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AgencyLIKE with Laura: Colour and Gender Stereotypes

“AgencyLIKE” is going to be a weekly feature with one of our team members, in which they’ll be sharing their personal views on anything and everything: things that they love, things they’ve picked up on recently, or things that get their goat.

At Foundry Digital we love it when people are passionate, and we want to celebrate the individuals that make up our Foundry Family. Stick around for these weekly posts to learn more about the team! Kicking it off, we’ve got Laura who is one of our Designers. Although you couldn’t quite guess it from her wardrobe (consisting mostly of black) or her last name (Gray), Laura loves colour. Images by Umberto Daina (view portfolio).

This week, Laura shared her views on colour and gender stereotypes, and as a huge advocate of gender equality she went full throttle telling us how powerful colour is as a medium when it comes to gender stereotypes.

How does a colour get its meaning?

As primitive humans we learnt to distinguish things by colour, particularly food. If it was red or yellow the chances were it would harm you in some way, and if it was green it would probably be ok. So as humans we’re already predisposed to attribute a meaning to different colours. Fast-forward a few thousand years, when all it takes is for a trend to set in and you can get an entire population to believe that a particular colour means something.

A recent research has suggested that blue is considered to be a trustworthy colour, so a lot of companies in the finance industry use it. Likewise the colour red which we understand to represent passion or anger depending on the context, hence why Valentine’s cards are themed in red and cartoon characters turn crimson when they’re angry.

People are clearly good at attributing meaning to colour; how do you feel about products that are aimed at a female market being pink?

I don’t get it, why, just because I’m a girl, am I supposed to want to buy a pink pen ‘for ladies’? Oh wait, I know why – it’s because I have always wanted to write like a girl and now I finally can! (Just a heads up that Laura is the queen of sarcasm…). A few years ago, a certain stationery brand produced a range of stationery for girls, all in the colour pink. It didn’t get a very good reception and became something of a comical topic, before turning into an argument in support of why it achieves nothing to attribute specific colours to either gender. I like the colour pink in the right context, but the connotations of femininity and fragility that come with it are just a bit outdated.


Do you think it’s wrong that pink has been “allocated” as a girls’ colour?

I wouldn’t say that it was wrong, but I think the fact that this is all changing at the moment says a lot about why it isn’t totally “right” either. In China, pink used to signal strength and bravery as it was the colour of the blossom petals showered over warriors when they returned from battle – these were men not women. Pink only became a ‘feminine’ colour thanks to trends like Barbie in the 50s. Little girls played with dolls dressed in pink, and soon the trend filtered up to the level of gender. Industries that are most in the public eye like retail have so much power here.

gender neutral children's clothing

Can colour help break out-dated gender stereotypes?

Colour is so powerful, we’ve seen that by how it managed to shape entire generations into stereotypes of “girl = pink” and “boy = blue”. When John Lewis released their gender-neutral children’s clothing line, it got so much attention because it was attempting to reverse an age-old stereotype. Why should a boy only be encouraged to wear blue and green dinosaur-patterned clothes but not clothes with purple and pink unicorns? We created gender stereotyping and inequality ourselves so I think we can definitely undo it, and colour is a medium that can really help.

It’s exciting to see the changes that are already happening, and as someone who loves colour and works with it every day, I’m definitely going to be using it to do my bit to reverse gender stereotypes!


Finally, what’s your favourite colour?

I don’t have one! It changes all the time, but if you’re expecting me to say pink because I’m a girl, then the answer is no!!!

So there you have it, Laura’s standpoint on colour and gender stereotypes is well and truly established and we think she’s got a point. Next week’s AgencyLIKE post is going to be all about Optical Illusions – David is going to tell us why he thinks they’re so amazing and how they’ve been incorporated into various aspects of design.

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