Pink science: It’s a girl thing!

4 March 2013 by Kris Hardies, posted in Uncategorized

From the moment of birth, when we ask the simple question 'is it a boy or a girl', gender socialization takes off. But already before birth we start gender typing our "children-to-be". Before a child is born, parents (and others) spent hours speculating about if "it" is going to be a boy or a girl, choose different names to anticipate both outcomes, and decorate the baby room in pink or blue.
It is quite interesting in this respect to note that until the early twentieth century pink was considered a much "stronger" and more masculine color, appropriate for boys, while soft "baby blues" were thought to be the right color for girls (Smith, 1989). Despite this fact, without apparent irony Gerianne Alexander (2003, p. 12) stated (in a paper that was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior) that 'it may be more than a trivial coincidence that in our current culture we assign blue to boys and pink to girls', suggesting that men and women somehow have evolved to prefer blue and pink, respectively—a suggestion reiterated by others (e.g., Hurlbert and Ling, 2007).

Science is for boys, pink science is for girls

It might be more than a trivial coincidence that in a society where pink is for girls, a common idea to attract more women to the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is to "pinkify" science. Apparently, science itself is not interesting (at least not for girls) so we need to "pinkify" science (i.e., make science compatible with acceptable femininity). Now I am not going to argue against the fact that gendered science kits are probably an utterly clever marketing strategy, but from a societal point of view they are rather problematic. (It goes without saying that the same goes for other examples of pinkified science.)

(Compare the pink science kits for girls with the blue science kits for boys yourself.)

These toys (and pinkified science messages in general) signal as much about societal expectations as about science. Apparently girls are only allowed to do science as long as it is compatible with acceptable feminine forms and gestures ("pink science" is ok for girls, but (blue/real) science is for boys).
So although we no longer expect our girls to be princesses, we are clearly not treating them the same way as our boys. In a previous blog post, I celebrated the recent initiative by the European Union, Science: It's a Girl Thing. Quite a sad thing to discover just a few days later that, as part of this project, the European Union launched a ridiculous (overtly sexist) video:

Clearly, not quite the right approach to get more women into the STEM fields. The video was retracted very quickly, but it nicely illustrates how easy it is to fall prey to common conceptions about women and science. Like there would be something female or male about discovering new gene mutations, studying quasicrystals, or observing supernovae!
Source: SMBC

  • Alexander, Gerianne M. (2003) An Evolutionary Perspective of Sex-Typed Toy Preferences: Pink, Blue, and the Brain. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31 (1): 7–14.
  • Hurlbert, Anya. C. and Yazhu Ling (2007) Biological components of sex differences in color preference. Current Biology, 17 (16): 623–625.
  • Smith, Barbara C. (1989) Men and Women: A History of Costume, Gender, and Power. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution.

4 Responses to “Pink science: It’s a girl thing!”

  1. Kris Hardies Reply | Permalink

    And thanks Suzi. I was actually ware of the website, so I am unsure why I forgot to make any mention of it. Anyway, the outrage caused by the EU-video was well deserved. The ScienceGrrl is, however, indeed a great initiative (or, how something bad/tasteless brought about something good). Hadn't seen the Youtube-video before though, so thanks for sharing!

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