We all know that. In one school this year the new first graders are shown the hangers for their coats, and, yes, the hangers for girls are pink and the hangers for boys are blue.
That the association of these colors to gender is fairly recent did not stop evolutionary-psychologists from arguing that women innately prefer pink, what with the need to find ripe fruit in those long-gone gathering days when the menz went a-hunting and the wimminz a-gathering.
Of course the color pink means that fruit is not ripe yet, in almost all the cases I can think of. But facts never ruin a good story!
In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s or earlier. An article in the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department in June 1918 said: "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." From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because being related to red it was the more masculine and decided color, while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color, or related to the Virgin Mary. Since the 1940s, the societal norm was inverted; pink became considered appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century.
Now new research reinforces the view that gender-linked color preferences are based on learning what is appropriate to one's gender:
In Western cultures, girls consistently prefer pink, boys prefer blue. Which academic camp lays claim to this difference? Past research has made a case, in terms of the evolutionary advantage of finding fruit, for why females might be biologically predisposed to prefer pink and other bright colours. But a new study purports to show that girls only acquire their preference for pink, and boys their aversion to it, at around the age of two to three, just as they’re beginning to talk about and become aware of gender. Vannessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache say their finding undermines the notion of innate sex differences in colour preference. “If females have a biological predisposition to favour colours such as pink, this preference should be evident regardless of experience of the acquisition of gender concepts,” they said.Does any of this ultimately matter? Perhaps not the color preferences themselves (though I do get tired of seeing little girls in not much else than wishy-washy pink and purple and I also wonder what the rigid color rules do to boys and later men). But other lessons often packed with these kinds of messages do matter. As I have written before, if toys "suitable for boys" now include building blocks and other toys which train three-dimensional object manipulation, girls will fall behind in those manipulation skills.
LoBue and DeLoache presented 192 boys and girls aged between seven months and five years with pairs of small objects (e.g. coasters and plastic clips) and invited them to reach for one. Each item in a pair was identical to the other except for its colour: one was always pink, the other either green, blue, yellow or orange. The key test was whether boys and girls would show a preference for choosing pink objects and at what age such a bias might arise.
At the age of two, but not before, girls chose pink objects more often than boys did, and by age two and a half they demonstrated a clear preference for pink, picking the pink-coloured object more often than you’d expect based on random choice. By the age of four, this was just under 80 per cent of the time – however there was evidence of this bias falling away at age five.
Boys showed the opposite pattern to girls. At the ages of two, four and five, they chose pink less often than you’d expect based on random choices. In fact, their selection of the pink object became progressively more rare, reaching about 20 per cent at age five.
Perhaps they can have pink blocks with glitter.
Thanks to DS for the link.