Being the mom of four boys, I’ve been keenly aware of the stereotypes surrounding gender roles and norms for boys in their world. Starting from infancy, put a baby in pink, or purple, and it’s automatically assumed that it’s a girl. Put a baby in blue, green, or yellow, and the assumption is usually that it’s a boy. Lately, there has been a lot more pink and purple clothing out there for boys and men, but for most kids and teenagers, you couldn’t pay them enough to wear it.
My two oldest boys are my heroes, and absolutely love the color pink, never letting the color stereotype stand in their way. From hot pink shoelaces to pink dress shirts, from hot pink guitars to pink ties, if they like it, they wear it, use it, and aren’t ashamed of it. So when one of my younger sons, who’s loved the color purple since the day he was born (well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little) recently decided that purple was a ‘girl’s color’ and announced that red was his new favorite color, I had to wonder if that was true, or if he was being influenced by other factors.
Social norms dictate what is and isn’t appropriate for each gender, and that’s all there is to it. For centuries, children wore white, sometimes frilly dresses up until around the age of 6. Both boys and girls wore white for the simple fact that it was easy to clean – it could be washed, bleached, and dried in the sun without worrying about ruining the color of the fabric. Infant clothing remained neutral until June 1918, when an article in a trade publication, Earnshaw’s Infant’s Department, stated that pink was generally accepted for boys, and blue for girls, explaining that pink is a more decided and strong color, with blue being more delicate and dainty. Yes, you read that correctly. Originally, retailers were pushing pink for boys and blue for girls. In 1927, these same color recommendations were printed in a column in Time magazine based on advice from leading U.S. stores. Today’s version of pink for girls and blue for boys came about in the 1940’s according to Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. In other words, having a color specific to each gender sells. A family whose babies all wear white, for example, can simply re-use the clothing of their older siblings; however, a family who has a baby of one gender, then a baby of the other gender will have to purchase an entire second wardrobe appropriate to the color schemes and styles. Obviously, this makes for good business for manufacturers and retailers.
At some point, girls were no longer forced to wear dresses all the time and so girls gained more options. There has never been a dispute over a girl wanting to wear the color blue, and nobody has ever accused a gal of being ‘gay’ for wearing blue shoes, shirts, or rain boots. Something very bizarre happens, though, when a boy wears pink shoes, shirts, or rain boots. Heads turn, people either assume the child is a girl or they wonder why a parent would allow their son to dress that way. In the schoolyard, the poor boy would be teased relentlessly and would never live it down. ‘Pink is for girls’ has been pounded into us so hard, that it’s difficult to imagine little boys running around with pink raincoats, pink jeans, or a pink backpack. We’re becoming more accepting of adults who choose to wear the color, and clothing manufacturers are definitely getting on board with the new trend to make men’s clothing in pinks and purples. When my 19-year-old graduated from high school last year, I was tickled pink (see what I did there?) when I saw that the tuxedo shop we went to had a gorgeous black tuxedo in the window with a pink vest and tie. It wasn’t hot pink, either – it was pink. And it was stunning.
When you reflect on all the ways that media influences our lives, from the ideal body image to the way you cut your hair, isn’t this a great example of just why we need to stop and ask ourselves if what we’re being told in media and advertising is realistic? We’re consumers, and as such, we’re suckers. Show us something enough times; tell us something enough times, and we take it as fact. It becomes part of our culture, and in the case of the color pink, it became a social norm, and a taboo for boys. It’s just weird for most of us to even consider buying our young boys pink clothing. It’s time to start challenging the no-pink-for-boys norm. If you have young boys, I’d like to challenge you to let him choose whether he wants the pink rain boots or the navy blue ones. If girls get to wear whatever colors they want, then why can’t boys? It’s time to get pink’d.
*As a side note: my son wants his bedroom painted purple, even though he outwardly professes that red is his new favorite color!
Photo: Getty Images