We visited the local store for clothes shopping for my kids. They were tired of loose pants and sagging tops that I have been heaping on them over the past one year. Can’t really expect great fitting clothes online for wiry kids like mine. However, this outing turned out to be my next blog post!

Color and gender stereotype example close to home

 Mom is it necessary that boys should like blue, asked my little scientist in a small voice.

Hmm… no, not at all I said as I scanned the shelf for something that would fit this guy.

But Tai (that’s what he calls the Diva of our house) says pink is for girls and blue is for boys, then when will I get the green t-shirt?

It drew my attention to his serious face with knitted brows, and that’s when it registered. The girl at the counter too had been pulling out enormous amounts of blue clothing since we got there.

Don’t listen to her, I told him, and got on my knees to be at his eye-level. You can pick any color in the size available–red, green, yellow, or even pink.

He looked relieved and immediately asked the girl to pull out the green t-shirt with a huge T-Rex, that he had been eyeing and just to prove the point we ended up buying 3 more t-shirts in all colors other than blue.

As a kid I don’t remember confirming to such gender specific color stereotypes. The only condition I remember is ‘stay away from whites’ 😛 The darker the color, the happier the mom would be–less maintenance and no visible dirt stains. The same rule applied for delicate clothes, but apart from that, nothing ever. At one point I had a bright orange top too! I prefer not to think about that one.

However, the case in point is when did this gender specific color stereotype enter our lives? I had a feeling that it had something to do with advertising and so I did some digging around and this is what I found.

gender specific colors - pink for girls and blue for boys

Color and Gender stereotype dates back to the early 19th century in the USA

The root of this gender specific colors is at the beginning of the 19th century when pastel colors for children came into fashion. However, the colors were interchangeable till after World War II. The color of eyes and hair than the gender of the baby mostly dictated the choice of pink or blue.

In my reading, I did not see strong color preference by gender till late 1980s or early 1990s

Another factor that became a catalyst in associating specific colors with specific gender was prenatal testing. This led to parents shopping for their unborn baby and doing up the nursery and décor in a certain way.  

Gender Specific Colors: Marketing and mass production played a big role 

Mass production had picked up steam, and what better way to produce in mass if the manufacturer knew exactly what to produce! Gender specific colors meant creating clothes, accessories, decorations in a certain color, type and style! 

Big brands, malls, and consumer businesses started promoting specific colours like pink and blue and beaming the whole idea of dressing your babies in a specific colour. The interesting fact was that just around 1918 till about 1930s there is evidence of blue being communicated as a female color and pink as a masculine color. Blue was a calm and dainty color, while they considered pink a powerful color. In that era, girls and boys dressed and behaved in a certain way following their mothers and fathers.

Women’s liberation movement in the 60s bulldozed the whole notion and the styles and fashion reversed. Blue overalls and jeans replaced dresses and frills. Gender neutral colors were in vogue and they stayed so till about the end of 1980s when a second wave of gender specific colors made their presence felt.

Does gender affect color preference or is it a myth?

Some might argue against forced color and gender stereotyping, believing that it is more to do with sub-conscious preference of colors by a particular gender. However, truth is far from it. Gender specific color preferences are not primal or intrinsic to human behavior or gender. We can attribute a large part of such color preferences to societal conditioning and environmental cues. Psychology has little to do with the first impressions about the colour; however, based on societal norms or environmental cues, the color preference strengthens as the child grows older.

Gender color preference studies: What affects the color preferences in girls and boys?

A lot of research has gone into gender color preferences. At the surface of it, if you conduct a random poll with 100 participants, chances are you might end up with more girls choosing pink or shades or red and boys opting for blue, however this goes deeper than that.

Cultural norms and environmental cues (what children see and observe around them) play a big role in color preferences. According to a study, children aged 1, when shown identical objects of pink and blue, did not show a preference on choosing the objects of a particular color. 

However, after the age of two, one saw a clear preference for a particular color by a particular gender. Psychologist suggests that after the age of two, children notice their gender and observe and understand what defines a boy or a girl. As these children grow up on a steady staple of ‘what girls or boys prefer’ based on the advertisements, the toys they receive, the way they or their peers dress, the way others interact with them etc. children draw certain conclusions sub-consciously. 

They conducted another study where babies irrespective of gender were first dressed in pink and then in blue and handed over to nannies to care for. The scientists observed a change in the behaviour of the women based on the baby clothing – they brought out dolls and teddy to play with babies dressed in pink and blocks or cars with babies dressed in blue. Such interactions with adults form the societal cues that babies pick on as they grow older.

Children also tend to self- socialize–imitating the choices of people of their own sex (a daughter imitating a mom or a son imitating his brother etc.) These are the environmental cues that they pick on and adopt.

Why is this pink for girls and blue for boys syndrome wrong?

The moment we try to cubbyhole likes and dislikes into certain set norms, it opens floodgates for repressed choices and desires. It drives those who do not conform to these norms to the borders or even term them as a misfit.

Another problem is that gender stereotyping does not end with colors but it also hardwires the children to confirm to certain gender-specific roles. As we move into the 21st century and are talking about getting more women back into the workforce, it is important that we remove such limiting hindrances. 

A child needs assurance that a color cannot decide their identity. Let them choose colors that they truly gravitate towards and pick on cues that help them be a better human being.

Simple ways in which you can reinforce gender stereotyping of colors is nothing but a hype are –

  1. Letting children choose their outfits, shoes and other accessories on their own
  2. Limit the advertising children see
  3. Apart from malls and mass-produced high fashion, choose local fabrics and natural colors
  4. Keeping comfort as the priority 
  5. Choosing a different colour consciously every time they shop. Tell them to pick colours they don’t have, colors that suit a particular season or festival and similar.

Writing this article helped me realize the sub-conscious choices that we make as we go about our daily life. It also made me realize to be extra cautious about the choices I make. Did you have any such gender specific color experiences? Do share in comments below.

I am writing this post as part of BlogChatter’s Cause a Chatter campaign and I hope to open channels of discussion around gender biases and things that can be done to remedy them.

34 Replies to “Gender-specific colors: The truth behind pink for girls and blue for boys”

  1. This war between pink and blue is old but never gets old! I remember writing about this years ago. The conditioning that comes with these colours is something I have an issue with. Letting kids choose what they like is the right way to go.

  2. I so agree with you ..my son told his father not to wear a pink t- shirt because girls where.. and to be honest we were shocked.. this conditioning is there in our system and it needs change from grass root levels

  3. Yes, the pink and blue is big in advertising but every time it hurts me seeing such gender stereotypes. It seems such biases are embedded deeply and might take an era to uproot it.

  4. It has happened to me so many times while shopping for my son that the store assistant kept bombarding me with blue outfits without even asking for the color preferences. I mean, this is so deep-rooted in the mindset that it seems quite an impossible task to change that thinking overnight. It’s going to take a while.

  5. Your post has reminded me of time when I was expecting second time and we went for shopping. the shopkeeper has said same thing that and promote his brand by pick pink or blue as per your baby’s gender. indeed it is so common in our society. I really like all the suggestion share by you. personally for me, it is always comfort is the first factor while choosing clothing for my girls. never it is color specification.

  6. It’s the society that has created this divide. Colors dont come with a gender tag. In our house, my daughter n I love blue color while we get all the colors we can for my son.

  7. This colour gender thing is in everyone’s mind in our society.but I strongly oppose this . I am raising my child as a neutral. Every colour is for everyone and this shouldn’t be gender specific.

  8. Gender specific colors is too much hyped in the marketing gigs and kids learn that this is correct. Moreover showrooms are designed in a manner where the distinction is clear. We as a parent need to break such stereotypes as you did while shopping.

  9. I totally hate the blue and pink disaggregation. The abundance of pink at c the girls clothing section is sickening. But I loved the piece of history you provided. Never knew that it was actually reverse!

  10. The color stereotypes has been hardwired into our system by virtue of this society or marketing gummicks. I am glad our generation is talking about it. Because, I feel when you start recognizing an issue you start working toward it.

  11. This is such a relevant post. You have highlighted the issue of colour sensitisation in such a detailed manner. I hope a lot of people use this rational explanation and stop stereotyping colours for the two genders.

  12. I always wondered the reason behind pink and blue stereotype! This was very insightful… Loved reading your post!

  13. I think it is high time to break stereotypes of gender-specific colours. The best thing would be to let kids select colours based on their own preferences as opposed to societal conditioning.

  14. This was an amazing read. I am completely unsurprised that the gender color thing came from marketing. As much as people eat up marketing now, back then, you could say and do almost anything and people just automatically believed it.

  15. Wow! That was such an in-depth dive into the whole blue and pink thing. I think it’s so crazy that the concept is still so ingrained in so many people, and it all came from advertising.

  16. Sigh. Why am I not surprised it all started with marketing? This was an amazing post. I love all the detail you shared in it. I’ve always tried to teach my kids that those stereotypes are just societal constructs and not actually a real thing.

  17. I never knew the history behind this. I do think it’s important that we get away from colors and allow everyone to wear and love what color they love.

  18. What a great read! I’ve always wondered how everyone became obsessed with blue and pink for boys and girls respectively.

  19. Very debatable the expected pink for a girl and blue for a boy. I suppose it is each to theri own and for every one to be an individual x

  20. Interesting read here.

    I’m a male and love blue, but also love dark red and crimson colors. Does that mean something’s wrong with me?

    No.
    Strict societal norm are to blame for feeling guilt over liking any color.

  21. I think we are less bias now with colors. But it used to be like that. I think the society is slowly opening to it. Blue should not just be for boys and pink for girls. We are free to wear whatever we want.

  22. I think those gender colors have nothing to do with gender but we have pre-assign colors to gender That is only a collective choice that is slowly changing.

  23. One thing that I don’t understand is when people having a ‘gender reveal party. For me, it is one of the ways to show how much you can spoil your kids and letting them grow what and how much they are entitled to be.

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