On the national day calendar, June 23 is marked as National Pink Day, a day set aside for pink and everything it represents. Named in the 17th century, the color pink got its name from the dianthus flower, which was often referred to by the same name. Since the widespread of the color pink, it is not only associated with femininity and delicacy and daintiness, but was once the color associated with boys, strength and decisiveness due to its similarity to red, a vibrant color of its own. If the color pink was once associated with boys, how is it that today (and for a while now) the color has been associated with girls?
Historically, the colors pink and blue were interchangeable nursery colors until the late 19th century. Even before then, it was common to see boys and girls wearing dresses and being photographed in dresses as there was a more important focus on the distinction between children and adults rather than boys and girls.
According to Kathleen Waites, a professor of gender studies at NSU, “The colors pink and blue were not used as identifying gender codes at all… Pink is a derivation of red. Red is considered a strong color — a war-like color — and therefore, pink was something that might’ve been used in clothing that dressed boys, but that started to change in the mid to late 19th century.”
This change coincided with the popularization of Freudian theory as well as consumerism. As Freudian theory became popularized and found its way into the culture, a distinction between boys and girls and male and female began to be identified.
“It’s at that point that you saw was more of a delineation between girls and boys. In other words, that kind of strengthening or emphasis on the difference between what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl. And then, that coincided with consumerism and fashion and the media. That’s when you began to see boys dressed in blue holding a football for a photograph and girls dressed in pink holding a doll. So, that’s when it really started to change… The important thing here is that there’s nothing particularly feminine about pink or particularly masculine about blue,” said Waites.
The identification of the pink as a girl’s color and its association with femininity and daintiness was constructed by the culture. Cemented in the 1950s, this association of color and gender was somewhat dismantled in the 1960s and 1970s by the second wave women’s movement. However, it is important to note that this association occurred slowly with time as generations and generations either dismissed or strengthened its ideologies of femininity and masculinity.
“It was really in the mid 1980s that this whole classification of pink for girls, as a marker for girls, as a marker of femininity, really kind of became institutionalized… In other words, in the 1980s, which was another regressive era, another conservative era, what they were reacting against was what they saw feminism stand for in the previous generation and went even further in terms of using color as a signifier of feminine identity or masculine identity.
We’ve seen that through the 80s and into the 90s, and in the new millennium, I think we see it shifting again,” said Waites.
With more men wearing pink and younger generation parents being less restrictive with what toys to let their children play with, we can hypothesize a bigger change in color association with gender and how femininity and masculinity should not be defined or restricted by colors such as pink and blue.