© 2013 by DOMINIQUE GRISARD. All rights reserved.
Red for power, war and bloodshed; Lady in Red; pink as little red; red lipstick
Red is the color of berries that in pre-historic times women would gather while men went out to hunt wild animals under a light blue sky – this is the explanation by evolutionary biologists Hurlbert and Ling (2007) for the current girl/boy pink/blue divide. Notwithstanding that archaelogical research has not been able to produce any evidence of a division of labor in pre-historic times, Hurlbert and Ling’s evolutionary theory for gendered color preferences doesn’t take into account that red must have been also the color of the blood that was shed when killing animals, or when fighting other tribes. It also conveniently omits to mention that those who gathered berries must have done this under a blue sky. Of course red has adorned kingdoms’ heraldig emblems, the flags of nations and the banners of revolutionary movements – all fields generally perceived as masculine. In the West, from the most ancient epochs, the color red has been associated with the portrayal of male power (http://expositions.bnf.fr/rouge/bande/bande_us.htm).
Anya C. Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling (2007): „Biological Components of Sex Differences in Color Preference,“ in: Current Biology 17 (16), R623-R625.
Red of course has many different connotations, one pervasive one is of blood connected to reproduction and birth. Sigmund Freud in his essay „The Taboo of Virginity“ (3: 198-99), claims that some women unconsciously align menstrual blood with defloration, „thus implying physical violation or damage“ (Delaney/Lupton, 73). In Civilization and its Discontents (1930) Freud discusses how menstrual blood or rather its odor became taboo, at which „historic moment, man’s shame became woman’s shame“ (Delaney; Lupton and Toth 1988, 73). Only in the 1960s was menstruation a more openly discussed theme, and even then it was often seen to be an unfit topic for children (Freidenfelds, 72, 142). This may be one explanation for why Disney chose to represent the menstrual flow not as blood-red but as snow-white (Delaney; Lupton and Toth 1988, 109). „It is possible to regard transformation stories such as The Frog Prince and Snow White and Rose Red as tales reflecting fear of castration by a menarcheal child. In both, a prince has been changed into an animal and is dependent on the unselfish love of a maiden to regain his human masculinity. (...) Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Maid Maleen, to name a few, were kept from the eyes of the world during their adolescence and endured their seclusion at the behest of, or in the company of, a bad mother (a witch or other old person not their natural mother). (...) Sleeping Beauty was cursed at her birth by a fairy who said that on her fifteenth birthday she would prick her finger on a spindle and die. Bleeding at fifteen seems an obvious reference to the menarche“ (Delaney; Lupton and Toth, 164).
Lara Freidenfelds (2009): The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.
Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton and Emily Toth (1988): The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press.
Red lipstick has a long rocky history. Historian Kathy Peiss describes the ambivalence of bright red lips in the 1920s and 30s, when it wasn’t just glamorous movie stars anymore but regular women who painted their faces. Wearing too much makeup , however, was still a potent sexualized class marker, though it wasn’t automatically tied to sex-work anymore. If the color on one’s lips was too obvious, it was read as a sexual overture. Thus, vivid red lipstick might be best described as a „sexually assertive, public pose that trifled with bourgeois conventions“ (Peiss, 154). Indeed, using red lipstick wasn’t only relegated to having bad taste, it was believed to attract the wrong kind of man (Peiss, 155). This said, young American women’s red lips „often accompanied a demand to keep more of her wages, to choose her boyfriends, and to enjoy greater autonomy in leisure activities,“ whereas young immigrant women put on red lipstick to fit in and pass as American (Peiss, 188).
During the Second World War lipstick advertisements called on women entering the work force to show a sense of pride and to retain their femininity at the same time. „Lipstick symbolized ‚the precious right of women to be feminine and lovely – under any circumstances,’“ one ad stressed (Peiss, 240). War-time ads also reminded the men at the war front of the price they were fighting for. Red-lipped models were styled as the object of desire any (heterosexual) men would wish to return to. In additon, the amount of time, the ads suggested, that women devoted to beautification was a clear sign that they were only a temporary workforce.
Kathy Peiss (1998/2011): Hope in a Jar: the Making of America’s Beauty Culture, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Red-light district is the name for a neighborhood with a concentration of sex-oriented businesses. In late 19th century a red light began to be used to signal a brothel. This is also when the term was introduced into the English language. Indeed, The Sentinel, a Milwaukee newspaper, is credited with referring to these urban areas as “red light districts” in 1894 (History of the Red Light District, Amsterdam, 2009). In Central Europe, Amsterdam prides itself for being „Europe’s most famous red-light district“. In the United States, where prostitution is illegal, New Orleans’s Storyville is probably the best-known district created through city red-light ordinances (Keire, 9). However, as Keire (2010, 51) underlines, most Americans in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, called red-light districts „segregated districts.“
Today areas known as red light districts can be found in cities around the world. Many of them are still very much bathed in red light in order to indicate to customers the nature of the business. This said, the color red is not the universal referent for sex work. Urban areas with a high concentration of sex work are more commonly referred to as "districts of prostitutes."
Mara Laura Keire (2010): For Business and Pleasure. Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice in the United States, 1890-1933, Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Mark (2009): History of the Red light District (Amsterdam), http://whatyoushouldknowaboutamsterdam.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/history-of-the-red-light-district/
The Lady in Red
The Lady in Red is a song by Irish-British artist Chris de Burgh. It was released in June 1986. The song is about the love of his l/wife, commemorating the dress she wore the first time they met. The song was given a tremendous amount of air play leading up to the July 1986 wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, whose red hair was much discussed by the mass media at the time.
Since the 2000s several studies in Social Psychology assert that heterosexual men are particularly attracted to women in red clothing. In these studies red circulates between the masculine gaze and feminine attraction and receptivity. Red is thus explicitly linked to (hetero)sex and female attractivity. In this context red is believed to be an expression of a ‚natural’ and/or archaic mating ritual.
Guéguen, N. (2010): „Color and Women’s Hitchhikers’ Attractiveness: Gentlemen Drivers Prefer Red,“ in: Color: Research and Application, 37 (1), 76-78.
Guéguen, N., and Jacob, C. (2012): „Color and cyber-attractiveness: Red Enhances Men’s Attraction to Women’s Internet Personal Ads,“ in: Color: Research and Application, 38 (4), 309-312.
Kayser, D. N., Elliot, A. J., and Feltman, R. (2010): „Red and Romantic Behavior in Men Viewing Women,“ in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 901-908.
Pazda, A. D., Elliot, A. J., and Greitmeyer, T. (2012): „Sexy Red: Perceived Sexual Receptivity Mediates the Red-Attraction Relation in Men Viewing Women,“ in: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 787-790.
Elliot, A. J., and Pazda, A. D. (2012): „Dressed for sex: Red as a female sexual signal in humans,“ in: PLoS ONE, 7, e34607.