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I pink, you pink

What’s wrong with this statement?

Boys like blue, girls like pink and there isn't much anybody can do about it, researchers said on Monday in one of the first studies to show scientifically that there are gender-based color preferences. (ABC News)

This is a study where they’ve shown “a group of men and women to look at about 1,000 pairs of coloured rectangles on a computer screen in a dark room and pick the ones they liked best as quickly as possible.”

The results: women tend to prefer a pinker blue than men. Apparently a preference for blue is “universal”, so it's the base for everyone.

So, what’s wrong with the statement? It revolves around the phrase “gender-based color preferences”: gender is defined as the roles socially assigned to biological males and females – e.g. in the phrase ‘Boys don’t cry’ which translates into a social practice, and ultimately, men crying less often than women.

So saying that women and men will have “gender-based color preferences” is a bit like saying ‘women prefer to wear mini skirts’. The female gender is typically encouraged to prefer pink from an early age (just check out any toy shop or children’s clothes section if you don’t believe me), just as boys are strongly discouraged from wearing miniskirts; indeed, once they are old enough, they could be arrested for it.

To give credit to the neuroscientist who led the experiment, she talks of “sex differences when picking colours” (my emphasis), so it’s the journalist rather than the scientist who’s getting it wrong. But then she goes on to speculate (or at least, is reported as) that this preference would be due to evolutionary factors based on the division of labour with women gathering and men hunting. So, women prefer “reddish colors associated with riper fruit and healthier faces”, while for men “thinking about colours was less important because as hunters they just needed to spot something dark and shoot it”.

That’s a lot of speculation… ripe fruits aren’t necessarily reddish (bananas, starfruit, pears, lemons, oranges, etc…), in fact red colours are often associated with poisonous fruits/plants. Also, for hunting, since animals are often camouflaged to fit into their surroundings, it’s detecting subtle colour differences and movement that are probably more important. As for the "healthy faces", if it is an interest in terms of mate selection, but males are just as interested in reproduction as females are. It may be related to taking care of children I suppose, which is more likely to be a women's direct responsibility, though evolution-wise, it's just as important to men as it is to women that their offspring survive...

Also, as someone in the comments section of the article says, men seem to be often interested in red on women: red lipstick, lingerie, etc. So, from a feminist angle, it’s more likely that women choose pink-type colours because that’s what a patriarchal society prefer to see them in.

So, overall, this piece of research seems pretty useless: it’s impossible to find adults who are not already ‘genderised’.

Works Cited.
“Women really do prefer pink, researchers say”. 20 Aug 2007. 4 Sep 2007


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Chocolatelf on :

I agree that pink is tempting because it always appears as a better shade for accessories in its color & also because I'm brought up with it. Lately, I noticed that some guys are adapting to wearing pink t-shirts whereas some girls challenge themselves not to be pink freaks. Perhaps, they would like to challenge the color stigma?

RK Boo on :

So, from a feminist angle, it’s more likely that women choose pink-type colours because that’s what a patriarchal society prefer to see them in.

Did this socialization for pink being a 'woman's color begin several centuries ago, in say, the Victorian times? Or is this pink=feminine phenomenon a recent one? If it truly is a product of a patriarchal society, then the dominance of pink in a woman's fashion palette should also be evident several centuries ago. But I'm not too sure if Victorian women wore pink a lot...

I agree that the study is stupid though...if they really wanted to check biological preference, they should have used new-born babies in neutral-colored rooms. :-P

julian on :

Chocolatelf: well, it does seem to me that nowadays pink is a lot more omnipresent as a (female) fashion... more than it used to be from what I remember. So, I suppose it's also a trend that will fade somewhat - the phrase "pink freaks" suggests that it's seen as something that gets overdone... Everybody can choose, and to be sure some people will always challenge the norms.

Boo: good point, I don't know the answer to that - one would want to look cross-culturally as well as historically to get a proper idea. I also agree re using babies etc.
Patriarchy does change in its construction of femininity (e.g. body size) so if preferences change it doesn't negate the possibility of patriarchal discourse delivering pink as feminine nowadays, even if it wasn't before.
I was trying to conflate male preference for red/pink (based on sexual signals) with socially constructed preferences. If it has changed, then there may be problems with this logic.

Google Answers has a discussion that suggests it was only in the 50's that pink came to be associated with girls in America/Europe; before that pink was associated with red, a 'stronger' colour, and therefore more suited for boys. One person in the comments of the article above said that the uniforms in WW1&2 were often blue, which is where the blue = male came from.

Adams & Osgood. "A Cross-Cultural Study of the Affective Meanings of Color". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 2, 135-156 (1973). They found an "association of red with strong emotions" (151)..

To be totally speculative along a cyborg-techno-type angle, how about this:
red=blood=biology etc - in a preindustrial world, human labour was source of power
blue=military=metal guns, boats, etc= machines - in an industrial world, machines = power...

dunno.... :-|

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