Everyone knows that pink is a “girly” color, right?
Well you might be surprised to you hear that less than a century ago, the opposite was true. Today, nothing is more obvious than the fact that pink is feminine and blue is masculine, but it turns out that American society used to see things the other way around (see Smithsonian Magazine). Here’s how the decades break down:
1900s – Gender Neutral
Before the 1900s, boys and girls alike wore white dresses until the age of 6 or 7 because they were inexpensive and easy to clean with bleach. Gender roles were clearly defined in those days, but those roles were not associated with the colors or styles of clothing for young children.
1920s – Pink is Masculine!
Around the time of World War I, catalogs and clothing manufactures began to assign gender to the color of clothing. Surprisingly, however, pink was considered to be a “stronger” color and therefore appropriate for little boys, while blue was more “delicate and dainty” and making it appropriate for girls.
In a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said:
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.
And it wasn’t just this one article. Even magazines like Time printed colors charts for gender appropriate clothing – pink was always for boys and blue for girls.
1940s/1960s – Pink is Feminine!
Somewhere along the way, however, pink snuck its way from the floors of boys’ rooms and into the closets of little girls. Those interviewed by Smithsonian Magazine indicate that one of the reasons for the switch was that during the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movements, parents felt that they could empower their little girls by having them wear men’s clothing. At the time, there was nothing more manly than wearing pink, and so feminist moms everywhere who wanted their little girls to grow up as strong as a man had them wear pink.
Other accounts say the shift was in part due to the news that the Nazis used a pink triangle to shame a man caught in homosexuality. The associate with homosexuality caused made pink into a feminine color inappropriate for boys, especially in a world where homosexuality still had a deep social stigman.
Whatever the origin of the switch, clothing manufactures in the 1950s through 1980s still attempted to keep a healthy stock of gender-neutral clothing because parents needed these if they were going to have multiple children. But this all changed in the 1980s when a new technology became widely available.
1980s -It’s a Boy/Girl!
The big change happened around 1985
when Back to the Future came out when ultrasound became a routine part of pregnancy. Suddenly, parents-to-be were no longer motivated to buy clothing that would work for a girl or a boy. Instead, they wanted clothing that was taylor-made for their little bundle of joy.
Clothing makers immediately recognized that if they made boy cloths more “boyish” (not just overalls, but overalls with a bear holding a football) and girl clothes more “girly” (not just pink, but pink with frills and a princess print), they could move even more merchandise because parents couldn’t reuse the clothing for siblings of a different gender. Baby showers were no longer about equipping parents with essentials for any child, but buying items customized to what the sonogram said about the child’s gender.
Gender in Society
I think this teaches us two important things. First, technologies like sonograms have incredible benefits like the detection of preventable diseases. Personally, my wife and I loved learning our children’s genders, because it allowed us to name them and pray for them by name before they arrived. But as with all technology, those benefits often come with intriguing unintended side effects like the booming baby products industry and seemingly random decisions about which colors fit which genders.
Second and more significantly, our expectations and understanding of massively important issues like human identity, human personhood, and gender which seem to governed by obvious objective standards (pink is feminine, blue is masculine, duh!) can in reality be rooted in the god of our age – consumption. What we think of as a biblical portraits of healthy boys and girls may in fact be as informed by commercial factors as it is by Biblical examples.
What other ways have you seen important aspects of our identity (like gender) shaped by cultural and technological factors?
[HT: My brother for pointing me to the Smithsonian Magazine article]