A ‘Colourful’ Message


This is a post I’ve temporarily placed due to all the hullabaloo about the  xkcd colour survey. Please note that I am writing this purely from the point of view of an architect/designer  who has dealt with colour schedules and graphic presentations for many years. It is not about the X and y chromosome controversy Randall faced.

And the following is from the perspective of colour ‘verbalizing’ vs. colour ‘perceiving.’

Just so you know, I’ve been a big fan of  that site for a long time. But I will still question the accuracy when certain conclusions of colour and gender are claimed on softer-data without a background in neuroscience or genetic sex studies.

Another blow in the girl-boy stereotypification by the Doghouse Diaries.(click to enlarge) And you wonder why so many engineers later turn up on the 'Shrink for Men' site after hooking up with BPD/NPD women? When you think 'all women are the same' you end up with the manipulative ones, 'cause you can't decipher the good-hearted ones. Oh, the naivete of geeky men!

Perhaps it’s best for techno-geeks to not give stereotypical qualities to ‘girl’ and ‘boy’  and ‘girl-brains’ and ‘boy-brains’ without a more balanced-across-the-population-cross-section study, though I do understand that the mistake here was made by the DD strip, which was not even scientifically based. If you are stereotyping for fun, then great, and I certainly enjoy the humour – but remember that  non-mushy girls (like myself who have more technical brains and are not too sappy even though we may look quite feminine) are really SO underrepresented in our world that we are really sick and tired of the giggly, vacuous, hyper-materialistic cosmo-girl types representing ‘womanhood’ to the media  or even how girls and boys view ‘colour’. Although, compared to the enforcement of cliches by the D – Diaries, at least the xkcd survey debunked some of the gender-polarity differences. Let me give here my two cents based on a discussion on colour and gender with a real neuroscientist. And why you cannot base ‘expressions and perceptions of color’ solely based on the X and Y chromosome but more on ‘brain – wiring’ and the ‘language-function’, regardless if you are a boy or a girl. Because ‘conclusions’ drawn like that only succeed in leaving out women with technical brains in its quest for girl-boy generalizations.

While the xkcd comparison lessens the gender divide, some stereotypical color names still pop up in the written results by the author (not shown in this graphic), attributing cliched ‘blush’, ‘buttery’ adjectives for women and men ‘stoically’ choosing more ‘macho’ adjectives though these were from the survey. The ‘girly colour-naming’ in his write-up are doing more rounds in countless male sites now than the above graphic. But since the participants included a far larger no. of male geeks, can ‘visual color perception’ be measured on the same barometer as color ‘naming’? Data by those who for instance named various bluish shades as ‘blue’ without naming a variation were not considered. Isn’t there a difference between ‘perceiving differences’ of hue vs. ‘naming’?

Having worked in the design industry for 10 years, the ‘color survey’ Randall Munroe has done is truly a HUGE and very detailed amount of work  (if you see his actual survey on his site.) Of course, all types cannot be accommodated when results are based on averages and/or extremes. I had a fascinating talk on this survey with a social cognitive psychology grad and a Harvard neuroscientist – and we started concluding that the ‘naming’ of colors (and the differences you find amidst the way men and women name) is quite different than actual ‘perception’. And this has to do more with brain wiring and the LANGUAGE-expression vs. hue-saturation PERCEPTION. So while a man (and women with-‘male’-aspie-type-brains, or INTJ on the Briggs-Meyers, like myself) DO see the shade difference, we don’t use the effeminate adjectives like ‘blush’, ‘dusty’ , ‘buttery’etc. to name the shade. We’ll just put them under a ‘red category.’ Similarly women (the more ‘expressive’ types) and gay men – and I do have many dear gay designer friends – will be more creative in the NAMING of the colors – even though the latter have a Y chromosome– although both the more systematizing men and women AND the more verbalizing men and women might or might not be seeing equal variations of the shades and hues. If this survey had been done by 50,000 gay designer men (XY) and 50,000 technical-brained-geek-girls (XX), the results might have been quite something different! And a result that would have put the DD cartoon to shame.

Hence language and hue perception cannot be measured on the same barometer as true ‘color  recognition by the brain’. Basing colour ‘perception and naming’  by individuals also purely on their X or Y chromosome is reductionist if this is seen from a brain scientist’s point of view. Women whose brains are wired more like mathematical men’s even if they have XX will not be as ‘effeminate’ in their expression much like men who do see the hue differences but don’t use too many sappy adjectives. So the ‘non-sappy girl’ (or women who might think in more technical terms and spend less time obsessing about matching-designer-purses) have been dismissed off as ‘noise’ in the rush to prove that ‘women name colours in flowery ways’ (blush, dusk, buttery etc.) and ‘men give macho names’ (penis, gay, wtf. etc.) Oh, the reductionism! But on the other hand, which probably also explains why the readers who are largely geeks – both male and females in the survey results had more equality than the DD strip (which makes me sigh at the latter’s stereotypification).

Since the paint industry is a HUGE one, I wondered what would happen if a similar laborious and exhaustive survey is done in the design and construction industry….since I’ve often pondered on the paradox of choice. And since I’ve seen more women to be ‘sensitive’ to color with their moods. (Or who knows – they might be women with mood swings.) The way that works I find amongst architects and interior designers is: when we choose a color – we generalize the shade when we name it but are completely anal about the NUMBER that each paint company designates for a shade and specify it on our drawings. Then I realized that’s exactly what I do too due to my abnormally high brain systematization quotient (brain-maleness if Simon Baron-Cohen’s tests are taken into consideration). I like naming colors by their number rather than inventing mushy adjectives.

In the architectural world too we all say that we’ll give the numbers to the painting contractor and the flowery names to the lady of the house/ museum curator et al. That’s how we reach a middle ground and everyone is happy. A painting contractor and/or site engineer will understand BM06754 much better than ‘morning pink’ (as a hypothetical example) Or – as in the survey, the RGB values under the shades.

Conclusion: At the end numbers and not ‘words’ turn out to be the most accurate description to depict shades. Regardless of sex or gender-based perception of color. Or color blindness. (Because believe it or not, there are quite a few color-blind architects and interior designers too.) Also when I color plans and  elevations in Photoshop I always make a note of the RGB number for the shade that is being used for consistency. And numbering comes out as the objective resolution. When a client’s wife argues that was not the shade she wanted, we say – but m’am you did pick up BM 03356 and not BM 03357 so that’s what we gave you  ; -) And if the complaints continue – we politely do Rhet Butler’s closing line. You can’t please all the people all the time, as they say….

But regardless of errors in the survey, one of the best results Randall has provided is this uber-geek range of colour names on the screen for colour-blind people, which had been one of his tertiary aims of the survey (and because of which he unfortunately ended up with the x, y question.) With this map and the color pick, you can confidently select shades without having to refer to numbers. Ok – it’s been done before but when you have the cult-leader-of-geekdom do it, it just has far more accessibility. Cheers to that! (P.S. I am not colour blind, but have a couple of friends who are.)

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The geek-guy version of the stereotypification of ‘women’. Darn! Hilarious. And no – all women are not like this.

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(2) The ‘search’ for the rare women who combine beauty, ethics, intellect and femininity with feminism – Racqueting on a grass court

(3) Sex & the Starchitect (A look at how ‘sexiness’ is sadly seen only as the domain of the male architect.)

(4) Thoughts on the relativity of happiness….This too shall pass.

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13 thoughts on “A ‘Colourful’ Message

  1. I strongly disagree with your suggestion that being a female geek makes my brain male-like, and I find this idea offensive. There is nothing inherently male about math, computers, or technology.

    I strongly recommend that you purchase or borrow Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which is authored by Julia Serano, a Evolutionary Biology and Developmental Biology researcher and non-feminine woman. There is a misunderstanding of the difference between sex and gender. You are also scapegoating femininity, which is exactly what Serano criticizes.

    There is nothing wrong with femininity. Men should not be afraid of acting in a feminine manner.

    • Restructure,

      Thank you for the book suggestion – I read its preview and will get it to widen my awareness of this topic.

      However, I must add that as a woman in the male-dominated construction industry who refused to compromise her femininity nor give in to the demand that to be a woman-in-architecture I had to dress in the short-hair-manly-dress-code expected and act abrasive to ‘fit’ the image of the ‘strong’ man, I understand all too well that there is in fact, ‘nothing wrong with femininity’. You are preaching to the choir. I believe in being strong and resilient but not losing my softness either. A few of my articles are precisely on this, had you read them before your strong disagreement.

      For choosing to maintain my individuality, I know how resilient I had to be, because men can generalize femininely dressed women as ‘girly’ and less intelligent. Try that on a construction site and you will know how strong I really had to be to have not left my profession. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2005/feb/19/workandcareers.jobsandmoney1 So I am aware of that scapegoating well too. I am not scapegoating ‘femininity’ but rather I have written elsewhere on this site how I view true femininity as something that should not be cloaked only in the stereotyped images that have unfortunately seemed to have seeped in our society as what it means to be ‘feminine.’ Or feel feminine.

      However, I do have to agree that the ‘scapegoating’ of femininity precisely occurs due to a shortage of visible people in the media who can combine smarts and sexual comfort without amplifying one extreme or the other. Or rather – presenting a ‘middle ground.’ Unfortunately either ‘extreme girls’ or ‘extreme men’ are shown and those combining both masculine-and-feminine traits, be it mental or physical are left out.

      Also, as a woman who did not agree with the ‘man’ifying suggested by feminist radicals in the past decades – I found that even though I was quietly doing my part for women’s ‘equality’ in a profession with more men, without beating a drum about it, I would never be popular amongst the radicals as I had not converted myself into a ‘man’ in dress and manner since I see that as a problem too. And in fact those women who tout ‘masculinised’ feminist theories are often even more condescending than men if I choose not to discard my womanly ways of dress and/or manners.

      This leaves me in a no-man’s-land where the femininely dressed women don’t let you ‘belong’ because you are a ‘geek-in-disguise’ and the more masculinised women leave you because even though you may be a more thinking woman, you dress like a girl. Try that with being a mix of 6 different ethnicities and one can see that I definitely didn’t quite ‘fit’ in any particular group. And high school…well, that’s another story which is why today I am an advocate against bullying.

      The ‘male-brain’ theory I found on reading Cambridge professor of Developmental Psychopathology Simon-Baron Cohen’s work and finding my own extremely high brain-systematization quotient through his tests when I found after many years that the reason why I was interested since childhood more in those activities and occupations that are generally done by men, amongst many other characteristics, to be linked to traits seen in Asperger’s. Many of my social behaviour and personal traits also finally made sense. My brain systematization quotient is 66/80. ‘Normal’ men acc. to Cohen have it at 30 and ‘nomal’ women have it at 24. So therefore the terming of the phrase I took from his book, and I am sorry you found this offensive. For more on this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Difference-Women-Extreme-Science/dp/0713996714 Your suggestion is taken to point and you may take it up with Cohen if you want – and true perhaps – instead of using terms like ‘male’ and ‘female’ which he uses, something else should be used. Neuroscience is coming more and more to the conclusion that most of our brain functions and ‘identity’ has to do with what regions we’ve been activating more through time as these really begin to define the thoughts that predominate us later, and therefore culture and environment certainly are big factors on how male and female ‘stereotypes’ and ‘pigeonholing’ even in our own brains start getting engrained. For instance – young girls who are told consistently that ‘girls can’t do math’ will eventually have their internal dialogue thinking they are really not good at math, even though they might be.

      As for male traits in females and female traits in men, there is certainly nothing wrong with it. But I do feel that just as society is more and more accepting of gay men (and I do have many gay friends), they should recognize those women who are in predominantly ‘male’ professions and hobbies but refuse to give up their femininity. Or to put it bluntly the real-life Lara Croft types. This is the tiny percentage where I find myself in. I read on the balance between sexes in a single person for a long time back since the duality of the concept has often fascinated me.

      • I apologize. It looked like you were blaming feminine women when you wrote, “giggly, vacuous, hyper-materialistic cosmo-girl types representing ‘womanhood’ to the media”, when those women in the media tend to be actresses portraying fictional characters, not real women. The problem there is that women are portrayed as stereotypes, not that most women are actually like that.

        • Thanks! Exactly!! As I had written in another post, I do have issues on the way most women are portrayed or promoted in the media today – especially TV – always at some ‘extreme’, since drama sells, and thereby these ‘stereotypes’ are created in the minds of men and impressionable young girls – stereotypes which I think are a gross misrepresentation of REAL womanhood, and all the more authentic qualities that come with it.

          Similarly, so little is shown of those who contain both male-female qualities – i.e. a sensitive, empathetic but intelligent man (as opposed to some testosterone-fuming superhero basher) or a feminine woman who is also a techno-smart geek instead of showing a male-bashing feminist or a vapid rescue-me damsel (they did do a good job with Uhura’s portrayal in the actual & 2009 Star Trek though which I thought was an excellent portrayal of a balanced geek girl). And come to think of it, there really aren’t any balanced portrayals out there which combine the male-female duality which is so essential for a healthy balance sans extremes. And it is not even just about looks, manners or anything – it’s more about that BALANCE-without-extremes, without stereotypification, be it based on gender, race, country etc. which I find fewer and fewer representations of in our society’s media mainstream. Or at most, few those who are willing to actually talk about it, raise these questions and make others aware. That is why it’s a good thing that you raise these issues yourself, though you initially misunderstood me.

          But thanks for understanding now. And I’ll be reading that book. Another called ‘the Paradox of Gender’ was also suggested on the xkcd blog by another person.

  2. I think that Restructure was overreacting just a bit. her statement that there is “nothing inherently male” about computers, math or technology, fails to provide a complete survey of the entire landscape.

    From a biological perspective, there doesn’t seem to be inherent or biological differences between males and females on these fronts. If we lived in a world free of socially constructed gender roles, the chances of any given male or female infant growing up to be a mathematician, scientist, architect, or computer whiz would be theoretically equal. Well, we don’t live in a world like that. Little girls aren’t encouraged to go into these fields as readily as little boys. In many cases, they’re told that boys are better at math, and research on stereotype threat has demonstrated that these kinds of stereotypes actually lead to the exactly the kinds of deficits that they tout. The stereotypes are self-fulfilling in that way. They lead to anxiety and stress, and contribute to their victims underperforming their male peers on math and science tests, undoubtedly sending many careening off into careers more “typically female.”
    Just because we want something to be true (socially constructed stereotypes don’t exist, and have no adverse effect on women) doesn’t mean it is.

    The fact that I point to these socially constructed gender roles as impediments to females’ success, does not mean I support them. (though I realize that there is certain brand of feminist who love to kill the messenger if there aren’t any other worthy targets in the vicinity.) My point being that because of the extra barriers to entry for women trying to enter predominantly male fields, the ones who do make it would tend to be most qualified, the high achievers, the outliers. I will come back to this point in just a minute.

    Men also have to subscribe to assigned stereotypes. Until recently, it was difficult to find many men working in the fields of nursing or teaching kindergarten (the nurturing professions) as these fields were, and still are to a large extent, seen as the province of women. And its still the case that most US courts will favor the mother in divorce/custody cases, as its assumed that children would be better off with their mothers, who are thought to be the inherently better parental option. You won’t see many men showing up to work with lipstick, or a nice blush to compliment their ties, or carrying purses. Nor will you be likely to find groups of men forming knitting clubs. There is nothing inherently female about any of the above activities – there’s no biological reason why I shouldn’t tote a nice purse around – yet, there exists a strong gender delineation there. The difference here is that my life won’t be adversely affected if I can’t throw some eyeliner on tomorrow morning before I head into the office. This is a gendered custom I can afford not to challenge. But what of the woman who is a natural born systems analyst or architectural engineer? Considering all of the obstacles that woman would have to break through, starting in childhood, to “make it” into and to the top of these fields, should we really expect that she wouldn’t be a outlier, that she wouldn’t be a somewhat atypical female? I can almost hear the feminist hive mind buzzing as I write this: “Typical female! the nerve!” I submit: Stephanie Meyer is not a multimillionaire because boys are lining up for her books, nor is the value of any modern sports franchise dependent on the burgeoning interest of young girls. Whether the forces that led to these differing interests are “inherent” or not is essentially irrelevant.

    Some women, against all odds, are able to buck the stereotypes. Gipsy Geek works in an extremely male- dominated field. In order for her to have built a career for herself there, she would have to endure far greater hazing than any of the men did. Additionally, if she is as stunning those eyes might suggest, then the hazing must have been doubly worse. I realize its terribly un-PC, but one issue that isn’t spoken of enough in regards to gender stereotyping, is that specific flavor of bias faced by intelligent and talented women who are beautiful and sexy, but not slutty, and who don’t downplay their feminine sides. To be able to hold on to this brand of feminine identity AND be successful in a male dominated field takes an immense amount of strength. And I, for one, think this should be rewarded, especially by other women, because if there is any hope of us breaking free of these deeply embedded gender myths it will only be through the example of women who are willing to stand alone.

    • “Just because we want something to be true (socially constructed stereotypes don’t exist, and have no adverse effect on women) doesn’t mean it is.”

      Strange. I did not assert that socially constructed stereotypes don’t exist, and I also blog a lot about socially constructed stereotypes.

    • d

      Wow! Thank you for that thoughtful message. I’ll have to re-read it to digest its introspection and relevant points made. But thanks.

      I really liked the points you made about how “Little girls aren’t encouraged to go into these (technical) fields as readily as little boys.” and “Men also have to subscribe to assigned stereotypes. Until recently, it was difficult to find many men working in the fields of nursing or teaching kindergarten (the nurturing professions) as these fields were, and still are to a large extent, seen as the province of women.”

      Very true – assigned gender-ified ‘roles’ work in both directions and those who venture into the ‘other’s’ domain have to do it under insurmountable suspicion and have to work doubly (or triply) hard to succeed, just because it is not considered their ‘natural’ domain. And if they decide to not subscribe to ‘expected appearances’ it becomes even harder. How sad. But true.

      I never wanted to see ‘architecture’ as some male profession either – I hate ‘gendering’ professions, (and in fact the greatest Renaissance period architects not surprisingly were gay or bisexual as quite a few architects are even today, both male and female) but statistics show that it is still rather heavily male – ‘dominated’.

  3. Hi, i’m so delighted I located your blog, I identified you by mistake, but I’m here now and want to say thank you for all the spherical intriguing posts!

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