You arrive in a departmental store and find yourself in an area radiating with pink and purple color. You realise that you do not belong here. And there is another floor or section organised for products male customers demand. Here you will detect that color scheme is entirely different. Products are mostly packaged in blue, black and green or brown, the dark colors.
Usually, we don’t acknowledge it because we assume it the norm. Advertisers have accustomed us to recognising and identifying colors assigned to a specific gender.
For a departmental store, it is reasonable to maintain and keep products according to gender preferences because of the convenience to the store executives.
But the question is, why based on colors? Is there a gender conflict in response to color?
Blue Is Not a Color. It’s a Mystery (Part-1)
Scientists Claim That Blue Pigment Is Rare to Find.
Many brands position themselves in the market according to the customer’s gender. If the product range is gender specific, then it is required. But they want to achieve this through color, which becomes a marker. They classify certain products for a specific gender. Armed with data and studies to their support, advertisers suggest that men and women belong to a different set of colors on a spectrum.
Although these findings are ambiguous, many studies have indicated that there are disagreements between gender in preferences for colors.
Pink Was Masculine Until…
The most popular conditioning applied to color psychology is pink versus blue. These two colors have drawn attention with their advertised line- pink is for girls, blue is for boys.
Old pictures reveal that children wore white or light-colored dresses.
But in 1914, The Sunday Sentinel, an American newspaper, urged mothers to “use pink for the boys and blue for the girls, if you are a follower of convention.” Four years later, Ladies’ Home Journal reiterated it in these words, ‘‘The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. It went on until the Second World War. Boys who wore pink dresses fought in the Second World War.
As the war ended, the clothing convention changed; now a reversed trend emerged.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour? (Part-3)
The psychology behind the most popular colour of brands
The University of Maryland historian and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti says the colors were not gendered until the 1950s. And pink for-girl, blue for-boy became a norm in the United States and product manufacturers settled on pink for girls and blue for boys.
According to Lise Eliot, the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, it is the social conditioning which makes them pick up and internalise gender roles.
As far as I know, no study supports that our brains and genders are wired according to the colors.
Casting Color into a Gender
Brands can work outside gender stereotypes, but it doesn’t always happen. In most instances, they target specific genders to sell their products and services.
The University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen conducted a simple survey in 2012. He asked men and women a direct question–What is your favorite color?
In response to this survey, blue turned out to be the most popular color across the board, followed by green for men and purple for women. This survey showed that blue is men and women’s favorite color. 42% of men picked blue as their favorite color compared to 29% women.
Though, Philip Cohen is not convinced about the results. He thinks these are the outcome of a marketing ploy.
Research by Stephen Palmer at Berkeley also offers the same preference for blue.
How Blue Got its Place
Joe Hallock’s research is a classic case of how the half-cooked message is spread for the benefit of marketing.
Hallock, a student of the University of Washington, conducted research related to people’s perceptions around colors in 2003. He submitted his thesis to the university as part of his undergraduate dissertation. He could assemble and process this data with 232 people only, mostly Americans. According to this survey, blue was found to be the favorite color of 42% of respondents. He further concluded that men liked blue (57%) more than women (35%). No men chose purple.
Hallock accepted that he lacked cross-cultural statistics which will be crucial to conclude, his study is being quoted as gospel truth until today.
Later, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Karen Schloss (2010) pointed out that a person’s preference for a color can be determined by averaging out how often that person likes all the objects he or she associates with that color. But here too, there was no reference to human biology in this research.
Gender Choices Are Social Construct?
These surveys or studies caution us that the cultural consciousness of color plays a central role in dictating color appropriateness for a specific gender. And our gender identities and choices are more of a social construct shaped by the market.
Sometimes, findings of these surveys compel us to consider that men prefer bold colors, while women prefer softer colors. Is there any truth in it?
South Korean artist and photographer JeongMee tried to decode this social construct through her “The Pink and Blue Project.”
Inspired by her daughter’s love for pink, she started documenting the color preferences of children and their parents across different cultures and ethnic groups through her photographs. You will find boys’ rooms overflow with blue; the girls’ rooms saturated in pink. She says, ‘’perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements.’’
Marco Del Guidice, a sociologist at the University of Turin in Italy, does not agree with this.
In her research paper, Del Guidice concluded that- pink has always been feminine and blue masculine; this allows for the possibility that these gender-color associations have some basis in human biology. But no one knows if girls inherently prefer pink and do boys naturally prefer blue.
No one knows that color preferences are only cultural, or it has some connection to our DNA.
Research suggests that color prescription to a specific gender is confining a gender in a social frame.