As a thirty-something, I have several friends who either already have children or will soon reproduce some. Consequently, the pink-versus-blue discussion frequently pops up in my personal and social media conversations these days. Like me, most of my friends do not believe in color-coordinating their offspring with the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue. Even so, it only takes a visit to a children’s store or a scroll through the baby shower photos of an acquaintance to be reminded that Pink is for Girls and Blue is for Boys is Still Real.
An unfortunate result of this pink-and-blue paradigm is that most of my female friends say they hate pink, while the rest go the other way and proclaim their love for pink as a step towards reclaiming their feminity. This reaction is not so different from feminists’ dilemma about other traditionally female objects, spheres, and roles, such as heels, makeup, hair removal, cooking, and becoming a homemaker. My equality-minded male friends, on the other hand, respond by wearing pink shirts.
Why can’t we just leave them colors (and babies) alone? And, how did this madness start in the first place?
It wasn’t always so.
Long ago, I read this article in the Smithsonian Magazine and learnt that, if anything, as recently as 1927, it was “pink for the boys, and blue for the girls.” This color paradigm was eventually reversed during the 1940s, but it could have as easily stayed the other way around.
As the Feminist movement gained momentum, clothing, including children’s, became more neutral and unisex during the 60s and the 70s. Things stayed that way until the mid-80s when the arrival of ultrasound technology allowed parents to learn the sex of the fetus, and to paint their nurseries and to set up baby registries in appropriate colors, bringing back the pink-and-blue color binary.
So does this really matter?
First, this has nothing to do with pink or blue specifically; it could as easily have been yellow versus green. In fact, the issues would be the same even if pink was the boys’ color and blue had been for girls. So, you really don’t need to hate pink, lest you are sure that you naturally dislike it.
Second, the real issue is about associating a particular color with a specific gender and reinforcing natural gender differences or synthetically creating gender differences where none exist.
Third, color binaries hurt children of all genders whose tastes and likes do not conform to the social norm. In a pink-and-blue world, a boy who loves pink is quite likely to face ridicule from his young peers who are raised to believe that “pink is a girls’ color.”
Fourth, even if the color binary was harmless on its own in terms of its effects on children, we know that it is part of a world that has gender-biased toy stores that promote Barbies for girls and scientific toys for boys and animated movies where girls hardly speak and are forever cast as princesses that need rescuing. So, it reflects a systematic and systemic problem in how we raise our children.
Lastly, are girls naturally more inclined than boys to like pink-er colors? Apparently not. A 2010 study of 120 infants, although small, found that “There were no significant sex differences in infants’ preferences for different colors… Instead, both girls and boys preferred reddish colors over blue…”
A number of stores are abandoning this so-called “toy shop gender apartheid,” but not enough. Meanwhile, I try to stay neutral and enjoy certain shades of both blue and pink. And, as far as baby gifts are concerned, there are always other colors to choose from.
Image courtsey: Jezebel