The Rajasthan Royals players in the IPL with the pink jersey they will use this season. Photo: Rajasthan Royals

Fans of the Rajasthan Royals were tickled pink when the Indian Premier League cricket team switched their familiar blue jerseys for a rosy strip last year to raise awareness of cancer. When they decided this week to stay in pink, there was an inevitable focus on the issue of gender stereotyping.

Even in the 21st century, most men do not seem comfortable with the idea of wearing a color that has been tagged as feminine and the antithesis of  the virile image that they so desire.

The Royals were not concerned, as they had plenty of connections with the color. Jaipur, the capital, is popularly known as the Pink City; Jodhpur, another city in the northern state, is famous for its pink sandstone; and Udaipur produces pink marble. But it is not that simple.

Would the players have chosen to switch from blue if Rajasthan had not had such a long history with pink, and if the breast cancer awareness symbol were not carried on a ribbon of the same color?

It is now widely accepted that pink is for females and blue for males, but such gender associations have only been fairly recent.

A childhood picture of the late United States president Franklin D Roosevelt, taken in 1884, shows him wearing a skirt and shoulder-length hair, at a time when the appearances of children were considered gender-neutral. According to Jo B Paoletti, author of the book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, it then became more specific, but in the reverse order of contemporary stereotyping.

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls,” the Smithsonian Magazine said in June last year, quoting from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department. “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.”

According to the article, “pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I — and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.”

It was not until the 1940s that consumer preferences were decided by clothing manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti said.

Writer and color expert Gavin Evans said in an interview with Business Insider that pink was seen as a “kind of boyish version” of the masculine color red. “In the early part of the 20th century and the late part of the 19th century, in particular, there were regular comments advising mothers that if you want your boy to grow up masculine, dress him in a masculine colour like pink and if you want your girl to grow up feminine dress her in a feminine color like blue,” he noted.

“Blue, in parts of Europe at least, had long been associated as a feminine color because of the supposed color of the Virgin Mary’s outfit.”

But by the 1950s, advertising companies had started heavily marketing pink as a color for girls, and the rest is history.

Even so, gender-neutral practices have slowly been emerging again in the past decade or so, especially among celebrity parents.

Three years ago, singer Adele took her son Angelo to Disneyland dressed in a Princess Anna costume. Actor Will Smith’s son Jaden frequently wears dresses and skirts, and Majandra Delfino encourages her two-year-old son to have ballet lessons.

Others, however, stick with the conventional approach. One look at any baby shower or baby room pictures on Instagram will tell that most of today’s young parents prefer pink for their newborn daughter and blue for their son, thus laying down the traditional gender roles they are expected to adopt  while they are growing up.

In case they do stray, the internet is full of stereotypes on the subject: real men do not wear pink shirts, probably because few women like to see them in this color. Men who wear pink shirts are even branded as homosexual.

This is what makes it so surprising that Rajasthan Royals fans have cheered the color switch for ts season; it was partly because of their support that the decision was made.

But does it mean the public is suddenly more accepting of neutral gender colors and will follow the same course, or is this simply something that celebrities can get away with because … well, because they are celebrities?

Only time will tell, but it may be too soon to call time on gender stereotypes.

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