In your travels, you may have noticed that men and women are just a little bit different – in appearance, in ability, in preferences. And one of the more visible, and persistent, distinctions is in color preference – pink for women, blue for men.
But is it true? Do women and young girls truly prefer pink, do men and young boys truly prefer blue? And, if so, is it something that we learn (pink, as it happens, continues to be the most popular iPhone color for females) or simply innate?
Writes American neuroscientist Lisa Eliot, author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain”:
“In the past decade, we've heard a lot about the innate differences between males and females. So we've come to accept that boys can't focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships: ‘That's just the way they're built’."
But Eliot insists that we make way too much of innate gender differences – most prominent of which is the pink-blue myth. Eliot’s website explains: “. . . infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents, teachers, peers — and the culture at large — unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves exacerbate the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those ‘ball-throwing’ or ‘doll-cuddling’ circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones.”
By all appearances, society (ever so slowly) is heading toward gender equality – more men raising families, more women performing surgery. There remain, of course, noticeable and disturbing gaps (e.g., salaries in the workplace), but by and large the worldwide movement is afoot (though at times we pause to realize that women’s suffrage is less than 100 years old!).
Which leads us back to the pink-blue myth. Study after study continues to dispel the notion, yet it persists.
It wasn’t always this way. Looking back a century, Polly Curtis, writing for theguardian.com reports: "In 1914, the Sunday Sentinel told American mothers: 'If you like the colour note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention'." Fast forward a decade when a chart in Time magazine stated that “boys should be dressed in pink and girls in blue,” according to an article at kidssocialnorm.com. The article continued: “Pink was for boys because it was a powerful color. Blue was designated to girls because it was considered delicate and dainty. Pink was also associated with the ‘fiery’ male temperament, while blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and the purity and goodness of a little girl.”
Gender differences, historians report, began to fade in the 1960s when the women’s liberation movement took hold (an article by Jeanne Maglaty for smithsonianmag.com noted that, for two years in the 1970s, the Sears Roebuck catalog pictured no pink toddler clothing). And the move toward gender neutrality continued until the mid-1980s, when pink vs. blue began to re-emerge (the re-emergence is believed tied to the start of parental testing).
So what are we to make of pink vs. blue? Does it serve our children well?
Says author and historian Jo Paoletti: “The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think about more. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too.” And this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, as noted by Curtis in her piece for theguardian.com: “. . . I'm always struck when I visit my daughter's cousins in Sweden that children's clothing in particular is much less gendered than in England. Babies tend to wear more uni-sex bright patterns than pale pink and blues.”
Other points to consider:
· Under the age of two, children exhibit no color preference, according to Curtis, citing work by Professor Melissa Hines at Cambridge University;
· Children become conscious of their gender around 3-4 years old, and do not realize it’s permanent until age 6 or 7, according to Maglaty, citing research by child development experts; and
· A famous 1978 study demonstrated how differently adults treated the same baby depending on whether they were dressed in pink vs. blue.
So if you see me walking by you today in a pink fedora, don’t be alarmed. It’s a power color.