Open thread: Should we use the terms “feminine” and “masculine” to describe decorating styles?

1954-kohler-pink-bathroom-croppedI have been thinking a lot this summer about labels. Labels have been frequently in the news, often surrounding very serious events. Two labels that occasionally (although not often) come up here are “feminine” and “masculine,” used to describe decor. These days I am not liking these labels. I am thinking: Never again will I use these words on this blog, unless used to examine history. Dear readers, what do you think? Above: In 1954, Kohler did not shy from putting a boy in a pink bathroom. Would any company do this today

Did you see this recent story about Target’s decision to no longer use gender descriptions to differentiate toys, home and entertainment? I’m liking this.

Here are a few of my thoughts on why the time has come to sideline the terms “feminine” and “masculine” to describe decor and decorating styles:

  • It seems that these labels are virtually all driven by cultural norms that change over time and are in no way absolute. For example, we’ve written before about Jo Paolettis’s book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America (affiliate link), which studied how the modern associations of pink for girls and blue for boys rose to prominence relatively recently in the history of child rearing. And wood paneling — probably widely viewed as a man-cave material today — well, that was such a common wall covering for so many decades in the 20th Century that I can’t imagine it was viewed as masculine or feminine. Is there any aspect of a decorating preference that is truly hard-wired into our biology based on our sex? Okay, I did track this story in 2008, but now the source link is dead, so I don’t know how to investigate further.
  • These decorating labels promote and reinforce hard-to-change cultural norms that run deep and which limit the behaviors and opportunities of people of both genders. As in: If so-called feminine decor is soft and ornamental –> then so must be girls and women. Ergo, hard-edged, no-nonsense “masculine” decor underscores the notion that men must be these things, too.
  • They are stereotypes. Nix these labels and instead, work a little harder to find and use more specific descriptive language about the decorating choices made by each unique individual.

Why do you think about using the terms “feminine” and “masculine” to describe decor, dear readers?


Categoriespostwar culture

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