Flashback Friday.41EXTGX1VRL__AA400_

A reader named Judith B. wrote in confounded by the copy describing the watch pictured above. It began:

Don’t be fooled by the girly blue and white face on this multifunction Pro Spirit® digital sports watch. It’s more than a match for any tough guy’s watch…

“Girly blue and white?” she asked. “Huh?”

I think I’ve got an answer for you, Judith. And it has to do with fractals. Trees are good examples of fractals: branches can split into two branches, and each of those branches can split into two branches, etc.

Flickr creative commons by Richard Thomas.

The gender binary — that is, the rule that everything (oh animalsjobs, food, kleenex, housework, sound, games, deordorant, love and sex, candy, vitaminsetc) gets split into male and female — is fractal. That means that, for every male or female version of something (say sports versus dance), there is a further gendered split that can be made. If we take sports, we might divide it into the masculine football and the feminine swimming. If we take swimming, we could probably divide it down further. Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.

What does that mean for blue? Well, it means that, even though “blue” is socially constructed to be masculine, blue can be broken down into more and less masculine types of blue. Turquoise and light blue, for example, are often seen as more feminine that the primary color blue or royal/dark blue. The text, then, is referring to, literally, “girly blue.” Lots of ads aimed at women employ the feminine blues. These ads sent in by some of my former students are good examples:

Usually the use of a “girly blue” serves to balance masculinity and femininity.  It’s no accident that these ads are sports-related, or use copy such as “strong & beautiful” and “I totally have a soft side. You comfortable with that?”

So, that’s my explanation for “girly blue”: fractal gender binaries.

Originally posted in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.