12/02/2016 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Pink And Blue: The Colours Of Gender Stereotyping

Baby shoes
Juana Van burg via Getty Images
Baby shoes

Have you seen a newborn baby recently? Chances are that you'd guess their gender right if they were wearing pink or blue clothes. After all, it is almost universally accepted that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. You would assume that the reason for this would be something straightforward like an old law decreed by a medieval king or religious sentiments. However, this strangely persistent segregation has fairly modern origins.

A 1918 article in a trade journal called Earnshaw's Infants' Department stated that as pink was a strong, distinct colour, it was suitable for boys, and as blue was delicate and dainty, it was suitable for girls. This was however just a suggestion as clothes for children were largely gender neutral during this period. White was still the most popular colour. There was a slow shift towards other colours but nowhere was there a mention of blue or pink as primary gender colours.

The argument against these colours centres on the biases it helps create in young minds.

By the 1960s, marketing teams of children's apparel and toys were largely responsible for the trend of gender-specific colours. The more specialised a product was, the higher the premium it could demand over its competition. Thus, separate colours and toys for boys and girls were aggressively marketed to parents. This was negated to an extent in the 1970s by the women's movement. However by the time we rolled into the 1980s there was a marked return to gender-specific colours. The gender test to determine the sex of the baby played a major role in this. Suddenly the parents, family and friends could learn the sex of their unborn baby, pick their favourite name and shop for the child based on the information they had.

More recently, there is a debate about the effects such a colour bias can have on impressionable young children. In a study, it was noted that up to the age of two children showed no preference for the colour of particular toys or objects of interest. However, around the age of 4, when they were more aware of their gender, boys began to shun pink toys.

The argument against these colours centres on the biases it helps create in young minds. Besides, this colour coding is also applied to other genderized conceptions of girls' and boys' interests. For example, in a study conducted with 40 children aged between 5 and 15 months, researchers found that adults gave boys sports equipment, cars, tools and blue clothing while the females were given dolls, furniture and pink clothing.

In essence we are limiting the choices of children. Girls will believe that they must stick to interests like cooking, baking, and other stereotypically feminine activities. This also applies to boys and the pressure of "being a man". They may be forced to shun particular interests or career choices simply because it is not the accepted choice for a male. This is the primary danger of exposing children to our prejudices at such an impressionable age.

There is a growing movement back towards promoting gender neutrality. Target recently initiated a gender neutral policy in most of its stores. A statement on the Target website reads "Right now, our teams are working in the store to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance." They received complaints from the public about the gender bias i.e. pink aisles for girls, action figures and toy cars for boys. Target staff were asked to identify gender specific signage, colour palettes or toys and replace them.

There is still widespread debate as to the effects or lack thereof of colour choices for young children. What do you think?

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