I was talking to a friend recently who is in the first joyful throws of pregnancy. Buzzing with excitement she told me that she had given in to temptation and made her first baby-related purchase – a pack of three white baby grows. When asked if she would be buying any more, she replied that she would have to wait until after she would discover the gender – because she wanted the rest of her baby’s clothes to be “gender-specific” i.e. pink for a girl or blue for a boy, obviously.
But why is it obvious? Where did this colour assignation come from? Aren’t colours just that – colours? Once perhaps but seemingly not in 2018.
Pink for a girl and blue for a boy - where did it come from?
The first examples of photography in the early nineteenth century tell us that gender neutrality is very far from a modern concept. Boys and girls were indiscriminately adorned with white frilly dresses, white being understood as representing the innocence of the newborn and fabric dye not yet being a developed practice. Pastel colours were introduced in the mid-nineteenth century but not as you may think:
Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said:
"The generally accepted rule is pink for the girls, and blue for the boys. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."
Another publication of the time advocated dressing blue-eyed babies in blue clothes, regardless of gender, just to bring out the colour of their eyes. Perfectly logical, right? So what happened to give these seemingly innocuous colours such a definitive association that has remained so ingrained in society up until the present day?
The answer, war. The years following WW2 saw a world desperate to return to normality. So followed an eagerness for what society deemed the idealistic roles of the sexes. As weary soldiers returned from Europe, women were encouraged to shed their “working clothes” of wartime and resume a more “feminine” look. With femininity being equated to flowers and the most common flowers being pink, it wasn’t long before society and advertising companies began to push the colour as the only choice for the woman who wanted to resume her pre-war ‘normal’ gender role.
In recent years, there has been somewhat of a rebellion against pink and indeed against the assigning of colours to gender at all. While a great many people agree that ‘pink for a girl and blue for a boy’ is something that should be consigned to the previous century, there are others who scratch their head and ask “what on earth is wrong with pink?” This is a valid question. The answer is that there’s nothing at all wrong with it! It’s the baggage that goes alongside it that presents the problem. It’s colour not culture that’s the issue here! Colour coding toys sends a very clear message. When a pink lucky bag for example contains faux lipstick, earrings and a hairbrush and the blue contains a toy boat, hammer and water pistol, it’s isn’t difficult to get the subtext - you are your gender and must face the specifications and limitations of it. While commendable efforts have been made to address the toys that girls actually get to play with i.e. the targeting of girls in promoting previously boy-dominated toy markets, the underlying question remains – can you remember the last time you saw a pink tractor?
This is the biggest problem with pink – segregation. We want girls to believe that they will have the same opportunities as men when choosing a career, but as children they’re told if they want to play with the same toys that those toys come inexplicably labelled in pink, that a good old run of the mill blue, green or red tractor – like the kind marketed towards boys and actually used in real life, is somehow not suitable for them. So ingrained in our psyche is the notion that pink equals feminine that the very opposite also occurs. Little boys view pink toys and the roles attached to them like cook, homemaker, and nurse as being definitively “girly” interests and therefore not worthy of their time, even if that interest may have been the beginning of a future calling.
From our inception in 2012, Lottie has veered away from this kind of gender-labeling. Our packaging contains pink – and a whole host of other colours too! Likewise, Lottie, Mia and Finn Boy Doll wear lots of differently coloured clothes – just as real children do. We’re not about ditching the pink, we’re out to ditch the stereotype. Lottie aims to broaden girls and boys horizons, to tell them that dolls are not just for girls no more than cars are only for boys. Children’s interests should be as wide and as varied as possible, not pigeonholed because of something as innocuous as colour!