Blue for Boys, Pink for Girls? (Paoletti in Search Context)

I’ve been reading and enjoying Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. In the book, University of Maryland American Studies Associate Professor Jo B. Paoletti uses catalogs, sewing patterns, historical portraits, newspaper advertisements and similar media to document the emergence of pink as a color for girls’ clothing and blue as a color for boys’ clothing. Paoletti traces color preferences to changes in textile and cleansing technology, connection of local media outlets into national media networks, feedback between consumers and marketers, social mobility, changes in psychological theories of development and the reaction of new generations against the generations before.

Paoletti not only makes a case that the emergence of pink for girls and blue for boys in clothing is relatively new, but more strongly asserts that pink was often seen as a boy’s color and blue as a girl’s color in many areas of the United States early in the 20th Century. Paoletti’s “favorite primary source” for this claim in the book comes from a 1918 issue of the Chicago clothing trade magazine The Infants’ Department:

“Pink or Blue? Which is intended for boys and which for girls? This question comes from one of our readers this month, and the discussion may be of interest to others. There has been a great diversity of opinion on this subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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. In later years the shade of pink has been much improved. Perhaps if we had the delicate flesh tints when baby layettes were first sold, the rule might have been reversed.

“The nursery rhyme of ‘Little Boy Blue’ is responsible for the thought that blue is for boys. Stationers, too, reverse the colors, but as they sell only announcement cards and baby books, they can not be considered authorities.

“If a customer is too fussy on this subject, suggest that she blend the two colors, an effective and pretty custom which originated on the other side, and which after all is the only way of getting the laugh on the stork.”

Paoletti finds additional text sources that seem to display an inconsistent set of color choices around the turn of the century: for instance, Paoletti pairs a pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys quote of the novel Little Women with a blue-for-girls and pink-for-boys recommendation by the 1890 Ladies Home Journal (Paoletti, p. 87).

In a July 2012 letter to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Assistant Professor of Psychology Marco Del Guidice counters Paoletti’s historical claim by using a search of the millions of books scanned in by Google for the phrases like “blue for boys,” “pink for girls,” “blue for girls” and “pink for boys.” You can perform just such a search for yourself right here, showing these results:

Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys, Blue for Girls, Pink for Boys Google Ngrams Book Search from 1820-2008

Del Guidice interprets these results as a systematic refutation of Paoletti’s “anecdotal” claims, even going so far as to term them “A Scientific Urban Legend”:

“Gender-coded references to pink and blue begin to appear around 1890 and intensify after World War II. However, all the gender-color associations found in the database conform to the familiar convention of pink for girls and blue for boys. An equivalent search of the British English corpus revealed exactly the same pattern. In other words, this massive book database contains no trace of the alleged pink-blue reversal; on the contrary, the results show remarkable consistency in gender coding over time in both the U.S. and the UK, starting from the late nineteenth century and continuing throughout the twentieth century.

“If one considers the totality of the evidence, the most parsimonious conclusion is that the Pink-Blue Reversal (PBR) as usually described never happened, and that the magainze excerpts cited in support of the PBR are anomalous or unrepresentative of the broader cultural context. Not only do the present findings run counter to the standard PBR account; they also fail to support Paoletti’s claim that pink and blue were inconsistently associated with gender until the 1950s.

The replication of Del Guidice’s Google Books search shown above show that his contention may be slightly too strong:.the phrase “blue for girls” is not absent entirely from the corpus of books Google has scanned, but rather is present at a low level throughout the 20th Century. Indeed, around the turn of the 20th Century, there appears to have been a period in which the appearance of “blue for girls” rivaled the appearance of “pink for girls” in books. One such source is a 1920 skit in the Chicago-published journal “Public Libraries,” performed by the staff of the Pomona Public Library for the Pomona, California City Council and library board of trustees to illustrate librarians’ daily activities:

Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls in 1920 Library Skit

“Dear me! Someone wants to know what colored ribbons to use for a boy baby and what for a girl. I can never remember! But thank goodness it’s catalogued here somewhere … (Paws through catalog drawer) Oh, here it is: “Infants: Colors for boy and girl” (Returns to phone) Hello, Pink is used for boys and blue for girls … Yes … That’s right. You’re welcome.”

But while Paoletti’s claim that blue for boys and pink for girls is not dominant before World War II appears to be supported, and while some mention of “blue for girls” appears in early scanned books, Del Guidice’s more general point appears to be borne out: there is no point at which pink for girls and blue for boys is swamped by contrary mentions.

Track Social Networks… to Find the People Tracking You

As the course designer and instructor for an undergraduate social networks course at the University of Maine at Augusta, I am often asked why students should take the course. I think there are many answers to this question. One answer comes from a humanities standpoint: learning how to represent patterns in relationships with attention to meaningful visual cues can deepen understanding of design and lead to innovation in art. Culturally speaking, networks have geek appeal as sparkling and colorful objects lending panache to infographics. If critical thinking is important to you, you might be interested in network analysis for the challenge of mastering multidimensionality and matrix mathematics; as you work at network puzzles you’ll develop your logical and quantitative reasoning ability. But these appeal aren’t all: the study of social networks can be practically useful, too.

One practical use of social network analysis is highlighted by the Disconnect extension you can add to your Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Opera internet browser…

worried faceI should break in here. Whenever you read "extension you can add to your internet browser," you should begin to get nervous. Many add-ins, add-ons, and add-arounds to your internet browsing or Facebook or Twitter experience are so colorful and fun to play with. But they have a second purpose lurking behind the colorful and fun one: to track your movement across websites so someone can sell data about where you go and what you do. But when consulting Disconnect's privacy policy, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Disconnect extension collects information about you only minimally and doesn't sell information to advertisers: "Disconnect never sells your personal info.... Our browser extensions don't collect any of your personal info. Unlike most websites, our site doesn’t collect your IP address."

… so as I was saying, the Disconnect extension available for most internet browsers makes use of social network analysis to share useful information about websites that let your data leak out to third parties:

If you install the Disconnect extension in your browser, then visit a website, it will create a network graph (or “sociogram”) with that website at the center, visually linked to other websites that are given data whenever you visit that site. By bringing those network graphs together for different websites, you can figure out how your personal information might be combined and how that combination might be harmful to you.

That might sound a little abstract, so let me make it concrete. Consider the mini-industry on the internet of “Print-On-Demand” apparel. On websites like CafePress, Zazzle and Skreened, you can browse through thousands of t-shirt designs made up by people like you. If you find a design you like, you can put it on a t-shirt that fits your style, order that shirt, and have it printed up and sent specially to you. The printer gets a cut of the profits, the designer gets a cut of the profits, and you get just the shirt you want.

While these print-on-demand services are offering you a service that makes them a little money, are they harvesting your data on the sly? To find out, I activated the Disconnect extension in my browser and visited the CafePress, Zazzle and Skreened websites. Disconnect produced three sociograms, which I combine to form the network graph you see below:

How the Skreened, CafePress and Zazzle websites track your visits: February 2014

The above image is current as of February 2014, and represents an change in tracking since the last time I looked at these websites in December of 2012:

Skreened, CafePress and Zazzle website tracking technology habits: December 2012

There are a number of patterns to notice. Consistently and by a wide margin, CafePress has been sending information about you to the largest number of third-party websites. Over time, on the other hand, Skreened and Zazzle (to a lesser extent) have started to catch up, sending more information about you to other companies. Those companies include Lucky Orange (“We don’t just tell you who is on your site, we show you what they are doing”), Monetate (“helping you understand your customers’ situations, behaviors and preferences”), Retention Science (“analyze & predict customer behaviors”), and Tell Apart (“If you’ve ever clicked on an ad for a pair of shoes that seem like they were made for you, Tell Apart may very well have been responsible“).

When the practices of individual websites such as CafePress, Skreened and Zazzle are combined into a network, we can find points of overlap. CafePress and Skreened send their information to three websites in common:,, and Each of these services tracks users by IP address, so that your behavior at CafePress and your behavior at Skreened can be combined: these data mining companies can bring together your behavior at CafePress and your behavior at Skreened to figure out aspects of your identity and preferences that might not be apparent if they had access to only one of the websites. All three websites send data to, leading to even more detailed insights about you. Would you be surprised to find out that also receives information about visitors from, and Would it surprise you to know that is owned by Google, bringing this overlap into even sharper focus?

Looking at simple lists of the third-party recipients of your information on a website can give you a rough sense of how leaky an individual website is. Looking at the network overlap in recipients tells you which of those recipients are likely to be learning the most about you, constructing an increasingly accurate virtual you for sale.

Don’t-Miss UMA Colloquium: Laura Rodas on Academic Integrity, 2/12/2014

The UMA RaP Colloquium Series presents

“The State of Academic Integrity at UMA”

Laura Rodas, Coordinator of Community Standards and Mediation
Wednesday, February 12, 12 noon
University of Maine at Augusta Katz Library

As part of its continuing commitment to building intellectual community, the University of Maine at Augusta holds a regular Research and Pedagogy (RaP) colloquium series at which UMA faculty and staff present works in progress to their peers. Ensuing discussion promotes collaboration through the exchange of ideas and the development of relationships across colleges, programs, departments and disciplines. When we meet to present and to learn, we discover that amidst the accumulated knowledge of the centuries, there are still new thoughts to be spoken out loud.

Academic honesty in higher education is of the utmost importance. During February 12th’s RaP session, Laura Rodas will lead discussion focused on UMA’s Academic Integrity Code and procedures, the responsibilities of faculty members, students, and the Office of the Dean of Students and the logistics of making a complaint.  Special attention will be paid to delineation of academic sanctions vs. disciplinary sanctions, repeat violations, and examples of challenging academic integrity matters.  A question and answer period with refreshments will follow.

The Research And Pedagogy program is made possible by the support of the Faculty Senate and the Office of the Provost.  If you are interested in giving a presentation at a future RAP session, please contact: