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.

Other gender related blog posts:

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Review August 2009: Top Five PsyCentral Posts

Here’s a list of the top five PsyCentral posts for August 2009:

Flirting & the ‘Golden’ Age of Gender

In examining flirting tips from the various main stream pop-psychology books on body language I’m struck by the prevalence of gender stereotypes and the absence of the acknowledgement that not everyone is heterosexual and not everyone wants to have children. Surely flirting need not depend on these.

Many tips involve ‘men making themselves more masculine to attract ‘delicate’ women’ and ‘women making themselves more ‘delicate’ to attract ‘big strong, rugged, men’. This all presupposes that we all want the same thing. Some women like ‘skinny’ men who wear glasses and hate football. Some men, small in stature, like full-bodied, amply curvaceous women. Some, delicate, petite, perfectly made-up women, may prefer women in sensible shoes to a hunk in football boots. Some rough and tough, deep voiced, sporty men don’t necessarily fancy women at all. Yes I know it’s all very obvious, so why the hell don’t the pop-psychology books acknowledge it? One reason is that the classic body language books are from ‘the golden age of gender’ when the world was a very different place and, sadly, gender stereotypes do sell.

Different people are attracted to different things and gender roles have moved on enormously since the 1950s. So telling every women to become like a 1950s housewife or a screen siren from the golden age of Hollywood is hardly like to work for all. Telling every man that he needs to ‘butch-up’ and take up forestry  is hardly like to work either, unless of course you know someone who’s into that sort of thing.

Flirting is about having fun. Flirting is about putting yourself across in a ‘good light’. It’s not about aping outdated stereotypes and it’s open to all! So the best advice I can give is:

  • Relax
  • Be yourself but be your best
  • Smile and have fun
  • Avoid any flirting tips that get you to act out a stereotype unless that’s what you are really into.

Links (to other ‘gender-based’ posts):

The Apprentice: Getting Fired Up About ‘Traditional’ Homophobia

The producers of The Apprentice are apparently considering how much of a discussion of homosexuality and homophobia to include in forthcoming episodes for fear of offending people. Maybe that’s a step n the right direction but the kind of language used to discuss the whole issue is very telling.

In a task to rebrand the ‘traditional’ UK seaside town of Margate one gay male contestant suggested it should be rebranded a gay resort. This led to a rather uneducated reply from female contestant that she wouldn’t want her son to meet a homosexual man. Chances are her son has probably encountered more than one gay man in his six year life with no ill effects. The idea that gay man corrupt children is not as the show’s insider termed it, ‘traditional’. It’s just ignonance of the facts. Using ‘tradition’ for excusing homophobia is as relvant as referring to racism as ‘traditional’. According to the so-called traditional view ‘Gypsies supposedly abduct the children, Homosexuals supposedly molest them and Black people  supposedly eat them!’.  It’s not traditional, it’s ignorance. (I’ve added lots of ‘supposedlies’ just to make sure that no one ‘traditionally’ quotes out of context!)

On the subject of tradition, the term ‘homosexual’ is used as a neutral term, whereas infact t was first coined (in the late 1800s)  as a term for a particular kind of sexual impotence, referring to the passive partner in a sexual encounter. It was only in the early 20th Century tha he term was extended to the active partner. Science inevitably goes through stages of relevant ignorance too.

Whenever, faced with these kind of debates, it’s useful to exchange contexts for the comments. So what if the offending comment had referred to someone of another skin colour or another religion? What if a contestant in The Apprentice had implied fear of cannibalism as justificationb for racial segregation? And before we get ino the old discussion of whether gayness is learned, inherited or chosen, couldn’t we ask the same questions about religion? It’s not relevant here. The issue is whether it’s`acceptable to justify prejudice with ignorance or educate ourselves about subjects where our only knowledge base is folk tales and ‘fairy’ stories? The psychological evidence tells us that, ‘tradionally’, there is a connection between racism, sexism and homophobia.

So should the producers air the offending discussion and be damned? Perhaps we need to make up our minds, and have reasoned discussions about homophobia fits into the whole mechanism of prejudice. We’ll have made some progress when we say ‘informed discussion you’re hired’ and ‘ignorance, you’re fired’!

Links:

Homophobia in The Apprentice

His Dark Homophobia

Poem: The Anatomy of Doubt

(Thoughts on sexual and gender diversity)

Hoo-hoos, minkies, willies and winkies,
Who are the normals and who are the kinkies?
Are you heroic Brad or homely Janet,
Or a sweet transvestite from a diff-er-ent planet?
Is is straight down the line, or simply confusing?
Is it all in our genes or just something we’re choosing?
Is it just variation or unholy perversion?
Propagating the species or a fun diversion?
Are you bound by tradition or torn by the doubt,
That we’re the ones our parents warned us about?

From: Sex, Lies and Stereotypes: Challenging Views of Women, Men and Relationships, by Gary Wood, 2005. Published by New Holland (out of print).

Link:

Gender & the Social Consruction of the Sewing Machine