Pink-for-Girls and Blue-for-Boys: An Outdated Tradition? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Pink-for-Girls and Blue-for-Boys: An Outdated Tradition?

Life&Style's Gabrielle Taylor-Dowson discusses the potentially damaging effects of the engrained gender colour stereotypes

Over the past couple of years, the presence of gender reveal parties has increased massively on social media. If I scroll for long enough down my Twitter timeline, I am guaranteed to find a video of expectant couples slicing cakes, setting off smoke bombs and bashing piñatas to expose one of two colors: pink or blue.

The latest expectant Kardashian, Khloe, has dedicated her current Instagram theme to shades of pink while she waits for the arrival of her baby girl. Today, pink and blue equates to two genders, girl or boy; consequently, these two colours draw on further connotations to the genders they are bound to. Pink is thought of as delicate, sweet and tender. Blue is playful and strong.

But it was not always that way.

A 1918 article called Earnshaw's Infants' Department stated that as pink was a strong, distinct colour, a watered-down red, it was better for boys, whereas blue was soft and dainty, so was more appropriate for girls. This, however, still was not the norm. White, a decidedly gender-neutral colour, was the most popular and practical choice for babies because if the clothes were dirty they could be easily bleached clean.

Now, people can do even more in advance of their babies’ arrival; pick a name, paint the nursery, shop for clothes… And companies capitalise on this, with blue-for-boys and pink-for-girls products fiercely marketed to parents

Fast-forward a good few decades and by the time the 1980s came about, gender-specific colours were firmly locked in place. The increasing commonality of using ultrasound to determine the sex of a baby played a major part in this. Now, people can do even more in advance of their babies’ arrival; pick a name, paint the nursery, shop for clothes… And companies capitalise on this, with blue-for-boys and pink-for-girls products fiercely marketed to parents.

I think it is fair to say that now, this kind of gender categorisation is outdated.

Gender reveal parties celebrate a trait that, for some babies, isn't known until later. Because that’s the thing - these parties, the placement of pink or blue on a baby, isn’t about gender. These parties confuse sex and gender, a confusion that doesn’t match our current ideas about gender; in brief terms, that it is fluid, better likened to a scale than distinct categories. A person’s gender identity may not match the sex they were assigned at birth, and gender roles are culturally constructed notions. We exist in a culture that, both intentionally and unintentionally, pressures children to conform to gender norms they might not adhere to and that might not be the best for them. A good way of explaining it, is comparison between a pink purse, or princess gown, sat next to a blue toolbox or truck on a supermarket shelf. There’s no need for obvious girl/boy labels for parents and children to know which items are for who. I do not think it is a big jump to argue that this kind of colour-specific marketing is one of the ways ideas of  how a child should act, how they should perform to certain gender ideas, is maintained.

I do not think it is a big jump to argue that this kind of colour-specific marketing is one of the ways ideas of how a child should act, how they should perform to certain gender ideas, is maintained
The reality is that the lesson that a child’s gender dictates the choices available to them is a lesson learned early, and one that is hard to unlearn.

There’s nothing hardwired into our brains that tells us that pink is for girls and blue is for boys - it’s something we learn from society. But there’s also nothing wrong with parents who are excited about having a baby, whether it be their first or fourth. It’s a tricky balance between pushing back against societally enforced genders, and indulging in the excitement of a baby-to-be that, as a parent, you are more than owed. I don’t have the answer to this predicament; gender reveal traditions aren’t going to go away, and nor is the widely popular penchant of blue for boys and pink for girls. And nor is there anything inherently wrong with the associations we now draw from these colours… That pink has been marketed to equal flowers and cute things like bunnies, and blue the opposite. There isn’t anything wrong with these things and the opposing femininity and masculinity they represent, but there is something wrong with a culture that pushes the idea that that is the only way to be a girl or boy, and that those things are solely for girls or boys.



Published

31st March 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

Ben_Kerckx



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