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.)
Feminist biology professor Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University contacted me recently about a research note about gendered colors in that struck her as weak on evidence. I had the same reaction, and was mulling over how to respond to the article, but felt competent only to address the author's approach to historical evidence, not his science. (The original piece is behind a paywall, but described in this post at Life's Little Mysteries.)
Fausto-Sterling and I reached across the disciplinary divide to co-authored a response that was just posted on her blog at the Huffington Post. Frankly, we need lots more of this in gender studies. Gender formation and the creative and transmission of gender signifiers are complex, multidisciplinary topics, and the more disciplines enter the conversation, the better we will understand them. And someday, I will even meet Anne Fausto-Sterling in real life! In the meantime, thank heaven for the Internet.
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.
Baby announcements, gift and greeting cards from the UCLA Biomedical Library collection of Baby Books. The shower cards were received before the baby was born. Announcements were often purchased or made in advance, and filled out afterwards. Notice the use of blue for girls and pink for boys in the 1910s and 1920s, and the use of pink and blue in combination for both boys and girls.
A set of greeting cards for a baby girl born in 1960. Notice the use of pink and blue in the cards that were designed for "baby" as opposed to "girl". In 1960, pink and blue were still used together as baby colors (even for boys). I would love to see more vintage baby cards!
The most frequent question I am asked is "When did pink become a feminine color?" It may seem simple -- it certainly did to me when I first went looking for an answer about thirty years ago -- but the answer actually depends on several factors. I have noticed that even when an article about my research is based on an interview with me, the author may try to settle on a single date rather than relate the whole messy tale. I completely understand. It took me an entire chapter in my book to answer that "simple" question! Here goes:
If you mean "When was pink first considered a feminine color by some culture somewhere in the world", I have no idea. Color symbolism is highly culture-specific and variable. (Consider, for example, that white was the traditional color of mourning in Japan at the same time that black had the same meaning in most of Europe.) It is clear that in most of Europe and America in the 19th century and early 20th century, pastel colors were considered "youthful" and were used more often to flatter the complexion, not denote gender. Pink was considered more flattering for brown-eyed, brown-haired people and blue for blue-eyed people. (Green and yellow were preferred for red-heads, and I have anecdotal evidence that lavender was sometimes used for African-American babies, but not enough to be confident in that claim.) When pink or blue were used in gendered ways, it seemed to be a matter of fashion -- a temporary trend -- not a tradition. Nor were they used consistently the way we do today (pink=girl, blue=boy).
Between (very) roughly 1900 and around 1940, there was a movement towards more gender distinction in clothing, first for toddlers and then for babies, including more frequent use of pink and blue to signify gender. There was also quite a bit of confusion among clothing manufacturers and retailers about which was which, as they tried to settle on one rule for the entire country. (See the table from 1927 in the image gallery)
Between around 1940 and the mid-1980s, the pink=girl, blue=boy convention was nearly uniform, but not completely so. This was still variable by region in the United States. There were German Catholic areas in Nebraska which used blue for girls as late as the early 1980s, and I have seen pink clothes for boys from the deep South from the 1970s. In addition, it was not yet the very rigid use of pink we've seen recently. Pink was an option for girls, and it was quite possible to avoid it. (I seldom wore pink or pastels as a little girl in the 1950s; my mother preferred to dress me in deeper colors, especially shades of blue.) Pink was by far the most common color used for first birthday cakes, for example, and pink and blue were used together in baby announcements, receiving blankets, toys and clothing for both boys and girls.
What has changed since the 1980s? First, pink became so strongly associated with femininity, that when a boy or man wears it is is no longer "just a color", but an act of defiance or personal expression beyond the aesthetic. Second, it eventually crowded out other colors in the options for babies and little girls. Finally, pink has been adopted by manufacturers of thousands of products as a way to differentiate their wares and sell more items, especially for children.
So there it is. Before 1900, pink and blue were two of a range of pastels appropriate for babies and children, symbolic of gender to the same extent that shamrocks symbolized luck -- in a light-hearted, fanciful way, not a moral imperative. From 1900 to around 1940, their modern associations were taking shape, but were often reversed in some parts of the United States, and still not taken too seriously. From around 1940 until the mid-1980s, pink and blue had their now-familiar associations, with regional exceptions and lots of other options. Since around 1985, pink has been not only a strong symbol of femininity, but neutral and non-pink options have been gradually edged out.
Sorry this is so long. But as you can see, the question may seem simple, but the answer is not!
In 1927, Time published these results of a survey of infants' departments in major cities. Their question: What are the sex-appropriate colors for boys and girls clothing? My question: "Time? Really?" This must have been a bigger issue than I thought!
"Pink or Blue? Which is intended for boys and which for girls? This question comes from one of our readers this month, and the discussion may be of interest to others. There has been a great diversity of opinion on this subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the poy and blue for the girls. the reason is that pink being a more decided and stringer color, is more suitable for the boy' while blue, which is more delicate and dainty is prettier for the girl”
Infants’ Department, June 1918 The first time I encountered these words, paging through a heavy, bound issue of Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, nearly thirty years ago, I stopped and re-read it several times, at least once under my breath. I was following up a minor sideline in a project on babies’ clothing during the Progressive Era -- the seemingly trivial question “when were pink and blue introduced as gendered colors?” At that point, the white rabbit darted into its hole and I dove in after it. Years later, I am back to tell the very complicated tale of how American baby and toddler clothing went from completely devoid of sexual hints to almost completely separated into “his” and hers” camps.
boy's button-on suit, 1920s
Pink and blue symbolism is so firmly embedded in American popular culture that it’s hard to believe that their gender associations are relatively new, and have changed with each generation. Before 1900, babies in the United States wore white clothing that signified their age but not their sex, consistent with cultural norms. Toddler clothing (up to age 4) was more colorful, but hues were assigned according to complexion, season or fashion, not sex.In the 1920s and 1930s pink was the preferred color for little boys in many parts of the United States.
Hot off the presses!