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Pink is powerful

By Jocelynne Scutt - posted Friday, 27 January 2012

After keeping the sex-identity of their child hidden from all but close family, his having reached school age Sasha Luxton's parents have disclosed him as a boy. On U-tube, the child comments on societal expectations, particularly colours and dress. As to pink and yellow being 'girls' colours', whilst blue and green are 'for boys', he says: 'I think that is really silly.' A photograph shows the boy, five-years-old, wearing a pink tutu and fairy wings. Answering his mother's question: 'What about dressing up in a tutu and being a fairy. Do you think people would think that boys are meant to do that or girls are meant to do that?' Sasha responds: 'Girls … I think that is so silly.

Such criticism is not new, although identification of female and male, boys and girls, with pink and blue is of relatively recent origin. In Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti points out that baby girls in pink, baby boys blue, became de rigueur in the 1940s. Only in the late 19th century did colours begin to replace white as babies' dress: white prevailed so long as bleach was the available method for keeping clothes clean.

For centuries … children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. 'What was once a matter of practicality-you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached-became a matter of "Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they'll grow up perverted …"' .


Initially, rather than 'for girls', pink was the colour for boys. As Paoletti reports, particular colours as sex/gender signifiers did not take hold until just before the first world war. She cites the June 1918 issue of trade publication Earnshaw's Infants Department:

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, … more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.

Paoletti says other publications considered blue to be 'flattering for blonds', whilst pink was the colour for brunettes. Alternatively, 'blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for [the] brown-eyed … ' . Stores carrying infants' clothes and associated products took the 'pink is for boys' line:

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading US stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Contradictions inherent in 'pink for girls, blue for boys' exist, too, in directives as to 'appropriate' attire for boys and girls. Jeanne Maglaty of Washington's Smithsonian Institute observes that childhood photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt are 'typical of his time'. Born in 1882, photographs show him at two years, wearing an ankle-length white dress and ringlets falling to his shoulders in profusion. It was not until age 6 or 7 that a distinction was made in dress: frocks for girls, short pants – and later trousers – for boys. Within the last fifty years, a dress distinction was neutralised by the coming of rompers – a trouser suit, generally with bib and braces. When this became western children's standard attire, both girls and boys wore trousers – reverting to the gender neutrality of Roosevelt's time, albeit in the opposite direction.

Pink features not only in baby clothing. In the pop world, pink's illustrious aura has no sex/gender distinction. Pinkney Anderson– known from childhood as 'Pink' - came out of South Carolina and the Indian Remedy Company's travelling road show to be recognised as a major force for jazz and blues. Pink Anderson's major albums include American Street Songs, Carolina Bluesman and Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues. Many titles continue to resonate: 'Everyday In The Week', 'Wreck Of The Old 97', 'Baby, Please Don't Go', 'Thousand Woman Blues'.


Anderson's force as a musical power lives on through the band Pink Floyd ('The Pink Floyd Sound'). 'Pink' is for Anderson, whilst Floyd stands in tribute to Floyd Council. The band, originally known as The Tea Set, was listed on a bill including another 'Tea Set'. History says guitarist Syd Barrett had Anderson and Council's Piedmont Blues in his collection. As a tribute, 'Pink Floyd' was named. The power of Pink Anderson and The Pink Floyd Sound stands uncontradicted.

Meanwhile, musical men have no 'pink' monopoly. Known universally by her stage name rather than 'Alecia Beth Moore', Pink turned victimisation in to survivorship, powerlessness into power. Like Pinkney Anderson, Pink took her title from childhood, converting a bad experience into an expression of confidence:

It's just a nickname that's been following me my whole life. It was a mean thing at first, some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, 'Ha ha! Look at her! She's pink!' and then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out – and Mr Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again …

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About the Author

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister and Human Rights Lawyer in Mellbourne and Sydney. Her web site is here. She is also chair of Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Dignity.

She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.

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