An invitation to a recent baby shower hinged on a relaxed dress code, save for an accompanying clause. All colors except blue were fine to wear. No points for guessing, a baby girl was on the way. Rummaging through my wardrobe, I was surprised that I had not bought pinks in a long time, so I opted for a pastel shade.
That pink is for girls and blue is for boys is something that I learned only after I became a mother in the mid-nineties. Earlier I may not have paid attention to the fact that the baby’s gender determined the color choice. But the more likely reason is that the country where I grew up did not adhere to that norm on a wide scale, at least not to the extent that it was common knowledge.
Living in the United States for close to 30 years, I have gone along with the ritual of picking the “right” color whenever I have gifted clothes to new-borns without really bothering to know how this practice evolved. Just recently, I overheard a rather funny story which triggered my interest to research into it.
A couple expecting their firstborn was misled by the ultrasound which actually determined the baby’s gender incorrectly. In all excitement that the baby would be a girl, the to-be parents were not only ready with a massive collection of pink outfits but had also painted the nursery pink. A big surprise, or more appropriately a shock, greeted them when the mother delivered a boy. Well, there is always a risk that technology may go haywire, and in this instance, the ultrasound images were poor!
It is interesting to learn that there have been twists and turns in this practice of selecting colors for babies. Smithsonian.com covered a detailed feature of how different generations came up with their definitions of masculinity and femininity that found expression in children’s wardrobes.
Gender-neutral clothing was in vogue for several centuries when both boys and girls were dressed in dainty white dresses till they were about 6 years old. An 1884 photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a two-and-a half year old shows him dressed in a white skirt with shoulder length hair and leather party shoes. The outfit was a fine example of gender-neutral attire.
It will perhaps raise many an eyebrow now that in 1927, leading stores in the United States recommended that parents dress boys in pink and girls in blue. Pink was considered a bolder and stronger color more suited to the personality of boys while blue was felt to be a softer, delicate color more in tune with girls’ traits.
It was only in the 1940’s that today’s color practice of pink for girls and blue for boys came into effect. Gender-neutral clothing once again came into focus, following the women’s liberation movement in the mid 1960’s and 1970’s. Because of the anti-feminine and anti-fashion messages that the movement advocated, young girls dressed in a way that never hinted their gender.
Parents do dress their newborns in neutral colors, but the popularity of gender-neutral clothing has faded away since the mid-1980’s with the advent of prenatal testing in countries that have allowed the procedure. The color divide once again started when parents, after knowing the sex of the unborn, would get ready to welcome the new addition by shopping for pink merchandise if it was a girl and for blue if it was a boy.
After having read about the hype around pinks and blues for children, I have started wondering if it makes any sense to create all this fuss about segregating by colors. This is more of a marketing strategy, a smart technique of consumer sales promotion. Clothes aside, companies are even making separate toys for girls and boys following the pink and blue paradigm. Kids should be able to play with any toy that they find fascinating, irrespective of the color it might be.
Another thought that comes to my mind is that the affluence or capability factor also plays a role here. Does it even remotely occur to a parent who works extremely hard to make ends meet to dress a baby by colors? He or she feels blessed if they can simply provide the basic needs to their offspring. These parents are not in a position to throw tantrums about the pinks and blues.
In a world where we talk about gender equality, stereotyping by colors is a regression of some sort when we create differences by associating a color with a particular gender. Also, the axiom that most women love pink is not necessarily true. During a study on gender norms, Philip Cohen, a sociologist in the University of Maryland, asked a sample of 2,000 men and women what their favorite color was. The most popular color across the board was blue, followed by green for men and purple for women. Pink was clearly not the most sought-after color by women, for only 7% voted for it as their favorite color.
It should not be the prerogative of the fashion industry to initiate children into pink and blue clubs. Color choice should depend on one’s personal tastes. Without the fear of being ridiculed, a young boy should be able to freely wear a pink shirt if he loves the color. And the bottom line is that little ones, whether they are dressed in pink, blue, or any other color, are always so adorable!
“The only thing that is constant is change,” mused Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Who knows, fashion might undergo a revolutionary change, and our breed of grandchildren and great-grandchildren will talk about “pink for girls and blue for boys” as an alien concept! Newer colors like greens and yellows might take their place. Time will tell, but at this moment, I would rather not focus on pinks and blues but instead concentrate on creative ways to beat my Monday blues every week!