What’s the deal with little girls and pink?

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.

Photo of me - proudly wearing my pink night gown (which I apparently happily wore both day and night -  I loved it so!) and my brother.

Photo of me – proudly wearing my pink night gown (which I apparently happily wore both day and night – I loved it so!) and my brother.

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.

Looking at this made me truly appreciate that I have boys - not girls. All power to those that manage to resist this assault on the senses! Brainwashing at its best?

Looking at this made me truly appreciate that I have boys – not girls. All power to those that manage to resist this assault on the senses! Brainwashing at its best?

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.

This is the next isle over - the dress-up section. Note how the mother in the background is wearing purple, and the two girls pink. The little boy is wearing red.

This is the next isle over – the dress-up section. Note how the mother in the background is wearing purple, and the two girls pink. The little boy is wearing red.

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.

Look how beautiful this is! What is my problem???

Look how beautiful this is! What is my problem???

This is actually my favorite tulip, so perhaps this is a good breakout point..

This is actually my favorite tulip, so perhaps this is a good breakout point…

Hot enough that even I can appreciate it!

Hot enough that even I can appreciate it!

It seems the darker it is, the more likely I am to like it.

It seems the darker it is, the more likely I am to like it.

It is the pastels I struggle with.

It is the pastels I struggle with.

I confess to loving the pink ribs.

However, I do confess to loving the pink ribs on the back of these lilies.

Cascades of pink pea shaped flowers over wonderful foliage.

Cascades of pink pea shaped flowers over wonderful foliage.

Pink bouquet

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About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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20 Responses to What’s the deal with little girls and pink?

  1. Heather says:

    I’m with you–I only like pink if it’s hot and saturated. Those washed out pinks are the worst.

    • annamadeit says:

      Yeah, but I think I’m ready for the challenge… How do I make those washed out pastels look great? Even though I may fail miserably, I think this could be rather fun. Now, if I could only figure out where in my cramscaped yard to conduct these experimental vignettes… hmmm…. pots, maybe..?

  2. That photo of you and your little brother is so precious…. One of my twin girls is crazy about pink, all shades of pink! The other prefers green. 🙂

  3. Alison says:

    I like hot pink in the garden, or in flowers, but not by itself. It has to have something to contrast with it, like orange. Bicolor flowers, like some of the Dahlias that have both peach/orange and pink (there’s one on the cover of the Swan Island Dahlia catalog), are my favorites.

  4. Very well-written and thought-provoking, Anna! I totally understand your desire to eschew the stereotypes and plug up the pigeonholes and not go along with a cultural expectation just because of your DNA. I think a lot of people feel the way you do.

    I have a lot of memories of my childhood (many of them chronicled in my first book) but my focus was never really on color. My brain worked by focusing on the overall milieu, sense of place and surroundings. Perhaps this is because I grew up in a rural setting during the 1960s and wasn’t privy to many store shelves. I remember a few trips to Woolworth’s but I was never drawn to pink.

    My love of pink evolved after years of experimenting with color in the garden. During the winter months I’d pore over garden photos. The warm colors–the yellows and oranges felt harsh and inharmonious. But the pinks, clarets and purples felt both soothing and invigorating. They affected my brain’s dopamine. And maybe created an addiction. 🙂

    What you say here about wanting to break the stereotype, I agree totally. The thing is, I’ve noticed that in today’s gardening community there is a palpable influence away from pinks and purples. There is a focus on foliage and course textures, hot colors–xeric and natives. Many gardeners have gone that way, which is perfectly fine, of course. But you could say that I–with my focus on the pink spectrum–am also eschewing culture’s influences–at least this particular sub-culture’s influences.

    I think there is a quiet nagging that takes place in the back of our head. It’s that universal desire to be accepted and approved of by others, specifically gardeners in this case. When I was younger, I figured the best way to be liked was to conform–become like part of the gang, do what they do. But the beauty of aging is the reality that we can be ourselves, embrace our own preferences while accepting the preferences of others and not feel the least bit threatened.

    Great piece. I’ll be interested to see Newcastle’s findings.

  5. annamadeit says:

    Thanks Grace! Glad you liked my musings! I got such a nice vision of you on a wintry day, poring over plant catalogs and books. It is true that the blue light of winter renders the blue to pink part of the spectrum particularly rich and alluring. I can totally see the attraction, and the forming of an addiction. 🙂

    You are also totally right about there being trends out there that attract followers. I personally regard trends more as the pseudo-designer’s crutch than anything else. They come, they go, they are fleeting. They can do a bang-up job in distracting the attention from other inabilities, and they are certainly not timeless. As you can tell, I don’t really care about trends much. As a result, I’m not up on trends much, and I don’t assign them that much importance. So much better to stake your own territory in terms of style, methinks! About the fitting in part – I have yet to find the place where I do. But yes – age is lovely that way. It helps you laugh at it all, and realize that it really doesn’t matter, as long as whatever you do or like makes you happy! Playing with colors, and creating plant vignettes makes me happy, and this summer I’m going to push the envelope with more pink! And I’m going to track down a copy of your book with all the childhood memories! 🙂

    • Thanks, Anna. This was fun. Fitting in has never been my forte but I think you and I fit very nicely into the garden-making community. I can’t wait to see photos of your flowers, whatever color you choose.

  6. I, like you, couldn’t get enough pink when I was younger. My bedroom carpet (which my mom foolishly let me choose) was two tone pink shag. I loved it. I also completely detested orange/rust and any shade that might possibly be in that spectrum. My mom however adored it. I’ve always thought my love of pink/hatred of orange had a little to do with that. Rebellion. Of course my mom gets the last laugh as now I can’t get enough of orange!

  7. bergstromskan says:

    Interesting Anna, I can not recall that you loved pink. Maybe you were starved, since I at the time was not crazy about pink. Sorry! Now, with my grey hair, pink and purple are my colors.
    But I am also curious about the philosophy about boys and colors. What you see in the display of stuff for boys? Green-grey-brown? Next isle full of guns, monsters etc, all in dark colors. Camouflage, preparing them for aggression, violence. I am glad the boy on the picture was wearing red.
    You and your brother were/are beautiful. All love, mamma

    • annamadeit says:

      Yeah, I agree – monsters, zombies, guns and military might seem to be the male equivalent to the princesses. So screwed up, and surely a worthy topic for another post. Yes, the boy was wearing red – and camo… Kram!

  8. Fascinating post. I generally don’t like pink (sometimes I like a very soft white/pink), but neither does Judy. We both love blue, and I also like purple quite a lot.

    • annamadeit says:

      I like blue a lot too – I guess that’s universally human! 🙂 But this year, I’m going to try hard to bring pink into my life again. I think I might have overdosed on it as a wee lassie!

      • Anna, I love all colours- it is only when they sit in a context which cultural and personal predispositions don’t accept, that they become jarring to us. The browns and Oranges of my 1970s childhood,which were reprehensible in the 80s, 90s and beyond, are being embraced by current cool retro designists.!
        Nature provides a space for a riot of colours to be contextualized and appreciated,- embrace every bit of colour your garden throws up to you, it’s only fleeting anyway.

      • annamadeit says:

        True – I don’t really have a favorite color either. They all look right in the right context. The purpose of this post was to figure out what my current aversion to pinks stems from. The closest I can think of is over-exposure. It really can be a lovely color… Oh well, this year, I’m going to try really hard to let it back into my life!

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