This and more decided colour, whereas blue

This essay will explore the issues
surrounding masculinity connotations and gender stereotypes associated with the
colour blue. There will be many links to the colour pink when discussing
western culture in relation to gender-specific colours as well as masculinity
and femininity along with gender stereotypes with relation to products,
specifically children’s. Jo Paoletti’s sociology work and product research will
also play an important, reoccurring role in my essay, as well as the research
carried out by Marco Del Guidice. Exploration of the corporate world will also
be carried out in order to assess whether the reason of blue being the most
popular corporate colour has any links to the masculinity connotation. Impacts
on design will also be explored with the use of the colour blue and its
connotations of masculinity and how certain gender cues, the colours blue and
pink, affect the marketing and advertisements of certain products.

The colour blue is commonly
associated with the sea and the sky and has many positive connotations
including knowledge, peace, contemplation, justice, loyalty and intelligence.
However, as with any colour, there are also negative connotations, including
depression, coldness, detachment and apathy.

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Before the early 20th
century, it is thought that the colours pink and blue had no specific gender
connotations in the west, however blue has evolved to have masculinity as one
of the main connotations. Although, just after the first World War, the June
1918 issue of the Infant’s Department magazine stated that the widely accepted
rule was that pink is for boys due to it being considered a stronger and more
decided colour, whereas blue was thought to be delicate and dainty, and so was
considered to be more suitable for girls. Paoletti, J.B. (2012) says that the
shift from this to what is the current norm could be down to several things
including consumer culture, gender roles and changing societal beliefs about
femininity and masculinity. However, Del Guidice, M. (2017) suggests that the
pink-blue reversal seen in the early 20th century could be just an
urban legend and that Paoletti’s claims are based off just a handful of quotes
and articles. Del Guidice, M. also claims to carry out a more systematic book
search in an extensive database provided by Google Books Ngram Viewer for the
pink-blue reversal where no consistent associations were found, however, there
were many results of the current norm, pink for girls and blue for boys,
between 1880 and 1980. However, just because a Google Ngram book search came
out fruitless, doesn’t mean there is no evidence for the pink-blue reversal.

The article ‘Why is Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys’ (Wolchover, N. 2012) sets
out to explore whether the gender norms of pink for girls and blue for boys
reflects an inherent biological difference or whether it is a culturally
constructed concept, specifically within Western culture. It states that up
until the late 1950s there were no gender stereotypes visible in colour
choices, as pink seemed just as popular as a colour choice for boys as it was
for girls, and that white dresses for both genders were the most popular. The
idea is also discussed that because these social norms are recent, from the mid-20th
century, they can’t be an evolution from preferences in colours based on
gender, therefore likely to be the result of mass marketing and advertisement
ploys. However, some researchers, Hurlbert, A. C. and Ling, Y. (2007), have
suggested that the use of pink and blue in relation to gender may have a
biological basis from social learning and evolved predispositions.

In ‘An experimental study of gender and cultural differences in hue
preference’, Al-Rasheed, A.S. states that a 1955 study by Granger, G.W.
showed no evidence in colour preference between adult men and women. A later
study, conducted in 2001 by Zentner, M.R. on 127 Swiss preschool children also
showed no significant effect of gender on colour preference. This is further
backed up by a study from 2006 where Rosenbloom, T. found no significant gender
difference in hue preference. However, contrary to this, a 1970 study by
Helson, H. and Lansford, T. found that women preferred warmer colours, such as
reds and yellows, and that men preferred cooler colours, such as blues and
greens. This claim is backed by a more recent study in 2003 by Burkitt, E.,
Barrett, M. and Davis, A. which found that in 330 UK children aged between 4
and 11 years old, girls preferred pink, purple and red, whereas boys preferred
black, blue, brown, green and white. Although these studies don’t give any
conclusive proof that gender does affect colour preference as there is evidence
for both sides of the argument, it can be argued that these results could be
influenced by culture and current social norms. Colour preference may not rely
on gender alone but culture as well as colours have different connotations and
meanings in different cultures.

Paoletti, J.B. (1997) recognises
that every way of dressing infants and children has, at some point, been in
fashion in the journal ‘The gendering of
infants and toddlers clothing in America’ after surveying 350 years of
children’s clothing. The idea that the clothing and toys of children are how
they learn to be masculine and feminine is also outlined as a sociological
theory. This, at the very least, makes sense as this is what the children are
surrounded by when growing up, therefore seeing pink and rosebuds theoretically
could be teaching femininity, whereas being surrounded by blue and robots could
be teaching masculinity due to the emotional and social development. Paoletti
also states that the gender symbolism we see today, in the form of colours and
images, did not become the tradition until the post-war baby boom. It’s also
said that despite the pink for girls and blue for boys becoming the norm around
the 1940s, Parent’s magazine
suggested that pink was more suitable for boys as it’s a tint of red which
connotes zeal and courage whereas blue connotes faith and constancy which they
thought to be more suitable for girls.

Paoletti, J.B. (2012) raises a
discussion of how feminism and the sexual revolution between the 1960s and
1980s challenged the relationship between colour and gender stereotypes in ‘Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the
Girls in America’. It can then be questioned whether the recent rise of
radical feminism will once again affect this. The challenge included the use of
more gender-neutral colours and even returning to the traditional white dress
for both male and female children like it was before the rise of gender
connotations of specific colours, pink and blue, which thrived in the 1980s.

Sweet, E.V. (2013) says that the
international marketing of toys to a specific gender primarily through the use
of toy colour has recently had a dramatic increase. This is said to be likely
due to from when children are given a choice of a variety of gender-typed and
non-gender-typed toys, children (especially boys) often choose toys based on
gender associations (Wood, E. Desmarais, S. & Gugula, S., 2002).

Cohen, P. (2012) says that being
gender normal is important in Western culture, and as a technique used in
advertising and marketing, if retailers persuade you that being gender normal
means you must have certain products- cosmetics, plastic surgery, blue or pink
clothing, etc.- it, therefore, makes sense from a marketing perspective. This
certainly could be the reason behind the use of gender cues in marketing and
advertisement campaigns; because we’ve become so accustomed to thinking ‘pink
is for girls and blue is for boys’, we can see just the colour of a poster
advertising a children’s toy and know which gender it’s being marketed towards.

In the online article ‘Psychology of the Colour Blue and What It
Means for Your Business’ the author (unnamed) says that blue is the most
preferred colour and it evokes ties to the corporate world due to connotations
including reliability, loyalty and masculinity (as the corporate world is still
a male dominated area). The author also recognises that blue appears in many
corporations and that connotations of certain colours, such as blue, plays an
important role in the subconscious way that advertisements and marketing ploys
are perceived. An example is used where it’s stated that the logos for HP,
Phillips and Samsung use blue, possibly because of connotations of precision
and intellect, and then they question what the difference would be if the
colour red was used instead; there could be a sense of urgency perceived in the
logo by certain people. In addition to this, it’s noted that law enforcement
typically wears blue uniforms, possibly due to connotations of justice, loyalty
and perseverance to ensure a positive subconscious message is sent to the
public.

 Fig. 11 is taken from an advertising campaign
by Toys R Us to advertise a range of children’s toys in the run up to Christmas.
It competently shows how brands use the gender connotations of colour to market
their children’s toys. For example, the product said to be aimed at young
females is Barbie, a female doll sat on a pink background with pink text,
whereas the Thomas & Friends, Mega Blocks and Hotwheels, which are marketed
towards young males, all have blue as the main colour, due to the social
construct in Western culture that blue is a masculine colour and connotes
strength and intelligence. By using the standardised colour to ‘match’ the
gender, it creates a barrier that makes it difficult for children to make their
own decisions on which toy to play with, therefore it’s parents and/or guardians
that make the decisions for the child, this, in turn, causes the child to
believe that only the boys can play with the toys with the colour blue in them,
reinforcing stereotypes further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The use of gender cues, such as colour, is also well shown
through DeWalt’s power tool range (Fig. 12). The first image shows a
traditional power tool that has a yellow body with black features, the second
image is essentially the same, apart from it’s being marketed towards women,
shown by using the colour pink in the tools. DeWalt has used gender stereotypes
to advertise and market their product, even though in modern times this can be
perceived as sexist, with many women questioning why a power tool must be pink
for them to be able to use them. However, we also have a subconscious
understanding that pink is a feminine colour, caused by the apparent need to be
considered gender normal, so when companies, such as DeWalt use gender cues in
their product and/or advertising, many people automatically assume the target
market of the product, in this case, women.

Figure 13 is an image of Stabilo’s
Easy Start handwriting pens for children, first available in 2006. They are
designed to be more comfortable by having a more ergonomic shape than regular
pens on the market. However, they came in pink and blue, reinforcing gender stereotypes
and being gender normal to children at an early age that ‘pink is for girls and
blue is boys’. These gender cues are so heavily reinforced in all departments;
toys, clothes, stationery etc. that it becomes standard to accept the ‘rule’ on
gendered colours. However, since the release of these pens, a range of other
colours have also been released, including orange, green and black, essentially
providing children and their parents with the choice of colour based on
personal preference, as opposed to being categorised by marketing and
advertising standards because of their gender and what’s considered to be
gender normal in modern society.

Toca Boca is a Swedish company that
creates apps with digital toys in them. In an interview between Ingrid Simone, Toca
Magazine Executive Editor, and Mathilda Engman, head of merchandise and
collaborations for Toca Boca, the issues surrounding gender neutrality are
discussed with relation to the company. Mathilda Engman (2017) states that Toca
Boca is about promoting gender equality and being an inclusive company; where
apps are created for all children as they believe that no child should have
limitations when growing up due to gender. Therefore, gender neutral colours
are used and certain themes that are traditionally targeted at one gender are
used in a more gender-neutral environment to challenge gender norms. This can
be seen in the Toca Hair Salon app, where the customers are male, female and
androgynous, and all have the same styling possibilities, to avoid the
stereotype that it’s only women that go to a hair salon. Also, in figure 14,
the character appears to be a female standing next to a robot; challenging the
stereotype that robots are toys for boys, furthermore, the character appears to
have vitiligo, furthering the inclusivity of the brand. Mathilda Engman also
states that the company believes that toys targeted at certain genders creates
a barrier between the genders which is unnecessary, and that Toca Boca aims to
break down this barrier with their digital games, refusing to abide to the ‘rule’
of blue being a masculine colour.

To conclude, there is still much debate over the origins of the
modern norm of pink being for girls and blue for boys and whether we have seen
a ‘pink-blue reversal’ of the current norm, however, we can see that there have
been periods of time where pink and blue haven’t had connotations relating to
gender or masculinity and femininity and times where they have. With this issue
comes the debate between the works of J.B. Paoletti and M. Del Guidice, two of
the main researchers in the origins of the pink being for girls and blue being
for boys. Issues surrounding the colour blue having a masculinity connotation
include perceived sexism, as with the relation of pink and femininity, and the
narrowing of options for people, specifically children, where almost everything
appears coloured to give indication of which gender it’s being marketed
towards, such as the Stabilo Easy Start pens. However, themes of gender
neutrality were common in the 1960s due to the rise of feminism and the sexual
revolution, these themes were also found in the company Toca Boca that produces
digital toys. The idea of the current norm of pink for girls and blue for boys
being due to colour preference was also explored, however, drawing a conclusion
from the data collected is difficult due to there being such a wide range of
results, either stating that there was no correlation between gender and colour
preference or that women preferred warmer colours and men preferred cooler
colours. Moreover, it’s more likely that the standardised norm of colour-gender
connotations in Western culture is largely just down to a marketing ploy that
was so successful it almost became a rule: pink for girls and blue for boys.