Brain Pickings

The Pink and Blue Projects: Exploring the Genderization of Color

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How political correctness resulted in enforcing a universal, cross-cultural gender stereotype.

When cultural anthropology, psychology and photographic ingenuity converge, it’s a fascinating thing. And that’s exactly what South Korean visual artist JeongMee Yoon has been doing since 2005 in her thesis work, The Pink and Blue Projects.

Inspired by her own daughter’s obsession with the color pink, Yoon’s project explores the color preferences of children and their parents across different cultures and ethnic groups, probing into gender identity as a socialized construct.

Yoon found that girls’ preference for pink and boys’ for blue was universal and widespread, powered by pervasive advertising and media messaging intentionally targeting each gender of children with the respective color.

Yoon’s historical research, however, unearthed some curious findings indicating this wasn’t always the case:

Pink was once a color associated with masculinity, considered to be a watered down red and held the power associated with that color. In 1914, The Sunday Sentinel, an American newspaper, advised mothers to ‘use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.’ The change to pink for girls and blue for boys happened in America and elsewhere only after World War II.

The switch happened as twentieth-century political correctness took root and, in an effort to promote gender equality, the colors began being used with the opposite genders. This trend was so purposeful and explicit that it ended up overcompensating for the superficial connections attached to the symbolism of each color, not eradicating them but merely reversing their direction on the gender spectrum.

To illustrate these excessive and culturally manipulated expressions of femininity and masculinity, Yoon photographs children in their rooms, surrounded by their belongings in pink of blue on a background of the respective color.

The photographic style reminds us of Andrzej Kramarz’s Things series, inspired by the horror vacui style of Eastern European folk art, with a hint of fellow South Korean photographer Yeondoo Jung’s Wonderland series, also dealing with the whimsical and colorful world of children.

Explore The Pink and Blue Projects for a fascinating look inside the cross-cultural gender identity incubator of socially enforced symbolism.

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