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Mind

Did Boys Use To Wear Pink?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticDecember 1, 2012 6:54 AM

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There's a belief that the colours we associate with the genders - pink for girls and blue for boys - used to be the other way around.

About 100 years ago, we're told, boys wore pink clothes, but then during the early 20th century, it flipped over. This is often used as an example of how arbitrary gender stereotypes are.

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However according to psychologist Marco Del Giudice, the whole "pink-blue reversal" is an 'urban legend'. He argues that there's really only anecdotal evidence for the existence of the previous blue-girls pink-boys association.

The exceptions are four magazine articles - quoted in the paper that started the whole debate - which seem to provide documentary evidence. These associate girls with blue, but Giudice says that two of these might have been accidental typos, that swapped 'pink' with 'blue', while the other two may have represented a sneaky campaign by early feminists to subvert the blue-pink patriarchy.

Hmm. I don't really buy that. However Giudice has a stronger argument, which is that according to Google NGram, a searchable database of over 5 million books, there are lots of instances of the terms "blue for boys" and "pink for girls" going back to 1890, but none for the reverse at any time point:

Fair enough. However it's a big step from that to the idea that

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the pink-blue convention may ultimately depend on innate perceptual biases toward different regions of the color spectrum in the two sexes (Hurlbert & Ling, 2007)

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Del Giudice, M. (2012). The Twentieth Century Reversal of Pink-Blue Gender Coding: A Scientific Urban Legend? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41 (6), 1321-1323 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-012-0002-z

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