The Curse of the Pink (and Blue)

Recently I was trying to figure out what to wear for my senior photo. While my boyfriend was able to throw on his classic suit (the same one he wears to every campus formal without ever getting judged), I found it a little bit more difficult to pick something out. How did I want to present myself? Was my choice really about what I wanted to wear or what I thought I was expected to wear. I joked to him about this hot pink shirt I own- the only pink in my closet, to contrast his dark suit and tie. The boyfriend was not amused at my obvious dig at trying to look more “stereotypically feminine”. He proceeded to pull up his fifth-grade school photo, a picture of a lanky young boy proudly smiling underneath this t-shirt, which read “Real Men Wear Pink”.


First of all, what even makes a “real man”? And second of all, what did this gangly 5th grader know about being a real man anyway? I couldn’t help but laugh as I pulled up my own 6th-grade photo- a young girl beaming with a mouthful of braces while wearing (much to my mother’s dismay) an oversized basketball jersey, representing my favorite basketball player (instead of the requisite “Sunday finest”).

Don’t worry - we’re going to get around to the whole who can wear what situation another time- I mean, isn’t that what RIGit is all about? Today instead I want to focus a little more on the “real men wear pink” situation.

My cousin recently had her first child and my grandmother, a self-proclaimed feminist, made a baby blanket for him- a nice blue that while wasn’t as dark as navy, also wasn’t too light, as to not make the blanket overly feminine. This was for a child who literally could not distinguish the difference between pink and blue or any color for that matter. From an early age, most babies are given pink or blue clothing, blue for the boys, pink for the dainty little girls. And yet another hmmm.

So… let’s ask…. who decided to prescribe these two colors to children? Who woke up one day and determined which two colors would best represent girls and boys? Let me tell you, this isn’t a rhetorical question. Nor is it one without an answer.

Children used to wear white and only white. Way back when (like, way before I was born and even before my own parents were born), white clothing was the choice for children under four. There was the practical aspect of white – it was easy to clean (hello bleach) and easy to pass down from one child to the next. There also was the issue of sexuality - parents were terrified of their children being viewed as any sort of sexual being and gender was ignored for as long as possible. Young boys didn’t even wear pants or get their first haircut until well past their third birthday.

So what changed? I mean I’m all for children exploring their sexuality- AND it’s important for parents to be supportive of that. Also, the sex talk… definitely key, but hey, the white thing did make a lot of sense (and who doesn’t like to wear white after labor day anyway?) Why did things need to be done differently? 

With the invention of prenatal testing in the 1980s, parents were suddenly able to know their future child’s sex before birth. Combine this technological advancement with the declining sales due to parents having fewer children, and suddenly retailers saw a path to more sales (because at the end of the day most decisions are about somebody figuring out a way to make more money). By proclaiming a color for each gender, retailers made it difficult for parents to pass down clothing from one child to the next. Thus, the pink and blue industry was born, (which turns out to be nothing more than an ingenious marketing ploy to simply sell more sh*t). Oh yes - you heard right- that adorable pink shirt you bought for your best friend’s new baby - you bought it because clothing companies figured out how to brainwash you. Do you feel like you got scammed?

Hey, if you want to dress your baby girl in all pink go for it! If blue is your favorite color and you want to put your son in it, by all means, let him rock the blue! Just remember to ask yourself- is it because you want it, or because you’ve been conditioned to make sure the world knows the gender of your child?

OK, back to my boyfriend and his “Real men wear pink” 5th grade T-shirt. So while I thought it was pretty cool that the ten-year old was progressive enough to rock the shirt, the shirt wasn’t pink and nor were any of the clothes in his closet. So while we may feel strong enough to talk the talk, we need to make sure we can move past our biases, be our true selves and really walk the walk.


Welcome to the Clothes have no gender Blog. In this space, we invite guest bloggers to explore ideas around gender, identity, and equality. 
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