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Pink is for Boys and Blue is for Girls

This is how it used to be for much of history. It is really only within the last 60 years that it flipped.

If you look at the many Jesus-y paintings from the Medieval or Renaissance eras, for instance the Annunciation paintings, you will see the Virgin Mary usually wears blue and Jesus or the angel Gabriel usually wears a dark pink or red.

Annunciation, Fra Angelico c. 1437-1446
Annunciation, Fra Angelico, c. 1437-1446

Yes, that is a male angel in pink, he’s just pretty.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Virgin on the Rocks, c. 1480
Leonardo Da Vinci, Virgin on the Rocks, c. 1480

Again, the boy angel Gabriel in pink.

Carracci, Pieta, c. 1560-1609
Carracci, Pieta, c. 1560-1609

Blue was considered a virginal and feminine color and pink was considered a strong, manly color representing the passion or blood of Christ. Whether she is getting knocked up, giving birth, or grieving, Mary is rockin’ blue. Many times the Virgin Mary will wear both colors, representing the impending, well you know, Jesus killing.

A 1918 article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department wrote, “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.”

Interestingly, nobody knows for sure why the switch happened. They do know when though, sometime during WWII.

One theory is that since Hitler used a pink triangle to identify homosexuals, pink became regarded as an effeminate color. Yes, it wasn’t just a star for Jews, every color meant something different. A stripe above the triangle meant repeat offenders.

German concentration camp signifiers
German Concentration Camp Badge Colors

Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it sounds like a plausible theory. Now obviously, the homosexual community has embraced the pink triangle as a symbol of pride.

I’m not sure why I am so angered by the color pink forced upon my gender. Maybe it is because I hate that whenever anything is that certain baby pink, it is considered a woman’s issue. Like the pink breast cancer ribbon. Really, that’s the best you came up with? Pink? Dressing babies in an excess of pink or blue is like already deciding for them what their favorite color is. Can’t you just let them decide?

This Smithsonian article cites our 1950’s obsession with consumerism for deepening this pink/blue split. Making parents buy a whole new set of clothing meant doubling their profits. It was fairly common back in the day for both little boys and girls to wear dresses. They usually wore white or pastel colors. Children wearing gender-neutral clothing meant you could pass down your daughter’s clothing to your son. It was simply more economical.

Speaking of cross-dressing children, this great NY Times article discusses “gender fluid” children, or more specifically, “pink boys.” Basically, boys that like to wear dresses. In an attempt to be more understanding in our slightly more homosexual-accepting society, self-proclaimed liberal parents are trying to figure out how to raise a gender-fluid child. We as a society like defining: male, female, gay, lesbian, transgender. But what if your child doesn’t fall into any of those categories? In the article, Alex wants to sometimes wear boy clothes, sometimes wear girl clothes, but still identifies as a boy. He hasn’t gone through puberty yet so who knows if he will be gay or straight? And is that even important?

A line that really stung my feminist core was, “Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”

It made me stop and think, it’s so true that tomboys are generally culturally accepted. It’s okay to act like a boy but God forbid your son wants to dress like a girl. It goes on to say:

These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?” Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies.

In the comments section (many I have to skip because they will make my blood boil), a reader eloquently states, “It is, to me, very sad on many levels that boys who want to dress in dresses [and] skirts are vulnerable to bullying and judgement. The whole problems with gender identity issues lies pretty much in the reality that society denigrates women. Period.”

What is so shameful about being a woman?

I suppose my point is why force a color or a way of dress on a child? I do not believe that gender is only a societal construct, but I also do not see a need to push the genders further apart.

Photo: JeongMee Yoon
Photo: JeongMee Yoon

6 thoughts on “Pink is for Boys and Blue is for Girls

  1. I think my least favorite pink, is when it comes in bright, cheap plastic toy form. I think I find this combination of color, material, and purpose most offensive. I think. Check out this article on (toy) color apartheid:

    I never heard the term gender creative before, I like it. I think that will be my response to any questions the next time I cut my hair super short.

    I tried to find proof that maxi pads only came in pink packaging back in the day, but that took me down a rabbit hole of internet hell, I’ll have to confirm through eye witness accounts, aka my high school friends, stay tuned.

    1. I like that article! Good find!

      Yeah, I almost ended the article, “Just don’t dress your daughter or your son up in Pepto-Bismal pink. I hate that shit.” But I thought that it was a bit hostile. It’s funny because “magenta” was my favorite color growing up so I liked pink, I just hated that light baby pink.

      Yes, I would like to hear about this maxi pad phenomenon, I totally forgot to look that up.

  2. This has bugged me since I can remember being conscious of it. But the worst part of the pink phenomenon for me, the part that really makes me crazy? Traditionally masculine toys in pink from when produced for girls. Tool sets, cars, and especially sports equipment ( if I see one more pink baseball glove I may seriously have a conniption) as if a girls desire to participate in these activities needs to be trivialized; “ohhh look how cute, she wants to play baseball”. She’s not playing real sports, she playing cute, pink girly sports. Gag!

    This is obviously a personal issue for me hahaha

    1. Yes, that’s the worst!! I know someone, who shall remain nameless, who gave his daughter a pink toy rifle. yeah, a lot to unpack there haha.

  3. Yes, yes, and yes! My son has recently expressed an interest in wearing dresses and it has left me thinking, “why is this a big deal?” We have overwhelmingly be met with a supportive response from friends, family and his school, but he is definitely trailblazing in simply being a boy who likes to wear dresses sometimes.

    1. That’s so cool, thanks for sharing! It’s great to hear someone’s experience first hand.

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