Walk into any newborn’s room and you can almost always tell the gender of the child based on the colors of its blankets, toys, bedding, walls etc. Genders and Colors go hand in hand and it is common to see parents dressing their male child in blue and female child in pink. However, in a rising and reverse trend, many parents are even known to be frustrated with this unspoken rule. Parents of baby girls say that they often find it difficult to find right mix of clothing for their daughters since markets are almost always flooded with pink and tulle dresses. One such parent, Jo Paoletti had similar concerns while raising her own kids and even spent 3 decades researching this gender and colors stereotype. She has even written a book on the topic ‘Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America’. Another parent was driven to starting her own clothing line for little girls to ensure that girls had variety in colors of dresses.
What do statistics have to say about Genders and Colors?
Research conducted on the topic of gender and colors shows that there is no evidence asserting the fact that girls actually prefer pink and boys actually like blue over other colors. A group study conducted on subjects in the age range of 7 months up to 5 years, (both boys and girls), had the subjects pick objects of different colors. It was noted that only girls above the age of 2 years picked pink objects while boys over 2.5 years avoided the pink ones. It is evident from this study that: only through everyday observation are children more prone to becoming aware of ‘gender and colors’ stereotyping of this sort.
In early 1900s, there were no such fixed rules. Pre-school aged children in that era actually had a preference for primary colors of red and blue. Parents even dressed all their kids in white with pastel accents that did not stereotype gender and colors. Kids clothing was also available in earthy shades, plaids and stripes without frills and embroidery for girls or pictures of trucks etc for boys.
Parents and gender/color stereotyping
Many parents do not wish to differentiate between the kids based on colors of clothes. Some girls are tomboys and some boys do not want to be macho. According to Paoletti, many children are actually gender-non conforming. This means that culture is simply imposing rules on these kids and some boys and girls are actually interpreting this mismatch of what they feel inside in reality. Paoletti and other child psychologists are also of the belief that through gender and colors stereotyping we might actually be sending a wrong message to children : that there is only one way to be a boy and only one way to be a girl and that is through such exclusivity in dressing.
To rebel against these stereotypes, many parents are staying away from famous departmental stores and actually choosing thrift stores or opting for customized dresses in blue, orange, green, yellow and other colors for their daughters.
Recently, an agony art columnist received this email from a grandfather:
“Dear Abby, “ My daughter was told she would have a baby girl during her ultra-sound but actually ended up with a baby boy. Friends and family members had already gifted her blankets, toys and clothes in pink. I am not much bothered by it and have asked my daughter to dress the baby in these gifts. But my wife is very much against it…..”
Many parents have even experienced such societal expectations in the form of comments from strangers: “Oh, I thought your kid was a girl, given that he is all dressed in pink!”
Paoletti believes that this cultural shift of blue for boys and pink for girls came towards the end of the 1970s. Children’s books, the women’s movements etc were main factors that contributed towards such stereotypes. Sociology professors who have worked in this field also believe that many parents actually believe that in order to be successful in parenting, they had to “dress their girls like girls and boys like boys”.
Gendering of colors: Larger issues underneath?
Today, if a man wears pink clothing, he may be considered homosexual. In children, this can be harmful in that; a child could be bullied by classmates and peers. Hopefully, Internet shopping and shift in departmental store attitudes will bring some relief in this type of gender and colors stereotyping. Most modern parents are known to give freedom to their daughters/sons in choosing their own clothing; so older kids have greater say in matters of shopping for their own clothes. Only time, perhaps, will answer the question: will pink always be only for girls?