of them have pink lipstick. Nothing like a good side by side colour comparison eh? Oh and while you’re at it, search for “action figures” too. Skin coloured aren’t they?

But what does Rebecca know anyway. She clearly didn’t research it properly …

A bit further down we get this nifty piece of circular reasoning:

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.

I have seen plenty of adverts with men in lingerie on TV, I can’t say I see the relevance to the topic. Anyway, did it ever cross your mind that the marked evolved this way because this is how they ended up marketing it? That girl prefer these toys because they are marketed as the appropriate toys for girls? In a number of comments regarding these posts it has been pointed out how significantly these things have changed over the decades. I’d like to repost a quote that a commenter, Julezyme, posted on SkeptiXX:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Source: When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

After this he goes into a longer rant about how many times Rebecca has insulted him in her post. Fine, Rebecca has her style. However he seems to be blatantly ignorant of the condescending way he phrases almost every single sentence where he mentions Rebecca’s name. He even manages to conclude with a lecture on “Proper Criticism”. Gee dude, maybe you should read it again yourself.

Talking about firing off cannons in a glass house …

Update: This has nothing to do with Center for Inquiry, an organisation I like and follow. Julia, who wrote the first rebuttal to Ben works there too. Ben’s work in skepticism, when he knows what the hell he’s talking about, is good work. I thought this was worth mentioning after seeing some of the comments on PZ Myers blog. Although I do wonder why this ridiculous post of his is posted on CFI’s blog.

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  1. Rebecca says:

    A month late to say so, but great post!

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