Reporting Heather Brown
Filed underBusiness, Consumer, Good Question, Local, News, Seen On WCCO-TV, Syndicated Local, Watch + Listen
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When Niagara Falls was illuminated blue on Monday to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, there was no doubt what color would be used to mark the birth of the little boy.
So that had Martha from White Bear Lake wondering: Why do we associate blue with boys and pink with girls?
Dr. Jo Paoletti, an American Studies professor at the University of Maryland who wrote the book “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America,” says there’s no simple answer.
“If you think the rule is always pink for girls and blue for boys, that’s in the last 30 years,” she said.
In her research, she examined old clothes’ catalogs, baby announcements and Disney movies, like “Peter Pan.” In the 1953 movie, Wendy wears blue and Michael wears pink.
“Part of the rationale for pink being a boy color was because it’s the pastel version of red. It’s the color of Mars, the color of war,” Paoletti said. “Blue is associated with the Virgin Mary in many Catholic countries.”
At the turn of the century, Paoletti said most babies simply wore white. Without washing machines, it was easier to wash the clothes with bleach.
But, when colors came into style in the first half of the 1900s, Paoletti said there were no absolutes. Boys and girls wore pink and blue.
“Part of what happens is it goes from being a nice thing to do like green on St. Patrick’s Day to you have to do it,” she said.
Her theory is that in the 1970s, there was a feminist trend toward unisex colors. But in the 1980s, she found many parents wanted to differentiate between boys and girls.
“There was a growing sense that you have to teach your children the right gender or they will be confused,” she said. “I’m not sure where that comes from because the scientific literature doesn’t support it.”
In 1985, pink and blue diapers were introduced. Paoletti says the last pink outfit she found on boy in her catalog research was in 1977.
She says there is no clear reason that pink is associated with femininity, but wonders if the introduction of Barbie in pink packaging in the 1950 had anything to do with it.
“It could have gone the other way,” she said. “It could have been different colors.”