Pink Shirt Day (PSD) is a day to stand up to bullying and provides a prompt to explore deep-seated traditions.
The idea behind PSD is to encourage people to wear pink to stand up to homophobic bullying - pink being a traditionally femme colour that invites derision when worn by boys, who (so the adage goes) traditionally wear blue.
This stems from an example in Canada, where in 2007 students stood up against bullies who derided a student for wearing a pink shirt. In doing so, they set a precedent that continues through PSD and gives both children and adults agency and a reminder to stand up to bullying in general.
While the stereotype that gave rise to PSD is now quite outdated in some respects, it remains popular – reinforcing a gendered binary that carries a lot of implications and behaviours that we’re going to explore.
Where pink for girls and blue for boys began
The exact origins of this idea of gendered colours is unclear, but some of the first written mentions of this trace back to Europe in the mid-19th century.
Athanase Garnier wrote in 1823 that a pink background accompanies the announcement of a girl’s birth, while blue accompanies that of a boy. The subsequent decades saw it spread through Russia, France, the United Kingdom and United States of America.
The bulk of these depictions of pink for girls, blue for boys related to ornaments or decorations associated with significant events – birth, baptism and the like. This spread to cots being decorated in the respective colours, and became so ingrained that as early as 1904, childcare books were referring to the color scheme as an “old fancy”.
So far, so clear – but it doesn’t account for the massive shift from newborn accoutrement to culturally entrenched signifier of gender. So what exactly happened?