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We’re living in fluid times in terms of gender designations for babies. On the one hand, 2017 saw the first-ever birth of a baby to be recorded without an official gender designation. Searyl Atli Doty, born in Canada in November 2016, was declared “U” (for “unknown” or “unspecified”), rather than “male” or “female” at the behest of its mother, Kori Doty. But then, on the other hand, people are still throwing decidedly binary “gender reveal parties” so over-the-top that they start raging fires.
According to Riki Wilchins, an expert on gender and author of five books on the topic including Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, one who identifies as “non-binary” identifies oneself as falling outside the categories of “male” and “female.” Baby Searyl’s mother identifies as non-binary. Whether Baby Searyl came home to a pink- or a blue-themed nursery is anyone’s guess, but it seems safe to assume that Searyl’s mother—who does not buy into the notion of gender—does not buy into the notion of color as a gender signifier. Learn about some LGBTQ+ icons and milestones you should know about.
As we reflect on how we got to this place in history where a baby can be born without a gender, the question naturally arises: Why is it blue-for-boy and pink-for-girl anyway?
The history of baby colors
In fact, it was not always so. Pink and blue were not gender signifiers in this country until shortly after World War I, according to Wilchins. In the centuries prior to that, all babies were dressed in white gowns, which allowed easy access for diaper changes and could be bleached after wearing. Clothing for children up to the age of six or seven was treated as unisex (which allowed parents to use the same clothes for every baby born). It was a matter of home economics and didn’t change much even when pastel colors (including pink and blue but also others such as yellow) were introduced in the mid-1800s, presumably because commercial dyes became widely available. Here are some things your outfit color says about you.
Things only began to change, in fact, in June 1918, when Ladies’ Home Journal published an article claiming that “the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls.” That’s right: pink for boys and blue for girls because, at least at the time, pink, which is associated with red, was considered too harsh for girls. Girls were therefore assigned a color associated with sky and daylight.
But the fact that the media had begun promoting the notion of one color or another being associated with one gender or another was likely the brainchild of marketing strategists, says Wilchins. Essentially, clothing manufacturers and retailers had realized that they could double the amount of clothing sold. By 1927, department stores had jumped on board such that Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores: In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland, and Marshall Field in Chicago. Today, that might sound downright outrageous—it’s one of the history facts that sound fake but aren’t.
The colors change
It wasn’t until the 1940s that manufacturers went in the opposite direction and decided that pink was for girls, and blue was for boys. But then, just one generation later, the women’s liberation movement ushered in unisex baby clothing once again, which remained in vogue until the mid-1980s. That was when medical science allowed parents to learn the gender of their not-yet-born babies.
“These days, the vast majority of pregnant women in this country want to know the gender,” says Patricia Shay, MD, a gynecologist at Grand Rounds, and this becomes highly profitable for manufacturers of baby clothes and baby products as parents-to-be share their news with occasions like “gender reveal parties.” In addition, parents who can afford to do so will outfit entirely new layettes and nurseries, depending on whether Junior is expecting a baby brother or a baby sister.
Does it even matter?
“Gender is a cultural construct,” Wilchins maintains. “Most cultures will find some way or another to differentiate between males and females. What varies among the cultures is how.” Wilchins points toward foot-binding in ancient China and female fattening farms in Mauritania as more extreme examples, but also to the gendering of nouns in Romance languages (for example, the Spanish word for day, which is dia, is male-gendered, and the word for city, which is ciudad, is female-gendered).
The gendering of color is another of these constructs, says Wilchins, who predicts that it will evolve as the binary gender system begins breaking down in our culture (as evidenced by the non-gendered designation of Baby Searyl, for example). “Things are changing gradually. Perhaps there will be a whole other color scheme or none at all. What’s important is people are finally getting that these designations aren’t rigid.” And Dr. Shay confirms that in her practice nowadays, she sees families that are willing to “go outside the box” in terms of color. We think every color of the rainbow is acceptable for any baby! Speaking of, here’s how the rainbow became the symbol for LGBTQ+ pride.
- CNN: “Canadian baby given health card without sex designation”
- CNN: “A pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party sparked one of the California wildfires, burning over 8,600 acres”
- Smithsonian Magazine: “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?”
- The Guardian: “Girls being force-fed for marriage as fattening farms revived”
- Spanish Dict: “Masculine and Feminine Nouns”
The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to ...How did the colors blue and pink get assigned to boys and girls? ›
It all started in the 19th century when pastel colors started becoming popularized for babies. The two colors were first chosen because of how they complimented hair and eye colors. Blue was meant to go with blue eyes and/or blonde hair, and pink for brown eyes and/or brown hair.When did pink become a girl color and blue a boy color? ›
The baby boomers in the 1940s were the first to be dressed in the sex-specific clothing that Americans are familiar with today. Boys and girls were dressed like miniature men and women instead of uniformly in children's dresses. Pink became the girls' color, blue the boys'.Was pink a boy color and blue a girl color? ›
People started thinking that for hundreds of years, blue had been for boys and pink had been for girls. But this wasn't true, she said. “If you look back, little boys in the 18th century wore blue and pink, and grown-up men wore blue and pink, and ladies and little girls wore blue and pink,” Steele said.Who chose pink for girls and blue for boys? ›
Traditional French culture paired pink with girls and blue with boys (while Belgian and Catholic German culture used the opposite), and because France set the fashion in the 20th century, their tradition held sway.Was pink originally a boy color? ›
In the 1920s, some groups had described pink as a masculine color, an equivalent to red, which was considered for men but lighter for boys. But stores nonetheless found that people were increasingly choosing to buy pink for girls, and blue for boys, until this became an accepted norm in the 1940s.Did boys used to be called girls? ›
Did you know boys used to be called girls? Until the late 15th century, the word girl was used to refer to a child. of any gender. Maiden child is used for a little boy, and gay girl was used for a girl.How did pink become a girly color? ›
That's because it wasn't until after World War II that pink came to be equated with femininity. People formed that association largely because it was first lady Mamie Eisenhower's favorite color. Not for any special reason, though; she supposedly just liked the way it set off her skin tone and pretty blue eyes.Is pink a masculine color in Japan? ›
In contemporary Japanese culture, says Nemitz, pink is perceived as a masculine and mournful color that represents “young warriors who fall in battle while in the full bloom of life.” In Germany, pink is “rosa”—a hue that's “bright, soft, peaceful, sweet, and harmless,” she explains.Is purple A boy or a girl color? ›
In reality, purple is a color for everyone. You can use it, although it's generally in a female palette with purple, pink, light blue, etc.
The star of Blue's Clues, Blue, is a girl puppy who communicates to Steve and Joe through barks, which they understand. Every episode she initiates a game of Blue's Clues in which she leaves three paw print clues for Steve or Joe and the viewer to find in order to a question.What is the color gender? ›
Colorgender (also known as Colourgender) is a xenogender identity in which one's gender is associated with one or more colors and the feelings, hues, emotions, and/or objects associated with that color.When did boys wear skirts? ›
From the mid-16th century until the late 19th or early 20th century, young boys in the Western world were unbreeched and wore gowns or dresses until an age that varied between two and eight.Do boys prefer blue over pink? ›
There is no scientific evidence that boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink. Up until the early 20th century the trend was the opposite and baby boys were dressed in pink and girls in blue. There are also some - small - studies suggesting that adults of different cultures have different tastes in colours.What color represents gender equality? ›
Symbolically, purple is a hue that has been used for centuries to represent wealth, nobility, luxury and power. It is also a color used throughout modern history to represent the fight for gender equality and International Women's Day on March 8.What are gender neutral colours? ›
- light browns.
- muted tones in general.
“Blue has become a symbol of strength and masculinity, while pink symbolizes sweetness and femininity.”Is blue a boy or a girl? ›
Blue. The star of Blue's Clues, Blue, is a girl puppy who communicates to Steve and Joe through barks, which they understand. Every episode she initiates a game of Blue's Clues in which she leaves three paw print clues for Steve or Joe and the viewer to find in order to a question.What is the history of the color pink? ›
History of the Color Pink
The color pink was recognized as a concept in 800 B.C. in Homer's Odyssey. The term was coined in the 17th century by a Greek botanist for the ruffled edges of carnations. In the mid-18th century, pink was a fashionable color among male and female aristocrats as a symbol of class and luxury.