Toys Reflecting Society’s Stereotypes 50 years ago

July 10, 2017
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Store Manager Andrew explains the temporary art installation in front of Aldea Baby, a toy shop along Valencia Street of the Mission District.

The artist is called Johanna Bialkin. She’s been in San Francisco for about 20 years now. She has a live work space, called the Box Factory in Florida. These pieces were basically a part of a larger series of 20 pieces which she then divided up into color block which show the themes and toys based on colors. So we have 5 of them here right now. So after this show ends next week they’ll be going as a collective into Golden Gate park, the city has commissioned a Summer of Love piece that will be there for the rest of the summer.


Basically, each give you an idea how across all toy companies in the last 4 decades how they represent specific types of toys by color. Green is going to be the most neutral of all of them, you can find a really wide variety of poise in them, whereas orange is almost exclusively activeplay. Blue is almost exclusive to science. And obviously, gender pink toys as well. It was really a statement at first. The more she counted, the more she lived by colors, especially teals, almost clean, very specific.

 

This artist compiled many different popular toys of the past century categorized by color. This concept was intriguing as it offered the viewer an overwhelming feeling or emotion, and the viewers could generalize who the target audience was quickly and easily. Pink teapots, Barbies, and mirrors reflected girliness and femininity, but also alluded to vanity and domestic duties of a housewife. The past generation categorized this color exclusively for females, simply because of history.

 

So why did pink become a girl’s color?
Prior to World War II, color neutrality was the norm. Girls clothes and toys were produced in a variety of colors, and women wore the broad spectrum of rainbow in apparel, especially during World War I and II, when people salvage anything they could. Girls wore white dresses while boys wore white t-shirts and pants until the age of six, when they had more clothing choices to choose from.


In fact, the public sentiments towards what color “belonged” to a girl was drastically different in the beginning of the 20th century. A June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”


However, there were many contributing factors in making pink a girl’s color. Following the war, Americans saw “Rosie the Riveter exchange her blue overalls for June Cleaver’s pink apron,” NPR said. This transfer symbolized the transition of liberating women from factory work to assuming their hobbies and life before the war.
In the 1940s, manufacturers mass produced clothing items and placed pink for girls and blue for boys as a marketing strategy. Therefore, the Baby Boomers Generation grew up typically with “color-appropriate” clothing and toys. This culture instilled a sense of normalcy of girls only owning, liking, and buying pink colored items.
In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower's first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, wore a pink rhinestone gown to the inauguration ceremony. She became an icon for fashion, so every woman in America wanted to dress like her. As a result, clothing retailers followed the trend of including pink, often more well-known as Mamie Pink, into women's clothing.


The song in Funny Face, a popular 1957 movie, had the lines, “Banish the Black, Burn the Blue, Think Pink!” This slogan encouraged females to stray away from other conventional colors and only welcome pink.


Toys such as Barbie, which came out in 1960, was mass marketed as a girl’s favorite doll, and advertisers created her logo and image around pink. Barbie represented the image of perfection, with a skinny figure, blonde hair, perfect boyfriend, and ideal life. This subliminal message of idealism penetrated through the minds of young girls, driving the market of consumerism.


Medical advancements, such as prenatal testing, allowed parents to know the gender of their children during pregnancy. Excited parents would often jump on the chance to puchase gifts, and manufacturers produced gender specific gifts to cater to the celebration of discovering the fetus’s sex.


Mainstream media continues to promote pink as a feminine color, like the Pink Ladies in Grease and the Plastics saying “On Wednesdays we wear pink” in Mean Girls.


A study by the Erasmus University Rotterdam revealed that when pink dominated advertisements appealed to women, women were less likely to think they’d contract breast cancer or to donate money to a cancer charity. This behavior is attributed to several decades of women aligning themselves with comfort when in the presence of the color pink.

 

Although it isn’t necessarily bad to have certain colors associated with genders, this could be one of the root reasons of inequality in the United States. If society as a whole treats the people of different genders as different entities, then perhaps it’s fueling the continuation of gender specific stereotypes. And as Hillary Clinton said, “It is time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided.”






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