In researching for my book “GUTSY: How Women Leaders Make Change” I have run across such amazing information and research. Enjoy what I have gathered and know that whatever color you prefer….you’re right!
From the day you were born parents or adults caretakers provided you with food, shelter, and clothing, and messages about the roles you were to play in the family. How did the learned roles you took on arise?
Let’s get to the very basic foundation of the family whose primary function is to ensure the survival of its members. Before language we pick up a multitude of the cues around us; we smile and coo and want to get back the nourishment of touch and sound; we cry and fret, expressing our wants and needs for food and warmth; and so early in our lives we learn to fit in, learn how to communicate. Long before we can say, like fancy Nancy, that mad is not a strong enough word when we are furious, we feel those first feelings that go with us through our lives.
PINK or BLUE????
Infants begin to develop their gender identity between one and two years (M.Lewis 1987) and gender constancy is developed by age six. This becomes a fundamental part of a child’s self-concept. (Warin 2000).
The color thing is really fascinating. First, a trip through history; in the 1800’s babies were all gender neutral, wearing white “dresses” in infancy. They were easy for changing diapers and easy to bleach when they became spotted and dirty.
Then somewhere around the 1920’s Western parents began dressing their children in colors. Pink was associated with boys; you heard me, with boys. Here was the rationale: red is a bold and brave color and pink was a watered down version for the “little men”. Blue, a more subdued color was for the girls. And by the way, blue was also associated with the Virgin Mary, a color of purity.
Things began to change after World War II, when the colors flip-flopped. Magazines took the lead and color preference was stamped into the national psyche. So, it’s culture that made the determination of the color code for little kids, right?
Not so fast! Here is some research from Newcastle University in Great Britain done in 2007. The skinny is that when different colors were flashed on computer screens both men and women preferred blue in the set of basic colors.
When choosing from mixed colors, men preferred color blends; women moved away from blue toward the red end of the spectrum, where shades like pink and lilac were found. Hummmmm, wonder what’s going on?
Was the cultural mandate indoctrinating the women? Only way to find out is to take individuals who did not have the Western bias. Thus, the study was done with Chinese participants. Want to guess what results were established?
The Chinese women also preferred the shades found on the red side of the spectrum. Let’s dig deeper into even more basic reasons for this seemingly biological preference.
Go with me back to our ancient ancestors to look for some answers. Around, oh say, 10,000 years ago when bands of hunters and gatherers composed humanity. Men, because of their bigger size and strength were the hunters, women the gatherers.
Women foraged for food and would be attuned to look for ripe fruits and berries and ripe was associated with bright red. The reward of staying focused on red was to come back with food for the clan. Another hypothesis is that red would be associated with flushed faces of children when they had a fever. So, red was a color of survival imprinted into our genetic material. Physiologically women’s eyes are attuned to see reds better than other colors, thus the evolutionary hypothesis.
The male preference for blue? Possibly because blue is associated with blue skies, ideal hunting weather and blue would signify a good water source.
Pretty in Pink has been seen in many, many young girls including those who have been raised outside the typical gender color phenomenon. There is a phase that researchers at Princeton University refer to as the “PFD phase” the Pink Frilly Dress phase.
The Princeton researchers posit that since kids do, as I stated earlier, become gender aware by the age of two they want to associate with the club they have signed on for. Securing a place in one’s gender is important to a child’s psychological growth and there is a basic survival and security aspect to adopting a color preference that has been culturally assigned to gender.
Cultural or biological? Like nurture or nature, these debates go on and on. For now, just note that pink has become the symbol of breast cancer awareness and all the good that is coming from women taking the lead to help women in need. Pink has its place!