This essay will explore the issues
surrounding masculinity connotations and gender stereotypes associated with the
colour blue. There will be links to the colour pink when discussing western
culture in relation to gender-specific colours as well as masculinity and
femininity along with gender stereotypes with relation to products,
specifically children’s. Jo Paoletti’s sociology work and product research will
also play an important, reoccurring role in my essay, as well as the research
carried out by Marco Del Guidice. Exploration will also be made to corporation,
a male-dominated area with blue being the most popular colour. Impacts on
design will also be explored with the use of the colour blue and its
connotations of masculinity.

The colour blue is commonly
associated with the sea and the sky and has many positive connotations
including knowledge, peace, contemplation, justice, loyalty and intelligence.
However, as with any colour, there are also negative connotations, including
depression, coldness, detachment and apathy.

Before the early 20th
century, it is thought that the colours pink and blue had no specific gender
connotations in the west, however blue has evolved to have masculinity as one
of the main connotations. Although, just after the first World War, the June
1918 issue of the Infant’s Department magazine stated that the widely accepted
rule was that pink is for boys due to it being considered a stronger and more
decided colour, whereas blue was thought to be delicate and dainty, and so was
considered to be more suitable for girls. Paoletti, J.B. (2012) says that the
shift from this to what is the current norm could be down to several things
including consumer culture, gender roles and changing societal beliefs about
femininity and masculinity. However, Del Guidice, M. (2017) suggests that the
pink-blue reversal seen in the early 20th century could be just an
urban legend and that Paoletti’s claims are based off just a handful of quotes
and articles. Del Guidice, M. also claims to carry out a more systematic book
search in an extensive database provided by Google Books Ngram Viewer for the
pink-blue reversal where no inconsistent associations were found, however,
there were many results of the current norm, pink for girls and blue for boys,
between 1880 and 1980. However, just because a Google Ngram book search came
out fruitless, doesn’t mean there is no evidence for the pink-blue reversal.

The article ‘Why is Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys’ (Wolchover, N. 2012) sets
out to explore whether the gender norms of pink for girls and blue for boys
reflects an inherent biological difference or whether it is a culturally
constructed concept, specifically within Western culture. It states that up
until the late 1950s there were no gender stereotypes visible in colour
choices, as pink seemed just as popular as a colour choice for boys as it was for
girls, and that white dresses for both genders were the most popular. The idea
is also discussed that because these social norms are recent, from the mid-20th
century, they can’t be an evolution from preferences in colours based on
gender, therefore likely to be the result of mass marketing and advertisement
ploys. However, some researchers, Hurlbert, A. C. and Ling, Y. (2007), have
suggested that the use of pink and blue in relation to gender may have a
biological basis from social learning and evolved predispositions.

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In ‘An experimental study of gender and cultural differences in hue preference’,
Al-Rasheed, A.S. states that a 1955 study by Granger, G.W. showed no evidence
in colour preference between adult men and women. A later study, conducted in
2001 by Zentner, M.R. on 127 Swiss preschool children also showed no significant
effect of gender on colour preference. This is further backed up by a study
from 2006 where Rosenbloom, T. found no significant gender difference in hue preference.
However, contrary to this, a 1970 study by Helson, H. and Lansford, T. found
that women preferred warmer colours, such as reds and yellows, and that men
preferred cooler colours, such as blues and greens. This claim is backed by a more
recent study in 2003 by Burkitt, E., Barrett, M. and Davis, A. which found that
in 330 UK children aged between 4 and 11 years old, girls preferred pink,
purple and red, whereas boys preferred black, blue, brown, green and white. Although
these studies don’t give any conclusive proof that gender does affect colour
preference as there is evidence for both sides of the argument, it can be
argued that these results could be influenced by culture and current social
norms. Colour preference may not rely on gender alone but culture as well as colours
have different connotations and meanings in different cultures.

Paoletti, J.B. (1997) recognises
that every way of dressing infants and children has, at some point, been in
fashion in the journal ‘The gendering of
infants and toddlers clothing in America’ after surveying 350 years of
children’s clothing. The idea that the clothing and toys of children are how
they learn to be masculine and feminine is also outlined as a sociological
theory. This, at the very least, makes sense as this is what the children are
surrounded by when growing up, therefore seeing pink and rosebuds theoretically
could be teaching femininity, whereas being surrounded by blue and robots could
be teaching masculinity due to the emotional and social development. Paoletti
also states that the gender symbolism we see today, in the form of colours and
images, did not become the tradition until the post-war baby boom. It’s also
said that despite the pink for girls and blue for boys becoming the norm around
the 1940s, Parent’s magazine
suggested that pink was more suitable for boys as it’s a tint of red which
connotes zeal and courage whereas blue connotes faith and constancy which they
thought to be more suitable for girls.

Paoletti, J.B. (2012) raises a
discussion of how feminism and the sexual revolution between the 1960s and 1980s
challenged the relationship between colour and gender stereotypes in ‘Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the
Girls in America’. It can then be questioned whether the recent rise of
radical feminism will once again affect this. The challenge included the use of
more gender-neutral colours and even returning to the traditional white dress
for both male and female children like it was before the rise of gender
connotations of specific colours, pink and blue, which thrived in the 1980s.

Sweet, E.V. (2013) says that the
international marketing of toys to a specific gender primarily through the use
of toy colour has recently had a dramatic increase. This is said to be likely
due to from when children are given a choice of a variety of gender-typed and
non-gender-typed toys, children (especially boys) often choose toys based on
gender associations (Wood, E. Desmarais, S. & Gugula, S., 2002).

Cohen, P. (2012) says that being
gender normal is important in Western culture, and as a technique used in
advertising and marketing, if retailers persuade you that being gender normal
means you must have certain products- cosmetics, plastic surgery, blue or pink
clothing, etc.- it, therefore, makes sense from a marketing perspective.

 Fig. 11 is taken from an advertising campaign
by Toys R Us and competently shows how brands use the gender connotations of
colour to market their children’s toys. For example, the product said to be
aimed at young females is Barbie, a female doll sat on a pink background with
pink text, whereas the Thomas & Friends, Mega Blocks and Hotwheels, which
are marketed towards young males, all have blue as the main colour, due to the
social construct in Western culture that blue is a masculine colour and connotes
strength and intelligence.







The use of
gender cues, such as colour, is also well shown through DeWalt’s power tool
range (Fig. 12). The first image shows a traditional power tool that has a
yellow body with black features, the second image is essentially the same,
apart from it’s being marketed towards women, shown by the use of the colour
pink in the tools. DeWalt has used gender stereotypes to advertise and market
their product, even though in modern times this can be perceived as sexist,
with many women questioning why a power tool must be pink for them to be able
to use them. 


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