It’s not just “a” girl color, but the international spokescolor (yes, a made up word) for the female gender.
Here's a great post from Kyle Wiley of The Good Men Project (re-blogged via the Huffington Post, but hey, Arianna's rich enough). My favorite line:
Made up words are the best, because like all custom-made items, they fit better than the off-the-rack-versions. That is exactly the idea I have been trying to get across, less articulately, when I talk or write about pink and blue. Blue is NOT a spokescolor; pink is a spokescolor. Why is that, do you think? Is there something magical about pink itself? Mais non.
The magic is one of the oldest known superpowers: giving birth. Stay with me, friends. Here's how I see it: Women used to be powerful because they gave birth. The only way men could be more powerful than women was to control reproduction -- through marriage, through rape, through laws about birth control and abortion. But none of that transfered the magical power from women to men, so a cultural solution emerged instead. Make birth dirty, make sex a sin, make women dirty, weak sinners, lower than men because of their magic power.
Now all you have to do to maintain male superiority is make sure they are not tainted by anything remotely effete or feminine. Punish homosexuality. Raise little boys to be not-girls. Ridicule boys --and men-- who cry, or who are unathletic, or who like pink. It's a small price to pay for a place at the top of the social order.
Why have women put up with this? Many reasons, including a need to protect their offspring, their own survival and this complicated force called "hegemony", which results in acceptance of the dominant culture even when it works against you. (Kind of a cultural Stockholm syndrome.) But all is not lost; there are men and women, mothers and fathers, who believe that all humans have magical powers of love, imagination and creativity, and that humanity will benefit when every baby is valued for its potential to love, imagine and create, not its role in human reproduction.
Peace. (Steps off soapbox, returns to her index cards.)
One of the examples I use to show how pink used to be an acceptable color for boys is Walt Disney's 1953 animated film, Peter Pan. The youngest child, Michael, wears pink pajamas throughout the entire movie. (Don't take my word for it: just search for images for "Disney Peter Pan Michael")
Disney is re-leasing a special DVD version this year, and I've caught a few of their TV ads. It sure looks like Michael's pj's have been re-colored. All I have been able to find online is the cover art (on the left). Has anyone seen the new version?
Please don't tell me they got rid of the pink pajamas and left in "What made the Red Man red".
ETA: I suppose I should be grateful they didn't change Wendy's dress to pink.
I can't decide which was more fun: doing the interview or seeing the "Fast Draw" segment created by Mitch Butler and Josh Landis. My only regret: not smiling more. (I am really not that serious!)
I am finally emerging from the end-of-semester editing and grading marathon -- over thirty 25-page papers to read, at the draft and final stages -- and back in research mode for the summer. Bliss! Much as I love teaching, too much time away from writing makes me feel frantic and fragmented.
The proposal is still awaiting approval, but the work continues. One of the most frequent questions I get about "Pink and Blue" is about my claim that pink did not acquire its current symbolism until the 1970s. (A bit of explanation: by "current symbolism", I mean not only its meaning, but how powerfully it maintains that meaning regardless of context.) I have been accused of "blaming" feminists for the pinkification of girl culture, because I argue that it was feminist critiques of pink color-coding that helped solidify its symbolic meaning.
Now the more I delve into the fashions of the 1970s for my new book, the more I get the sense that something happened in the mid 1970s that super-charged pink as a feminine signifier. Here's today's clue, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Amer.Eng. Pink collar in reference to jobs generally held by women first attested 1977.
An excellent analysis of the marketing of princess culture, beauty and sexualization since the 1980s.
Yesterday, February 12, would have been my mother's 90th birthday. In her memory, I decided take a close look at children's fashion in the year of her birth. As the third child born to a young German Lutheran minister and his wife in rural Canada, I doubt if she ever wore any of the fancier styles shown here, but family photos certainly confirm the rules of appropriate clothing for children under 7.
Babies from birth to around 6 months: long white gowns, ranging from minimally embellished to elaborately trimmed with lace and embroidery.
Babies from six months to a year or slightly older: short white dresses and one-piece rompers. Again, these could be plain or fancy, depending on the occasion and the family's budget and needlework talents.
Gender differences were introduced between one and two years, with little boys exchanging dresses for short trousers, often attached to their shirts or blouses with buttons at the waistline. Little girls stayed in dresses, but in an array of colors.
Here's a video I created for the occasion:
One of the hardest things about writing a book is setting its limits. Pink and Blue is about baby and toddler clothing, not because the rest of the fashion landscape is ungendered, but because the first five or six years of life are especially significant in learning culture. I tried to stay within my own disciplinary territory -- history, not psychology. (Though I do use current psychological theories to try to understand and explain how children might respond to clothing trends and patterns.
This resulted in the omission of one really interesting aspect of gender performance in children: the rejection of pink, girlie style by so many girls when they enter middle childhood. Blogger Suzette Waters posted about this earlier this week, observing that her 9-year-old daughter is "leaving pink behind", and trading it for blue, purple and even black. As I understand the child development literature, this is a clear sign that Anna has mastered the concept of "gender permanence" and no longer needs to adhere to stereotyped clothing and toys in order to ensure a stable gender identity. Suzette ponders the future trajectory of Anna's tastes, anticipating possible conflicts over body piercing.
This complicates the symbolism of pink and the gender markers of early childhood, at least as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old. Besides being "feminine", pink takes on the a additional connotation of "babyish", which many girls reject as they enter middle childhood and adolescence. It also raises the interesting question of what age-appropriate "feminine" choices are available for girls 7-14. From what I hear from parents of that age group, it's a challenge!
Which do you think were boy/girl? Boy? Girl? Which were available in pink? Will post answers later this week.
UPDATE. Here are the answers:
21 is the only one listed as a boy's hat; it was available in blue or white.
19 is the only one listed as a girl's hat; it was available in pink or white.
All the rest were described as being for either a boy or a girl. 16 and 20 were offered in white only, 17 in a choice of white or light blue. The mitts (18) came in a set of two pair, one in white and one in blue).
My interpretation is that while pink was definitely a girl color at this point, blue was still considered a neutral option. I am also trying to figure out if the faces are made to look "masculine" or "feminine", but except for 19, it's seems too close to call.
I continue to collect anecdotes about uses of pink outside the United States. Today's story comes from a Finnish woman living in Saudi Arabia, and she includes wonderful pictures as well. Note the snippet about the gendered meanings of not only pink clothing but long hair/short hair. We don't talk much about hair in the U.S. anymore; why might that be? It seems that long hair for boys and men became as much of a non-issue as pants for women and girls sometime in the 1970s.
Finally, a teaser: I acquired a Fall/Winter 1962 Sears catalog yesterday. Scans to come!
Let me be clear: the supposed connection between Nazi Germany pink/blue symbolism does not appear in my book. In fact, although I am frequently asked about it, I have never volunteered the explanation that our pink and blue symbolism comes from the Nazi practice of identifying male homosexuals with pink triangles. It annoys me that this theory pops up in articles based on interviews with me as if I had discussed it, when it didn't even come up in the conversation.
The problems with the Nazi-pink triangle explanation are multiple. It is too simple. The symbolic messages are too mixed.The timing is wrong. Where do I begin?
It is too simple If I am sure about anything after decades of studying fashion, it is that simple connections make great stories, but usually bad explanations. Pink and blue symbolism became popular in the United States over the course of several generations, and varied considerably by region, even after 1940. This made me skeptical that pink triangles in Germany somehow quickly effected change in the US. Furthermore, the pink triangle was not a universal symbol for homosexuality in the German camps. It is most commonly associated with Dachau (other camps had their own systems) and was used for sexual offenders, not just for homosexual men.
The symbolic messages are too mixed. Pink symbolizes male homosexuality. Or femininity. Or communist sympathies. Or romance. Or sexuality (in the olden days, pornographic images that showed female genitals were called "pink shots".) You get the picture.
The timing is wrong. The use of pink badges was more common in the middle and later years of the war, and the general American public knew very little about the realities and details of the concentration camps until later. My research places the "tipping point" for pink being considered a feminine color in most (not all!!) of the U.S. sometime in the 1930s, later rather than earlier. Some articles turn this into "around 1940" in order to connect it with the Nazi pink triangle. tsk tsk.
The other timing issue is that in the 1940s and 1950s, homosexuality was still a taboo subject. The pink triangle did not really emerge in the American symbolic lexicon until the late 1970s at the earliest, and for many straight Americans was unknown until the 1990s. This makes it unlikely that parents and manufacturers associated pink with the Nazi symbolism in the 1940s.
The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the dots between the Nazi pink triangle and pink as a little girls' color are strictly imaginary.