Was Little Boy Blue a Gender Stereotype or a Gender Bender?

The poem Little Boy Blue (from around 1744)  is sometimes offered as evidence for early gender colour-coding of ‘blue for a boy’ but a close reading of the text shows that it’s exactly the opposite! Until the early 20th Century blue was deemed a delicate, feminine colour and that’s what the poem demonstrates.

Picture: Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue being not particularly ‘boyish’

Little Boy Blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cow’s in the corn;
Where is that boy
Who looks after the sheep?

Under the haystack
Fast asleep.
Will you wake him?
Oh no, not I,
For if I do

He will surely cry.

Little Boy Blue appears to have a rather delicate constitution. He doesn’t have the strength to blow on his horn, he’s  sleeping on the job and easily prone to bouts of hysteria! This is not behaviour typical of the male gender stereotype. So, if the colour blue is to be associated with anything here it’s ‘effeminacy’. It was until the 1920s that the colour-coding switched (to blue for a boy, pink for a girl) and there is no convincing reason as to why this happened. However what the colour-switch does show is that colour-preference is not ‘hard-wired’ but is a cultural convention.

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