Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pink is for Girls and Blue is for Boys

Pink and Blue have not always have the same gender associations as they do now. In fact, "In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s. From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because it was the more masculine and decided color while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color. Since the 1940s, the societal norm apparently inverted so that pink became appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century."1

Interesting, huh? Funny how pink was considered the more 'masculine' colour. Seems insane, right? Alas, this is what media and culture can convince a mind of. Things generally change quickly, trends some and go quickly. But not always, and pink/blue are great examples. I was thinking about this annoying association of colour and gender recently while shopping for baby gifts. Over the past few years, I have found it incredibly difficult to purchase something that is not one of those two colours, for anyone under the age of 5. Recently I've noticed a trend away from those colours - or colours at all in fact - in children's clothing. However it is not for the reason I'd prefer, rather it is a movement towards browns and greens, and other neutral or naturally dyed tones to follow the eco-trend. Don't think eco-conciousness is a trend? (ahem *Brian* ) ....well, I'll cover my reasons for that in another blog post. The trend is creating a fear of any unnatural dyes or finishes. Gloriously, 'baby' pink and 'baby' blue are quite difficult colours to match using natural dyes. And so, in stores, I saw BROWN onsies! What a joy. While most mainstream parents are buying these new eco-saavy colours for their kids because of the status wearing eco-friendly items evokes, they are deeply affecting social change on a larger scale.

While I accept that this does not truely signal an end to gender assignment via terrible children's fashion, I do wonder if this trend signals a shift in importance that society is placing on the way their children are presented to the world. While I certainly know that most of my with-child friends couldn't care less where the clothes their 8 month old is wearing came from, I also know that my social network is not reflective of society at large. But outsiders create trends, they are the 'early adopters' that Gladwell was talking about. Since my social group has decided to dress their daughters in male cousin's hand-me-downs, brown eco-friendly onsies, and decorate their bedrooms in Orange instead of princess pink, this is a signal of the very early beginnings of a shift in the traditional gender roles, and how we teach them to our children.

I am hoping anyhow.

I continue to hope that as our generation grows and becomes the Man, we will help to change the roles we were forced into as children. Yesterday I read a story about a 9 year old boy that will have his gender reassigned this year. He is in grade three in Philadelphia. The administrators decided it was wise to send a letter home with each child in the boy's class to advise the parents their children would be receiving councilling and therapy to help them with the transition of their classmate. These sessions would help the young boy to transition to a girl, the administrators say, because they will teach the other children what the change means and why it is happening, thus easing the strain on the child. At least s/he will not have to explain herself. But of course! Parents object! How could they let their innocent 9 year old children LEARN how to accept differences!? To be fair, some parents have been very supportive. Some however, feel this is "offensive".

Without losing my mind, trying to figure out why any parent wouldn't want their child taught tolerance, I will say this. The very fact that a school board has handled this so well is a sign of hope for the future. The fact that most parents are OK with this says even more. As my generation, and the ones that follow grow up, we become more willing to accept that life is not created with a cookie cutter. Everyone is different, and that is a good thing. And since everyone is different, our children should not be wearing only pink or blue.

Ultimately, there are many things that define our gender. Some of it is learned. Most we are born with. Dressing your child in pink or blue serves as a social signal to strangers about the sex of your child. But why? Why is it important for people to know?

Perhaps, if society is so concerned about the overt sexualization of young girls, we shouldn't be assigning a gender to them at birth. I know, thinking outside the box here people! Perhaps we should be concerned with teaching our children how to be people, not boys or girls.

For they will discover all on their own what their gender is, and how to express it.

1. Source: Zucker, Kenneth J. and Bradley, Susan J. (1995). Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents. Guilford Press, 203. ISBN 0898622662.


SVCON said...

I recall reading somewhere that pink was thought of as a diluted version of red. This was at the time, a typically masculine colour.

Blackberry White said...

"Don't think eco-conciousness is a trend?....well, I'll cover my reasons for that in another blog post."

So, when do we get to see this post? :)