An article in today’s (UK) Telegraph, tells us of some new research. The findings of the study show:
‘that young girls do indeed have a special affinity for the colour pink that appears sometime in the second half of the second year’ and that ‘while girls are developing a preference for pink with age, boys are developing an avoidance of pink at the same time’.
According to The Telegraph, the paper,
‘published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, states that it is often possible to tell the gender of a newborn baby just from the colour of the clothes and toys in their nursery.
As they grow, girls are given everything from computers to lunchboxes coloured pink while boys have the same objects in blue.’
This is useful information – though hardly a surprise- for those of us who have been arguing that gender difference, on the whole, between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ is not innate but learned. I was born into a militant feminist household in the early 1970s, and I never became attached to the colour pink. I have not even seen a photo of me as a young baby or toddler in any pink garment.
But the article is interesting for another reason. It very much focuses on the colour pink as a signifier of gender difference. Apart from the quoted mention of boys having blue lunchboxes above, there is no discussion of boys becoming ‘attached’ to the colour blue in the article.
The Telegraph states:
‘The academics say that previous studies have shown that between the ages of two and three, children begin to talk about gender and “seek out” information about it.
“Thus, if the colour pink is part of what identifies ‘girliness’, then it is not surprising that girls at this age are attracted to it,” they write.
At the same time, “as boys learn what it means to be a girl, they being to avoid anything that can possibly define ‘girliness’”.’
So for boys, pink is something to avoid because it signifies ‘girliness’. But blue does not really signify ‘boyness’ does it? This is an example of how, in our culture, being a boy or a man is often defined as being ‘not a girl’ or ‘not a woman’. And boys and men spend a lot of their time avoiding that which might identify them as ‘girly’ or ‘feminine’. Or denying the ‘girliness’ that they themselves display.
As boys grow up, the colour pink also becomes associated with being ‘gay’ but The Telegraph avoids this issue as if it were a boy, shunning all things pink. Gay rights groups though, have ‘reclaimed’ the colour Pink, and turned it into a sign of their ‘gay pride’. So now we have the ‘pink pound’ and publications such as Pink News, which use the colour to signify gay masculinities. Personally, I am not enamoured of ‘pink for a gay’. It is too similar to the gender essentialism of ‘pink for a girl’. And I do not know of a ‘macho’ or ‘anti-gay’ paper called ‘Blue News’. It is the colour pink that is dangerous and powerful, that men avoid, but also are preoccupied with, like the great big pink throbbing elephant of homo-anxiety in the corner of the room.
This is illustrated quite beautifully and at times poignantly by Sarah Hoffman, on her blog about her son, Pink Boy – a boy who is different. The difference between Sarah’s son and other boys, like the difference between me and other girls when I was growing up, is that he has not chosen to attach himself to the ‘appropriate’ colour for his gender identity, and he has not been ‘coerced’ to do so by his parent(s) either. He loves pink. And sometimes he wears pink skirts or dresses, and plays with pink toys. But the difference between me and Sarah’s boy, is that even back in the 1970s it wasn’t a big deal for girls to ‘go against’ their allotted gendered behaviours. For boys, even now in 2011, it is seen as weird, as ‘girly’, as perverse, and as potentially ‘gay’ for boys to like the colour pink. So weird that Sarah now spends some of her time writing about her son, in the hope that one day, people won’t be quite so weird in their obsession with the old adage of ‘pink for a girl, blue for a boy’.
My favourite ‘pink boy’ is Ludovic from Ma Vie en Rose (Literal translation: My Life In Pink). He dreams of being a girl, and believes he is a girl whose chromosomes got mixed up before birth. He reminds me of something I myself believe, that is not very popular, which is that one reason some trans women go through the painful process of transition, is that they as young ‘boys’, were not free to express themselves in a gender non-conforming way. I won’t expand on that here. But I think the research findings about how two year olds are already being conditioned to think of themselves as ‘pink girls’ or ‘boys who avoid (girly) pink’ supports my theory.