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pink and blue gender roles

Pink and blue – narrow view

  • the pink / blue – world is an artificially created differentiation of the sexes
  • manufacturers were able to make more money through this ´personalization´
  • 1940 it started, but only 1985 everything was suddenly pink or blue
  • the development of children’s colour perception continues into the teenage years
  • the two worlds contain different messages and products, which then cause actual differentiation
Overview of topics:
1. History of the colors pink and blue
2. The pink/blue marketing concept
3. The effect of pink and blue on the development of children
4. What's the alternative to pink and blue?

1. History of the colors pink and blue

500 – 30 BC
  • In the Roman Empire, red was considered male and dark blue female. Children’s clothing wore the light variants of these colours; pink for boys and light blue for girls.
  • 1850
  • Pink, blue and other colours found their way into children’s clothing in the USA. At this time they were not assigned to a gender.
  • Before the World Wars
  • … it was common in the USA for both sexes to wear white dresses until they were seven years old. Also their hair was not cut off until this age, so that childrens appearences did not show their sex.

  • The reason was probably a fear that children could become perverted if they carried the wrong clothes.
  • 1918:
  • Towards the beginning of the 20th century, some shops made proposals for gender-conform colours.

  • This is an article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department Juni 1918: 
    “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.”

  • At the same time there were suggestions such as blue for children with blue eyes and pink for brown haired children.
  • 1927
  • Time magazine publishes an overview of gender-compliant colors for girls and boys according to the major stores in Boston, Chicago and New York.

  • the color assignment of pink and blue for the sexes went in both directions
  • 1940s
  • Pink for girls and blue for boys prevailed among the American manufacturers, who thought this would meet the taste of their customers.

  • Children were now dressed like miniature adults. Even in school girls wore dresses
  • mid of the 1960s
  • The women’s freedom movement interrupted the differentiation of the sexes through clothing.

  • Girls now wore masculine clothes in the hope that they would feel freer and have more possibilities.

  • The Sears, Roebuck catalogue showed no more pink children’s clothes.

  • gender-neutral clothing remained popular until 1985
  • 1985
  • … and suddenly it was all pink or blue1,2,3
  • 2. The pink/blue marketing concept

    The big pink/blue breakthrough came when prenatal testing standardized. Parents already knew before the birth which sex the child would have. They could already fix the child’s name and their anticipation could not be contained.

    Gender-neutral products stayed in the corner. After all, it should only be the best for the offspring. Also gift-giving family and friends wanted to use these “individualization possibilities” and bought eagerly gifts particularly for the little daughter or the little son. More and more products were differentiated according to boy and girl, later even the big tickets, such as prams, baby cot and car seat.

    The very best for the manufacturers was that many parents who were still fully equipped from the first baby bought everything new when the next baby had the opposite sex.

    In recent decades, spending on children has shot up. A few toys have turned into whole playrooms. In addition to clothes, toys, room equipment, books, films and working materials, there are now online games and apps. As long as it sells, pink and blue will not only persist to be on the shelves, but will reach more and more products.

    The 1985 generation is now grown up and the manufacturers continue with products for adults. Fried sausages, gherkins and juice are now also available separately in pink and blue. We cannot say anything about the commercial success of the products. But it is clear that the consumer has no added value, because the products are exactly the same, only the sticker is different.

    3. The effect of pink and blue on the development of children

     3.1 Development of colour perception

    Newborns always see only black and white – literally, since their color receptors have not yet been developed. Also, the full colour splendour of our world would be quite a lot for the start.

    Over time, the cones – light-sensitive cells in the retina of the eye that are responsible for colour perception – develop and so the threshold for colour perception decreases and children can perceive more and more colours and finer and finer differences over time.

    First they see bright red and bright violet. Blue, on the other hand, babies don’t even recognize. At about three months of age, children can see several primary colors, and from the sixth month on, they can also differentiate blue-yellow. Only in the teenage years the full potential for colour differentiation was developed. That’s why children like bright and vibrant colors that don’t necessarily appeal to adults.

    There is no difference between the sexes in colour perception. Colourful, contrasting colours stimulate creativity, bright, light colours have a calming effect. Light pink is said to have a calming effect, perhaps because it reminds of the safe time in the mother’s womb.

    3.2 Early development of game preferences

    Already one-year-olds show a gender-specific preference in relation to toys. At this point they are not even aware of their gender, which only happens when they are about two and a half years old. Then it takes another three years until they realize that their gender is permanent, that it will never change.

    The question is, where does this preference come from? There are two obvious explanatory models:

    1. Congenital: there are congenital differences in the interests of the sexes
    2. Socialized: Different toys are encouraged to the sexes

    Since children are in a social environment from their very first day and therefore influenced ( socialized ), we will never be able to say without any doubt whether traits have been congenital or learned. But one can assume that both play a role.

    1)

    The sexes have specialized in various roles over millions of years. It is plausible that gender characteristics that were helpful for their roles were more likely to prevail.

    » read more under evolution of gender differences

    2)

    Children like what they know best. If, for example, parents and gift-givers predominantly offer pink toys, this promotes the child’s preference for them.

    3.3 Stereotyping

    A differentiation of the world of colours into pink for girls and blue for boys was developed as an idea to get parents to spend more money on children’s products. A baby neither knows the concept of gender nor can it recognize colors. In fact, children up to puberty hardly differ from each other and color preferences of all children tend to the bright red area because they recognize these colors best. And although there do seem to be innate gender preferences as to how they play, it is advisable to make children a wide and neutral offer and let them find out their own preferences. Just because boys are more likely to disassemble objects, for example, does not mean that all boys do it, and no girl. The probability is just higher for a boy. In addition, the question is whether one might want to encourage girls to do so for that reason.

    The big problem with the pink-blue differentiation is that we don’t just talk about colours, but about two separate worlds. Different toys cause the sexes to train systematically different abilities. For example, toys with a scientific background are marketed three times more often as toys for boys. The two worlds are dominated by completely different messages. While we find messages on T-shirts for boys that testify to the coolness of the wearer, girls´ are mostly about outward appearances. Empathy, respect, love, gratitude would be better messages. In this example we can also see that the colours are accompanied by an evaluation. In addition to that we have evaluations coming from the environment. Especially boys get negative feedback from fathers when they are interested in “girl stuff”. Stereotypes that are linked to a negative rating are prejudices.

    If we identify a sex by a color, a devaluation of the color corresponds to a devaluation of the sex. Of course, children are more than their gender and more than one color – but unfortunately they don’t necessarily know that.

    4. What’s the alternative to pink and blue?

    In the Happy Jona Shop we categorize toys according to the skills they train and clothes according to the messages they convey. You won’t find any categorization by gender!

    The Happy Jona Shop

    equality | honesty | sustainability | empathy | respect

    Advantages of a gender-neutral education:

    • children have a chance to get to know themselves as individuals
    • gender identity remains independent of banalities like a color
    • broad training through variety of toys
    • equal values, rules and messages for all
    • only natural differentiation of the sexes
    • children like colorful, which also stimulates creativity

    Color is meaningless if we don’t give it meaning. Just give your child a free choice here, too. It’s not unlikely that unconcerned boys like pink because children perceive bright red tones best. If you want to avoid pink in general, just ask your child to choose another color because you don’t like it (not because it’s not for the child). Be self-confident, then your child will be too!

    It’s not just a matter of not getting caught between pink and blue, but of not giving room to gender stereotypes. Read more about » gender-neutral education.


    » Next topic: Gender stereotypes

    Learn how gender stereotypes affect the development of our children.

    Gender stereotypes - Happy Jona
    Gender stereotypes have a huge impact on children´s developtment. We invite you to learn more!

    sources: 

    1. smithsonianmag.com requested 01.09.2019
    2. britannica.com requested 01.09.2019
    3. “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America“ von Jo B. Paoletti
    4. alpina-farben.de requested 01.09.2019
    5. pampers.de requested 01.09.2019