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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 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?

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.