My oldest daughter1 just had her fourth child--a beautiful little 7lb. 2oz. girl, Jessica Lee. She joins her trio of elder sisters now making our son-in-law, Joe, the sole male in their domestic kingdom. He insists when the family gets a pet, another male will join him in holding the definitive female majority in check.
Though Kathy and I think it's magnificent to have four little cuddly girls to love on and make over,2 I must admit I've had some fun with Joe by threatening to buy him a Hello Kitty accessories package for their Nissan Quest, a package including a pink license plate frame, pink steering wheel cover, pink rear-view mirror add-on, pink key-ring, pink sunshade, and bright pink floormats. I laugh. He never does.
My wife and I were married in 1973 with our first-born coming later that year. While we didn't know whether we were having a boy or girl, when our son came, we dressed him the way boys are to be dressed--in blue. And, death would I gladly choose before dressing him in "girly" pink. Please.
Our cultural shifts are many but one which produces as much confusion as any for us is our collective cultural perception of gender and gender identity. To say we're confused about gender may the most massive understatement imaginable.
So when did pink become prim and proper for girls and blue for boys? If you're like me, you might think pink for girls was indicative of Scripture's creation ordinances in Genesis 1 & 2 (just kidding).
According to Smithsonian.com, "Every generation brings a new definition of masculinity and femininity that manifests itself in children’s dress." In the article, "When did girls start wearing pink?" is quoted University of Maryland historian, Jo B. Paoletti, responding to the question as to how we ended up with team uniforms of blue for boys and pink for girls. Smithsonian.com writer, Jeanne Maglaty reports:
“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, 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,’ ” Paoletti says.
Maglaty goes on to cite Paoletti's research which led Paoletti to conclude that America's cultural march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Instead pink and blue were but two colors among other pastels for babies which appeared in the mid-19th century. Of significance, however, neither pink nor blue was promoted as "gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out."
Wow! And, I thought the colors were indicative of first century Christianity!
Maglaty further cites some interesting sources prior to World War II. For example, a 1927 article in TIME magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston's prestigious Filene’s department store, parents were informed that the appropriate dress color for boys was pink. Best & Co. (New York), Halle’s (Cleveland) and Marshall Field & Company (Chicago) all agreed: pink was for boys.
An even earlier article (1918) came from the staple trade magazine, Earnshaw's Infants' Department. With eye-popping clarity, it concluded:
“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, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
Sweet heavens! My cultural construct which has served me for almost 60 years just blew a head-gasket!
Not only was pink apparently for little boys at an earlier time in our American journey, but to pride's death in macho men everywhere, so were dresses for little boys. In fact, the times apparently dictated in the latter quarter of the 19th century that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, an age which also constituted the time of their first haircut.
Take a long hard look at the photo below and try convincing yourself it is the picture of a beautiful little girl. If you manage to do so, you've convinced yourself of an historical untruth. Unless the 32nd president of the United States was actually a female, the photo is of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a spunky little boy:
So am I now going to rush out and buy my five little girls some boyish blue to spice up their life and challenge the arbitrary shifts of our fleeting social-norms? Not likely. And, I'm certainly not going to go out and buy my only grandson a Barbie outfit.
What I might do is stop threatening to buy Joe a Hello Kitty accessories package. He'll appreciate that, I'm sure.
1Kristy holds that honor by beating out her twin sister, Kimberly, by a mere 2 minutes!
2five if we include our son's daughter, and six to love on if we include our only grandson