My mom said that when I was a baby, yellow was my favorite color. I don't remember any of that. But I do remember very vividly that pink was the first color to make an impression on me as a child. It took me a few tries to remember how to say it Russian (розовый, rozoviy) while growing up in Moscow with my grandpa. It was a big rosy bar of pink soap that made bubbles. The sight of it is still fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday.
Later in life pink started to get weird meanings. Here in the West we associate it with sexual deviance when used by men or femininity when used by women. In Russia, pink is associated with homosexuality when used by girls. Baby-blue is gay when used by boys. Long story short, I stopped liking the color because I did not want to identify myself as a homosexual or transgendered. It's kind of sad that such a nice color has to fall out of people's pallets because of some nasty social stigma. So why are we giving so much meaning to something one shade lighter than red?
Colors are not passive. They can stimulate us or calm us down. They have meanings - both social and innate. They can literally change the way we think and act. In the 1960s an American researcher Alexander Schauss noticed that his patients showed a shift in the hue of their preference, depending on their mood. Naturally, he wondered whether the reverse was true: can a color influence our mood? Numerous experiments later, Schauss was able to determine that in fact it could. A particular shade of pink, filed as P-618 had the greatest effect. It considerably slowed the heart rate, pulse and respiration of the test subjects. In a few years that followed he was successful in persuading correctional institution directors to paint a few of the prison cells in that particular shade to analyze the effects. The results were (amazingly!) positive: inmates behaved in a calmer manner. Those directors' names were Baker and Miller, hence Baker-Miller Pink (or Drunk Tank Pink).
What I find interesting about that particular study is that I can't imagine pink as a calming color on its own. It seems to me that it needs to be a part of something. I remember spending my weekends as a teenager, painting homes and the rosy walls that made me feel nauseous. It might have been the fumes.
In Western culture it is primarily a feminine color with most of the male population shying away from it. Is there any innate, hard-wired predisposition to our gender-assigned palette? Not really; the research about color preferences (with findings about the differences between our genders) has been widely misquoted by marketers. What's interesting is that prior to 1950s (in the early 1900s when we just learned how to color our clothes properly) pink was associated with boys and blue with girls. At that time, pink was a gentle offset from red - a traditionally masculine color. There is no concrete evidence of why the boys and their parents over time started choosing the blue, but there is some speculation about the color being associated with other masculine roles. For example The Navy, machinery and airplanes. This preference has then been further accelerated through marketing and gender stereotypes and inequalities of our society. Fast forward to 2000s: from bubblegum princess to porn and a synonym to vagina - it all belongs to women.
But there are punk (and P!nk), pimp, hipster and hippie cultures which strongly identify with pink. None of them are female-centric but all of them are rebellious. Moreover, some of the most traditional designs which are not aimed at any gender in particular are pink. Take British Rose fine china sets and pink marble in expensive buildings for example. Plus a huge variety of British furniture.
"Pink is for the girls" seems to be purely a product of our cultural stereotypes and marketing efforts by toy and clothing companies in the West.
In other cultures and languages the word pink is often associated with a physical object. In Russian it's pronunciation is derived from the word rose (see above) and it seems to be the same story for a lot of the European languages as well. In Japanese it's the peach blossoms and in Chinese it's the women's makeup (although they haven't started recognizing the color until recent). In Thailand the color is associated with Tuesday and (subsequently) with bravery and seriousness. It is also the color of Buddhist enlightenment. In South Korea it is the color of trust. And in India it is a happy and hopeful color.
Whatever the cultural association, the seems to make strong impressions. This study, Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur - effets et symboliques, p. 179.,demonstrated that people seem to shy away from the color without any real negative associations. On the other hand it is used to attract attention for breast cancer awareness campaigns. And it is the defining color of pink slip - a paper that'll get you either fired or certified.