When I was a little girl, I absolutely ADORED pink. And purple. Had you asked me back then, I probably couldn’t have told you which one I liked best. Which, of course, makes me much alike the majority of other little girls. But – why is that??? I’ve been pondering this awhile. I remember my elation when, as a girl, I got the Deluxe set of colored felt-tip markers. I couldn’t get enough of the hot pink one – it was worn out in no time. I learned to remove the stopper at the back of the marker, carefully removing the felted tube inside, and gingerly dripping a few drops of water into it, in the hopes of squeezing the last bit of pigment out of it. As an adult, I’m not really drawn to pink much at all, so somewhere along the winding path of my life, I changed.
Normally I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it at all, but this past May, my aversion was brought to the surface when I tried to submit a post to Bloom Day – a monthly meme I often partake in, where you relay what blooms in your garden. Just about everything that bloomed in mine at that point, was pink. I was appalled as most every plant was something I had bought out of bloom, because I liked its foliage! Anyway, it got me wondering why I don’t like it. Really – the flowers are magnificent! Why don’t I like it?
A Google search revealed something interesting. In 2007, two scientists at the Newcastle University in the UK concluded that the difference in color preferences between the sexes was indeed biological, as opposed to cultural. The 208 participants in the experiment had been instructed to – as quickly as possible – identify their preferred color from a series of paired rectangles that flashed on the screen in front of them. The colors of the rectangles were controlled for hue, saturation, and lightness, and each participant was given three different tests. An overwhelming majority of humans like blue. What these tests showed however, was a distinct division between men and women. Men tended to like greenish blues more, whereas women overwhelmingly went for the reddish blues, i.e. the purples and pinks. The scientists speculated that this difference may have evolved from our hunter/gatherer days, when men went hunting, and women gathered and nurtured. Being able to distinguish rosy tones might ensure the ability to determine healthy specimen and ripe fruits, they said. I guess that would be as good of a stab in the dark as any other, but it doesn’t really make 100% sense. Not all red berries and fruits are good – in fact a lot of them are poisonous. Woe the gatherer that relied solely on color… Even so, it was interesting to note that such a sharp distinction between male and female preferences exists.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Tetrachromacy – a condition exclusive to women – because color vision is carried on the X-chromosome, and women have two of those. Perhaps this differentiation between the sexes has something to do with that? I wouldn’t hold it for impossible, and I think the Newcastle scientists would do well in considering it in their continued efforts to determine the role of nature v/s nurture in figuring out the allure of pink.
Still, other scientists came to a differing result in a 2011 study. Toddlers up to two years old showed no color preference one way or the other, as long as it was bright. However – and this is a BIG coincidence -at age three, kids start to identify with their gender, and pursue acts that reinforce their particular gender identification. Around three, the choices of the girls became increasingly pink, and by age four, the majority of boys were adamantly rejecting pink – I assume to strengthen their own gender association. Fascinating stuff! I can’t wait to see what develops from the Newcastle neuroscientists, but I have to say that I think cultural norms and marketing play huge roles in steering our collective tastes – especially today. Beyond the crib, I don’t think things were quite as pronounced back in the day when I was a little girl (a long, long, long time ago), which is why I still place some hope on the future findings of the brains in Newcastle. In stark contrast, a stroll down today’s toy store isles makes you realize how tremendously pre-determined everything is. I stopped in to take some photos, and felt like I was witnessing a Brave New World brainwashing of sorts. It was almost nauseating! Granted, I grew up in Sweden, but I don’t recall anything even remotely close to that kind of targeted assault. What do you think? Is it nature, or is it nurture that makes little girls like pink and purple? In my case, I would have to say it was nature, as none of this stuff in the photos existed back then.
Per the Smithsonian, the idea of pink and blue (and other pastels) stems from the mid-1800’s. Before then, all kids wore white dresses until age 6 or 7. This was practical, as white could be bleached and was therefore easily cleaned. Right before World War I, pink and blue were leading the popularity race, but interestingly enough in reverse order from what we have today. “…a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. 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.” “. How about that? This did not change until American manufacturers and retailers interpreted contemporary taste preferences to show the exact opposite in the 1940’s. I think the scientists in Newcastle would have had an easier time interpreting the validity of their findings if their experiment had taken place around 1850, or certainly before World War II, don’t you?
I’m still not really closer to figuring out the roots of my current aversion, but I’m beginning to think that it might have something to do with my deeply ingrained dislike of being stereotyped – a kind of subconscious revolt to expected societal norms, trend-following and pigeon-holing practices. People tend to like labels, and sometimes I wonder if this labeling thing isn’t akin to some kind of safety net, or guideline in terms of processing, organizing and finding one’s place in life – as in “I’m this, but I’m not that” – thus building a construct of sorts around themselves. I’m guessing many people seek refuge, and find it in the box they build. As a perpetual drifter, perhaps this is where my hang-up is? My only real allegiance is to my family and a few select friends – not to imaginary societal frame works and accepted ideas. Perhaps I’m afraid of being too stereotypical? If I am, this is not a conscious decision. In fact, I’m consciously trying to figure this out, and to break this mindset. I wore pink up through the early 80’s – and quite a bit of it. Perhaps I just tired of it? Like when you eat too much of one thing for too long. Reversing my aversion should not be impossible. I used to love all kinds of pinks and purples, and can probably learn to do it again. Not unlike how Alex in the Clockwork Orange is weaned off of violence, I will spend the next gardening season exposing myself to the plethora of pink and purple surrounding me – and do it with an open, non-judgmental mind. Who knows, perhaps by next year, I will happily be swimming in it, like a “real” girl! Heaven knows there is plenty of it in my garden – which is probably a good place to start.