Black is better than pink for girls

Color history: pink, the most controversial color in the world

How a boy became a girl and what pink has to do with the little finger. On the occasion of the controversial Barbie exhibition in Berlin: a brief history of the "little red".

A year ago, Klara named pink, purple and black as her favorite colors, now she is four and only loves pink and purple. She reached for Rosa when she was two. And that, although her mom once thought pink in kindergarten as stupid as princesses and ballet. After all, Klara's sister is two and loves to swap a pink plate for an orange or red plate. The brighter the better, she doesn't care about pink. For how much longer?

How much does nature determine, how much does the environment, how we see colors? With any other color, such questions would be interesting, but academic. Not with Rosa. The most controversial color of the present leads directly to the ideological battlefield, where there is a fight for the existence and appearance of the sexes. The latest example: the dispute over last Thursday in Berlin opened the Barbie exhibition in the form of a completely pink “dream house” universe. As has been the case for years in the international “Pink stinks” campaign, the criticism of the Barbie aesthetic is largely color criticism. But can a color be “bad” per se?


1918: "The rule is pink for boys"

Pink belittles and weaknesses, criticizes the "Pink stinks" campaign. The opposite was believed a hundred years ago. In the 1920s, textile companies marketed Rosa as being suitable for the boys. You saw it, as it had for centuries, as the “little red”. Red, the color of blood and war, was traditionally the color of men, but it was toned down to pink and seemed suitable for the men in small format. A trade magazine from 1918 wrote of children's clothing: “The generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls. The reason for this is that pink is a more determined, stronger color and therefore more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and graceful, is prettier on girls Maria was associated.

Our interpretation of colors can be manipulated in this way. Ludwig Wittgenstein found it completely pointless to talk about the characters of colors, he believed that it was all about the color carrier. When you think of colors, “really only think of special uses. The fact that green as the color of a tablecloth has this effect and red that effect does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about its effect in a picture. "

The theory is probably exaggerated. The color pink is associated with human skin and stands for life and sexuality - for example in Franz West's bright pink painted aluminum sculptures. Pink is created by combining white and red, the two components of female and male beauty. Not only Snow White has red lips and white skin, this combination also fascinates Parzival in his wife Condwiramurs. She is like a rose moistened with dew, he says.


The "pink", which is shrunk in German

To designate the red of the rose, one spoke for a long time of “rose-colored”, “rose-red” or “rosy”, it was not until the 18th century that a separate word was found, it was derived from the Latin flower name “pink” for “hybrid tea” . The word “pink” also came from a flower, the carnation. It was originally a verb and could mean “cut out”, “break through”, “pink” for the carnation referred to the slightly jagged edges of this flower. "Pinck oogen" said the Dutch to little eyes, maybe even the English word for the little finger, "pinkie", comes from there. Pink denoted all possible shades of red up to ocher, in the 1980s it was very impoverished in the German dictionaries: According to Duden, it only means a “strong, slightly bright pink”.

Neither pink nor pink had feminine connotations until the interwar period. In Rococo, as in Elizabethan England, pink was all the rage in men's fashion for a while. But then new dyeing methods came into the textile industry, white as a baby color gave way to pastel colors, then came the “blue-collar workers” and the blue overalls, sailors and workers' clothing “masculized” the blue.

So the blue / pink color theory remained, only with the gender reversed. In Germany, pink had become so well established as the color of girls before the Second World War that homosexuals (reviled as “effeminate”) had to wear the “pink triangle” as a sign of identification in the concentration camps: pink was born as a gay color. "In the 1950s, pink was strongly associated with women," says historian Jo Paoletti, "but not nearly as strictly and generally as it is today."

Today, the industry can sell twice as much toys and clothing if it persuades consumers that pink is unmanly. She did it. The pink aesthetic is their product - and color carriers like the Barbie dream house also blur the differences between highly different color values. Isn't pink closer to red than delicate pink, pink not closer to light blue than pink?

So is it just the result of commercial brainwashing that little girls love pink more than boys? Well, there is evidence that women see colors differently from men. Studies by Israel Abramov (City University of New York) found that men perceive mixed colors a little more bluish, meaning that women see the world in warmer colors. Such differences could be explained: In the visual center there are a particularly large number of docking points for the male sex hormone testosterone. And the genes for two of the three color receptors are on the X chromosome, which is also to blame for why red-green color blindness occurs almost exclusively in men.

Could such differences have a biological meaning? Was it more important for our female ancestors to see red fruits than for the male? Does the fact that red acts as a sexual signal play a role? Pink as a more subtle signal? Biology does not give clear answers either. And the powerful culture has certainly overtaken them.

("Die Presse", print edition, May 23, 2013)