Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pink and Blue

In our Western culture, the color blue is associated with boy babies and pastel pink for girl babies.  With ultrasound abilities that let parents know beforehand what the gender of their baby will be, expecting parents give a lot of attention to this color theme.  That's the tradition today, but it always wasn't that way. 

In the 1800s infants were clothed in white, and gender differences weren't highlighted.  Both boys and girls wore dresses of white.  Boys dresses buttoned up the front, while girls' buttoned up the back.  One theory is that distinguishing boy babies from girl babies simply wasn't important, and dresses made changing diapers a whole lot easier.

By the mid-1800s this started to change.  One of the first mentions of assigning colors to distinguish gender appeared in 1868 when Louisa May Alcott wrote "Little Women."  Amy tied a pink and blue ribbon on Jo's twins to distinguish whether they were a boy or a girl.  From the 1890s onward, clothing for boys and girls started to change, and little boys were dressed in trousers or knickers at early ages. 

In the early 1900s, pink became the color for boys and blue for the girls.  One thought is that pink belongs to the red family, which is seen as fiery, a manly color.  Others think the association of blue with girls came from the frequent depiction of the Virgin Mary in blue.

Because a pink triangle was used to identify homosexuals in Nazi German prison camps, after World War II the custom shifted permanently in favor of blue as a boy's color.  By 1915, an infant-wear buyer for one department store told Times magazine, "A mother will allow her girl to wear blue, but daddy will never permit his son to wear pink."

From the 1940's on, pink was pushed as a woman's color. "Think Pink" was the marketing slogan to convince women to embrace their femininity by wearing pink lipstick, driving a pink car, or buying pink household appliances.

So it is that we here in America have created a lot of colorful hoopla that immediately tosses a girl baby in the pink bin and a boy baby in the blue bin.  I betcha any money it won't be long before this custom will go away, knowing how careful society is becoming not to stereotype our children.

Just because something is the way it is right now, doesn't mean it was always like that.  Just as our fashion styles change, so do our customs and traditions.  I find it entertaining to look back in time and see the gradual transitions of our present-day cultural practices. 

My first opinion on this custom is that like all else, the one sector that benefits is the retail industry.  Retailers promote this tradition and try to keep it going simply because it's money in their pocket.  It starts with the baby announcements and continues with adorable clothes for tots and cutesy furniture.

My second opinion is that I'm sure that if I'm invited to a girl baby shower, I'll buy something that is NOT pink.  There's only so much pink that the closet can hold, I figure.   And, if I'm invited to a boy shower, I'll buy something that is also NOT pink.  I have this crazy notion in my head that pink is highly overrated, and don't ask me why.