Pink Vs Blue: Does it matter what colours you dress your baby in?
Do girls really prefer pink and boys blue, and does it really matter if you dress your children in gender-gapped products? Andrea Mara reports
On my first ever outing with my first baby, I made a beeline for the kids' clothes section. My new daughter had been in neutrals for a week, and she needed some colour. Well, okay, I needed some colour. And that colour turned out to be pink. Not because I set out with that intention, but because most of the baby-girl outfits in my local store were pink, and most of the baby-boy clothes were blue.
Today, many parents reject the notion of colour stereotypes, and there's a move towards gender-neutral clothes. But does it really matter if we dress girls in pink and boys in blue?
Dublin mum-of-four Adele avoided colour-coding her boy-girl twins as far as possible. "From the outset, I did make a conscious effort not to dress my daughter in pink. Having said that, I was gifted many lovely pink outfits that I put on her without any hesitation. But when buying her clothes, I try to avoid buying pink. I don't particularly like the 'pretty little girl image' pink evokes," she says, "I didn't want to pander to the notion that girls must wear pink exclusively."
Adele was similarly conscious when buying clothes for her son. "It's actually a lot easier to buy clothes in a variety of colours for girls than it is for boys, and even if I tried, it was hard to avoid a car or dinosaur motif on every item."
And six years on, has the pink avoidance paid off?
"She likes pink, pretty clothes," says Adele. "I still try to steer her away from them, but when she does get more interested in clothes I'll let her choose for herself. "
So do girls innately like pink? Or is it something that's learned?
As part of a 2011 British Journal of Developmental Psychology study, one-year-old babies showed no preference at all for pink. From the age of two, girls started to prefer pink, and from four, boys rejected pink.
But even if, as this suggests, colour preference is learned, does it matter?
Pinkstinks is a campaign that targets products that prescribe heavily stereotyped roles to young girls, and its co-founder Abi Moore thinks it does matter.
"We're not opposed to pink per se," she explains, "But we are opposed to the rampant use of it on the high street and online to gender stereotype girls and make them all look the same. Our strapline is "There's more than one way to be a girl"… we want to see a world where girls are free to make real and actual choices about who they are, how they want to look, what they want to be, and not to feel pressured by marketers, and therefore by culture as a whole, into fulfilling outdated and damaging stereotypes often based around pretty passive roles."
And the problem is, a little bit of gender stereotyping goes a long way.
"People, children included, have a strong drive to remember information that is consistent with what they know… It helps us navigate a sometimes scary environment." says psychology professor Dr Christia Brown, author of Parenting Beyond Pink or Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. "The world becomes a more dependable place when I can predict how 'all' boys or 'all' girls will act. The problem is that all boys don't act the same, nor do all girls."
So, we gravitate towards stereotypes and ignore exceptions, perpetuating the idea that all girls like baking and make-up, and all boys should be principals and presidents.
So what can parents do?
It can be difficult to find gender-neutral clothes in high-street stores, so parents are turning to small, online retailers like Sewing Circus and Hipbaby.ie for less traditional options.
"I didn't consciously set out to stock gender-neutral clothing, as initially I wanted to find skin-friendly clothes for my daughter who had severe eczema," says Leona Kinahan, owner of Hipbaby.ie. "However, it soon became clear to me that there was a market for gender-neutral, high-quality clothing for children. My customers are very complimentary on lovely blues for girls and very little black or brown for boys."
But the reality is, unless you make a conscious effort, it's hard to avoid colour-coded clothes.
Particularly when there's a birth announcement - there's a rush to punctuate it with the flagship colours.
Seven years after that first shopping trip with my daughter, I asked her what her favourite colour is. "Blue," she said, as she danced off in her sparkly pink shoes. Perhaps, like everything else, it's about moderation.
A case for it
Mary Holmes, mum to a little girl, doesn't think we should steer children away from
"Absolutely not. Why should they not make their own choices? If a little girl or a little boy is attracted to pink, let them choose," says the personal stylist and owner of RubySeven.ie. "Children's taste and interest in toys, colours and entertainment changes as they grow up, and what they prefer now may not be the same choice they will make in a year's time. And many little girls move on from dresses to jeans and tops more quickly than their mums would like. But if that's what they are more comfortable wearing, why restrict them?"