Think of femininity, of being “girly”, and it’s likely that one of the first colours that come to mind is pink. From Barbie dolls and princesses to perfume and make-up, so many things targeted towards women, are often dressed in pink.
Yet, despite it’s well-known association with femininity, the colour and concept did not originally start out so closely intertwined. Like much of the world, Western society (America and Europe) initially had gender-neutral clothing for children, largely for the purpose of being able to hand clothes down to younger siblings. Interestingly, when gender distinction was gaining popularity in the early 1900s, pink was initially meant to be the colour for boys, and blue for girls. Only beginning in the 1950s approximately, did genders and their respective colours (pink for girls and blue for boys) shift towards the stereotypes that we are familiar with today. In part, this was due to the growing trend to dress children as miniatures of their parents, where men began to view pink as a softer colour.
As with many things associated with gender, pink has its own tumultuous history with feminism. The women’s movements post WWII was meant to reject the stereotypes of the time, which consequently meant a rejection of pink, to promote stronger images of women. This meant that the trend was to dress women in more masculine or gender-neutral styles. Only towards the late 1980s, did the resurgence of pink as a feminine colour begin to be re-embraced. Unlike their predecessors who rejected femininity, the new generation of feminists used pink as an affirmation of the gender.
Consumerism and the wide-spread usage of prenatal testing became other important factors for the colour and gender association. With parents able to know the sex of their child earlier, they were able to create more individualized nurseries. Similarly, friends and families were able to purchase more gender-targeted gifts. Manufacturers and companies, unsurprisingly, encouraged this use of color as gender markers. Gender targeted products meant that parents would often buy duplicate items in pink and blue for their daughters and sons.
Needless to say, as the trend of pink and blue continued its growth, the use of colour as gender markers continued to expanded well beyond its use as gender markers at birth and early childhood. The association of colour with gender seeped into numerous other aspects of life- from clothing to television to toys- acting almost as though they were affirmations of gender themselves. Even as children grow into adulthood, these subtle colour associations continue to create and reinforce biases that extend well beyond just clothing choices-and perhaps encourage us to re-evaluate our perceptions.
- Paoletti, J., & Ebrary, Inc. (2012). Pink and Blue Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? (2011, April 07). Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/