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Why are baby girls dressed in pink and boys in blue? There is no particular scientific explanation to this, except that it is just a marketing strategy for new parents.
An invitation to a recent baby shower hinged on a relaxed dress code, save for an accompanying clause. ‘All colours except blue were fine to wear.’ No points for guessing, a baby girl was on her way. Rummaging through my wardrobe, I was surprised that I had not bought any 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 colour choice. But the more likely reason is that the India I grew up in did not adhere to that norm on a wide scale, at least not to the extent that it was common knowledge.
However, living in the United States for close to 30 years, was a completely different ball game. I have gone along with the ritual of picking the ‘right’ colour while gifting clothes to a new born. What I never paid attention was to the fact that how had this practice evolved. Recently, I overheard a rather funny story that triggered my interest to put some research into this.
A couple expecting their firstborn was misled by the ultrasound which actually determined the baby’s gender incorrectly. In all the excitement that it would be a baby girl, the to-be parents were ready with a massive collection of pink outfits and painted their 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 colours for babies. I remember reading a detailed feature in Smithsonian.com a while ago. It spoke 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. Both boys and girls were dressed in dainty white dresses till they were about six 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 that in 1927, leading stores in the United States recommended parents dress boys in pink and girls in blue. Pink was considered a bolder and stronger colour more suited to the personality of boys. And blue was felt to be a softer, delicate colour more in tune with girls’ traits.
It was only in the 1940’s that today’s colour 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 babies in neutral colours. But the popularity of gender-neutral clothing faded away since the mid-1980’s with the advent of prenatal testing in countries that allow the procedure. And the colour divide began once again. Parents, after knowing the sex of the baby, would get ready to welcome the child by shopping pink if it were a girl and blue for a boy.
Having read about the hype around pinks and blues for children, I wondered if it makes any sense to create all this fuss about colour segregation. 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 colour.
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 colours? They feel 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.
We talk about gender equality but stereotyping by colours is a regression of some sort where we create differences by associating a colour to 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 favourite colour was. The most popular colour across the board was blue, followed by green for men and purple for women. Pink was clearly not the most sought-after colour by women, only seven percent voted for it as their favourite colour.
It should not be the prerogative of the fashion industry to initiate children into pink and blue clubs. Colour 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 colour. And the bottom line is that little ones, whether they are dressed in pink, blue, or any other colour, 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. Maybe our breed of grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) will talk about “pink for girls and blue for boys” as an alien concept!
Newer colours like greens and yellows might take their place. Time will tell. But at this moment, I would rather not focus on pinks and blues instead concentrate on creative ways to beat my Monday blues every week!
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Pixabay
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Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.
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