Is ‘pink for girls’ something predetermined by nature, is it the evil machinations of marketing men determined to hold women back by indoctrination, or is there another explanation? Steve Joll investigates.

Pretty in pink

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Two little girls, both with pretty curls

Twins almost always in sync

But one is a lov­er of any old colour

While the oth­er will only have pink. 

I have identic­al twin daugh­ters who recently turned four. They share exactly the same DNA, have had the same upbring­ing in the same house with the same par­ents. Neither has spent any longer than an hour or two apart from the oth­er. In oth­er words, their nature and their nur­ture are as close as two sep­ar­ate people can be. Per­fect if you’re want­ing a pair to observe in the name of sci­ence or, if not sci­ence, then a world-chan­gingly import­ant art­icle in a lead­ing magazine.

So why is it that one of them, Miss L, is obsessed with the col­our pink? Don’t think I’m exag­ger­at­ing for effect, either. Her one wish for Christ­mas was a real, live pink pony. With wings if pos­sible and a horn on its forehead.

You mean a uni­corn?” her fool­ish fath­er asked.

Nooooo. A PONY!”

In fair­ness, Miss M likes pink too, but if you ask her, she prefers blue. Or green. Yel­low is good too (if it’s a hair-tie). For Miss L everything must be pink. Her pyja­mas and socks are pink.

This is some­thing we have not act­ively dis­cour­aged as it makes things sim­pler for us in a prac­tic­al sense. When look­ing in the draw­ers, for example, it’s easy to spot which T‑shirts belong to whom.

Giv­en that we’ve gone with the pink thing so eas­ily, is it our fault — her slack par­ents — for not being anti-pink enough? Does she have some pink-tinged birth defect? Will she want rose-col­oured glasses?

A recent issue of Cur­rent Bio­logy prin­ted res­ults of a study by Anya Hurl­bert and Yazhu Ling, neur­os­cient­ists at New­castle Uni­ver­sity, which sug­ges­ted that women may be bio­lo­gic­ally pro­grammed to prefer the col­our pink — or, at least, red­der shades of blue — more than men. That imme­di­ately led to oth­er research­ers turn­ing a dark­er shade of rouge with rage and pub­lish­ing their own results.

Web­site howstuffworks.com quotes Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land his­tor­i­an Jo Pao­letti. He reck­ons that until the 1950s, “There was no gender-col­our sym­bol­ism that held true every­where. Because the pink-for-a-girl, blue-for-a-boy social norms only set in dur­ing the 20th cen­tury in the United States, they can­not pos­sibly stem from any evolved dif­fer­ences between boys’ and girls’ favor­ite colors.”

The mys­tery deep­ens when you go back fur­ther. The June 1918 issue of The Infant’s Depart­ment, a trade magazine for baby clothes man­u­fac­tur­ers, has this: “The gen­er­ally accep­ted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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.”

To con­fuse the issue fur­ther, Marco Del Guidice, a soci­olo­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Tur­in in Italy, says, “Pink seems to have been a fem­in­ine col­our at least since the late 19th cen­tury.” He col­lated the pink and blue ref­er­ences from books. Lots and lots of books.

The upshot of all this is that the more I look into it, the less I know for sure. Per­haps, to mis­quote the poet, ours is not to reas­on why. One of my girls likes pink, nay loves it, the oth­er one not as much. One of them is not wrong, the oth­er right. One of them is not bad, the oth­er good. For Miss L, pink is sym­bol­ic of noth­ing at all. It is just a col­our that makes her happy.

Who am I to deny her a crim­son-cheeked smile?

About Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the break­fast show on wel­ling­ton’s The Breeze radio sta­tion. In past lives he’s been a sports journ­al­ist for ONE News, a presenter on icon­ic chil­dren’s show What Now and one heck of a fore­court attend­ant. He has three kids: a talk­at­ive son (Theo), aged six, and twin daugh­ters (Mar­gaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is count­ing down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.

About Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the breakfast show on wellington's The Breeze radio station. In past lives he's been a sports journalist for ONE News, a presenter on iconic children's show What Now and one heck of a forecourt attendant. He has three kids: a talkative son (Theo), aged six, and twin daughters (Margaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is counting down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.

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