Color Coding The Genders….Why Just Pink And Blue?
I found myself wandering one day in Commercial Street some 4 years ago, looking out for a dress for my little girl’s first birthday. When it comes to this market, clothing stores can be found in plenty, and clothing options for little children, even plentiful. Everywhere I went, I found myself staring at heaped mountains of the prettiest paisley dresses, checked frocks, dainty bows and pretty lace dresses, all of them in the color PINK……………… a color chosen by the staff at the stores, who have met me just a few seconds ago, asked for the gender of my child and proceeded to decide what color I may prefer to dress her up in for her big day.
I ask them for other color options, patiently waiting for them to bring me whatever they can find, and yet I was totally unsatisfied with the variety, when compared to what pink had.
Suffice to say, I was a tad irritated, certainly miffed and hellbent by now on dressing her up in anything but this universal ‘girlie’ color that everyone seemed to propose.
Do I hate PINK….No!
Do I dislike my kid wearing this color….definitely Not!
On the contrary I love it and its different shades, which my wardrobe is full of. I also love the color on my child.
What irks me however, was how these color codes were so deeply embedded in our system and our psyche, that everyone just assumed this was the ‘only natural’ and proceeded to decide my choice. It has also become quite normal to not just gift color coded clothing and toys to children, but also subtly insist on the little ones to adhere to this in other aspects of their life (with the constant, ‘in your face’ endorsement of the media and advertising companies).
So when did this entire thing begin? When did color and hues, come to be attached to boys and girls?
Why of all the things, blue and pink? Why not, say orange and purple?
I did my bit of research on it, and was surprised to come up with facts that I had never heard before.
Gender-specific colors are actually quite a recent phenomena, and can be traced back to the 1950’s. Before that, both sexes wore ‘gender neutral’ clothing; bleached white dresses or shirts and trousers for both boys and girls. By the mid-19th century blue, pink and pastels arrived, and you will not believe this next bit…..’pink was for boys & blue for girls’ , as this June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department elaborates,
“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.”
In the 1940’s these color codes were reversed (again for no specific reason, but just a trend introduced in the US post WWII era); and fashion houses began to make color coded clothes; blue for boys and pink for girls. With the onset of new media, radio and television, came a marketing boom, and retailers in 1980, began to decide in earnest, what color best suited their patron’s babies and stock the same in their stores.
In effect therefore, color coding was pushed down upon us as a clever marketing tactic, and we seem to have bought into it, actually convincing ourselves and our children that certain colors define our gender.
If this were restricted to dressing and the overall appearance alone, I would not be writing this piece.
What I find concerning, is the way this concept has gradually begun to change the thinking of our generation, the below two being cases in point,
On my recent visit to a park, I happened to hear a child making fun of his sibling (a boy) for dressing up in pink pants, mentioning something about ‘dressing up like a girl and crying like one too’.
A neighbor’s daughter who once wore only green (her favorite color), started insisting on pink frocks, because almost all the girls in her class had this color in their wardrobe and she didn’t want to stand out.
These children must have been about 4-6 years of age, and they had already decided what the color meant to them!
This assignment of color to the sexes is a very disturbing trend, and has only been gaining momentum. This glaring blue-pink split is almost everywhere, and don’t be surprised if your children start deciding their clothing choices based on the color. It might seem cute to everyone around, but what is worrying, is how children are getting imperceptibly influenced by it and imprisoned within this thinking.
Korean artist JeongMee Yoon, in her ‘Pink and Blue Project’ has explored this seemingly innocuous subject meticulously with a series of color portraits, and she showcases how extremes of gender color coding can affect children in their thinking and behavioral patterns. When the same kids grow big, the color coding carries into adulthood. Women with pink are exposed to a wider color palette (since pink is a warm color) as opposed to men for whom blue (a cold color) can be limiting, creating a deep psychological divide and promoting cultural and gender stereotypes.
More of JeongMee’s work can be viewed at www.jeongmeeyoon.com
Have you noticed what happens when men decide to wear pink? Often, they feel uncomfortable and their sexuality is questioned. The reason being that the color is associated with girls, and use of this color is just naturally assumed to reveal the male’s hidden feminine side. Isn’t this a very culturally manipulated expression of masculinity and femininity?
As simple and innocent as this subject might seem, color coding has a very deep psychological and emotional impact, often strictly demarcating the two genders, causing embarrassment and guilt when one adopts the other.
In a retail store, customers are subtly directed to buy blue items; strollers, clothing, accessories for boys and likewise for girls.
Marketers package food products separately for both genders in color specific labels.
Decor, lifestyle and even personal care products push people towards specific needs based on these two colors.
While it is definitely easier for us as consumers to buy products based on these color generalizations, aren’t we also buying into someone else’s perceptions?
How then can this cycle be broken? How can these stereotypes be questioned?
We cannot wish away apparel manufacturers or fashion trends. Television and Internet, peddling this thought process in the guise of clothing, detergents, eatables and toys are everywhere. What we can do however, is stop insisting on this within our homes.
Let the child choose whatever they want to wear, let them explore and experiment and love colors for what they are, and not just that which will represent their gender and sexuality. Give them the space to question us, and we in turn give them unbiased answers on a color’s virtues, without letting it label them.
As for my initial quandary, after scouring the entire market from end to end, I ended up buying a little BLUE princess dress for my little girl. If not the color, at least I managed to nail the ‘Princess’ look for her big day 🙂
This article first appeared in Mycity4Kids.com