Gender!

A piece of advice from a 1918 children’s wear trade journal:

There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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.

(Source: Kidding Ourselves)

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56 thoughts on “Gender!

      • I wasn’t being snarky, Ryan. I asked because I design fashion, and spend a great deal of time considering color for people I make things for. I hope we live in a world where, more and more, color isn’t gendered, but suited. We should wear the colors that flatter us, a much better form of signaling then ‘manly,’ ‘feminine,’ or other such garbage.
      • That’s a nice sentiment, zic, but we’re a long, long, long way from consumers who think this way.
        Color in baby apparel is incredibly, massively, gendered and every time we try to even push the envelope slightly, one can barely give it away. Even ostensibly neutral palettes get pigeonholed by customers as either boy or girl.
        Older kids are a lot more forward and if you do it well, you can sell it. We sell a fair amount of bright pink for boys and navy and grey for girls, for example. But that starts mostly with kids over 2.

        The interesting thing about this is that it’s clear that our perceptions of gender appropriateness are cultural and can be changed. I can’t remember what precipitated the blue/pink reversal but I bet it’s pretty interesting – I hope Trumwill can find the link he mentioned.

      • My suspicion, or maybe my hope, is that we’re on the edge of some comprehension of gender as an analog spectrum, not a binary fixed.
      • There is something I’ve always been curious about in fashion:

        How do companies come up with the names for their various items?

        This is not meant to be a snarky question. I have a pair of greene suede shoes that are called the “Vinnie” Oxford by the company. Another shoe company calls their oxford shoe “Charlie”.

        I am curious about the process in which these names are given.

      • I’ve no ‘big business’ naming experience, but I have developed dye colors palettes for a season’s yarn production that we named as our fancy struck us, and I don’t think it’s much different then playing the ‘band name’ game; where the name is simply an poetic association to evoke the color.

        What gets me even more is the folk who think it’s their job to define the trends in color, instead of considering that there are some colors that will look good on some people, bad on others. Not everyone wants to wear red as the new black, and not everyone looks good in chartreuse.

      • The band name explanation is a good one. There are dozens of reasons, the most common one is that it’s an appropriation of something related to wherever the idea came from – maybe the guy working at the shop where the inspiration shoe was purchased was named ‘Vinnie’ – or some detail reminded them of a character named Vinnie from a movie or TV show.

        In my experience, the designer tends to name everything. Occasionally, the more corporate folks will determine they need a different appellation and give it another one to attach for sales – those are usually pretty bland, market-tested meaningless words that they think will be, at worst, inoffensive.

      • Firms understand they need someone on the outside looking at them, sizing them up. Think of it as a combination of stylist and psychotherapist. An entire industry has risen up around this need: it’s called brand consulting. Landor is a pretty big player.
      • Does this explain why the color seafoam, which is a pale cafeteria-style green, has nothing to do with the actual of seafoam?

        /hat tip to David Ryan for the stunning photo, this is my favorite you’ve posted thus far.

      • Lots of work goes into those names. Some of it comes from internal marketing people, other names come from outside. As Frank Zappa observed in Greggary Peccary:

        Greggery Peccary takes the elevator up to the 83rd floor of a grim, grey, evil-looking building with a sign on the front reading “BIG SWIFTY AND ASSOCIATES…TREND MONGERS”.

        And what might you ask is a TREND MONGER?

        Well a TREND MONGER is a person, who dreams up a trend, like “THE TWIST”, or “FLOWER POWER”. And spreads it throughout the land using all the frightening little skills that scientists made available.

      • If you haven’t read Avram Davidson’s story The Sources of the Nile, you have no excuses. Read it.
      • It’s not garbage at all. The fact that some gender norms are socially constructed doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be ignored or flouted. Gender norms accentuate sexual dimorphism, which is awesome. Vive la différence!.

        If some people for whatever reason find that conforming to gender norms is not something that works for them, whatever. It’s none of my business—though I admit that it just breaks my heart to see an otherwise pretty girl with a buzz cut—and I’m not going to be a jerk about it. But I do wish they’d stop trying to rain on our parade.

      • Right. Because the first concern someone should have about how they look is whether you approve or not.

        And, yeah, you are being a jerk about it.

      • Brandon,

        What do you mean “our” parade? I don’t think your vive la diffĂ©rence! goes far enough–you’re focusing on difference between the sexes, whereas I really enjoy differences within the sexes as well. I think it’d be a poorer world aesthetically if all girls had buzzcuts, but also if no girls had buzzcuts.

        I say this as a guy who once wore a ponytail, then went with a variation between very short hair and buzzed bald for the next decade-and-a-half, and now for the last year has let his hair grow out until it is currently collar length, and with no clear idea at what length I’ll say enough is enough. If we really believe in vive la diffĂ©rence!, then let’s push the boundaries on what differences we say vive to as far back as possible, eh?

    • There was an article published a little over a decade ago (you can read it here in which they claim that vervet monkeys exhibit gender preferences similar to those that human children do (I don’t think the data actually suggests that, as I once wrote here. One of the preferences they discuss in the paper is the preference for pink.

      I mention this because the pink thing is just another element of gender essentialism that falls apart when you look at the reality of gender preferences. I remember at the time that the vervet study was getting a lot of press, people kept pointing to the fact that at one point, the color preferences had been reversed, as the blurb Ryan posted shows.

  1. (light in head turns on)

    Is this the sort of thing that ties into the etymology of “lavender” as term used to describe effeminate behavior?

    Huh.

    • I may be immature (actually, I AM), but I still find some of the old elaborate “wink-wink nudge-nudge” euphemisms like this really funny (like “light in the loafers”) because the terms are just so deeply silly, and Python-esque.

      From ’30 Rock’ recently:

      Colleen Donaghy (Baldwin’s mom’s character) stopped watching the Bruins because Derek Sanderson’s mustache “made it look like he takes his sandwich with a pickle”.

      • One of my great-aunts used the term about one of her much-beloved childhood friends. She didn’t use the term with rancor or approbation… just the opposite, really. It was with great affection. “He was a wee bit lavender.”
  2. Somewhere I have a link on the history of the pink and Blueassignments we have now . When I’m at a computer and not my phone I will see each if I can find it. We have some pink stuff and some blue for Lain. When she wears blue, even if it’s just a little part blue, everyone assumes she is male.

    It is kind of funny that they used to be reversed.

    • People never believe me when I tell them that this was the conventional wisdom for baby stuff as recently as the late 20s.

      I’ve noticed the same thing, when baby girl was an actual baby, any time she had on anything that was not pink, it was assumed she was a boy. She would have a blue and white dress on and people would ask if they were a boy or a girl, if not assume she was a he.

      I think there’s some effect of people feeling they shouldn’t assume even if they’re 95% sure one way or the other to avoid testy responses from parents.

      • Yes. Instead of binding their feet, let’s bind their heads so that we can signal ‘girl.’

        /and this is snark, just in case anyone’s confused.

      • These rules have served me well about 40% of the time.

        Heh. I hope everyone gets why that’s funny.

      • It also used to be common to dress boys like girls until they were 5 or so. Look at the biography for any well-to do person (or maybe not even well to do) who born sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The boys will be wearing dresses until they are about 5. Not kilts, actual dresses. This is true of FDR, etc.
  3. Most of this sort of gender assignations is a product of culture. Cultures change, assignations change.

    I sorta wish we had a two-spirit role still left in our cultures. Our current setup is a Bed of Procrustes into which everyone is thrown, much to the detriment of the possibilities of the human spirit.

  4. We have chosen not to know the sex of our child. This pisses some people off to no end. “BUT HOW WILL I BUY CLOTHES FOR IT?!?!” Sigh. “Just buy whatever,” I implore them. “He/she is just going to shit in it anyway. The colors it wears are going to have no long-lasting impact on its development. And if people are confused or frustrated because it is wearing something non-gendered, they can go sit on a pinecone.”
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