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Do Men and Women See Colors Differently?

Color, Gender, and the Truth About Pink and Girls

"How do I know the color blue I see is the color blue you see?" The question was first posed to me by a nun in fifth grade, and I thought my religious education had suddenly taken a deep turn (it didn't). I've since learned the question is sort of a mockery of entry-level profundity. It's so pervasive, though, that Mad Men named episode 10 in season three "The Color Blue." When the question is posed to Don, he settles the debate with a statistic: "I know there is a blue that at least 45 percent of the population sees as the same."

He's onto something, because men and women actually do see colors the same; they just describe them differently. Author Randall Munroe was inspired by the comic (below left) mocking how many names women will have for a color that men simply call red, blue, or green. It rang so true that he put the hypothesis to the test, and the results (on the right) are less hyperbolic but no different than the cartoon.

Jezebel published a post today asking how pink became a girl's color. Except beyond gender roles, social constructs, and advertising, it does not really answer the why or when. I did a little digging and found the exact point in history when girls went pink and boys went blue. Find out below.


The most convincing explanation is from an article about a South Korean photographer, JeongMee Yoon, doing a thesis titled The Pink and Blue Project. She found there's no evidence that associating colors with babies became a trend until the early 20th century.

Red has long been associated with power and masculinity, so pink was considered a watered down red. Perfect for baby boys! She tracked down an American newspaper, The Sunday Sentinel, that told mothers to "use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention." Yep, you read it right. Pink for boys; blue for girls. So when did the switch happen?

Well, this is the one time you can actually blame feminism. As gender equality took hold of the 20th century, women began to dress their girls in pink and boys in blue as acts of defiance. And just in time for glossy magazines, color TVs, and the rise of advertising. What a spectacular backfire!

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