Friday, May 7, 2010

"Girly" Isn't A Derogatory Word

After reading this blog post at xkdc, sent to me by Jeff--which talks a little bit about perceived gender behavior verses actual gender behavior, as relates to naming colors--I realized that I did a thing at work today that would, along with differentiating between regular and hot pink, be deemed "girly" by some.

That was a darn long sentence, by the way. Run-on? Possibly.  "Science writer" or no, history teachers used to blast me on those.  But I digress.

Actually, I have one more comment to make about that blog post.


Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among women:
  1. Dusty Teal
  2. Blush Pink
  3. Dusty Lavender
  4. Butter Yellow
  5. Dusky Rose
Okay, pretty flowery, certainly.  Kind of an incense-bomb-set-off-in-a-Bed-Bath-&-Beyond vibe.  Well, let’s take a look at the other list.
Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among men:
  1. Penis
  2. Gay
  3. WTF
  4. Dunno
  5. Baige

 After working with middle schoolers in several venues, I can personally attest that the difference between boys and girls in eigth grade is the tendency of girls to give things flowery names and descriptions, and the tendency of boys is to call things "gay" as if they'd said something incredibly profound.

So, without that in mind, but reminded of it when I'd finished, I made a diagram for work today. I boxed in my page title and section titles in a neat sort of way, and drew decorative borders around some concept and solid borders around others, to differentiate them, and then I went back and colored in the whole thing to make it especially...pretty.


When I do physics, I can't use lined paper.  Can't, the lines are way too restrictive.  When I do physics, I re-write things a few times as I learn to make things neater, I often diagram concepts and work problems in obsessively neat and visible steps, and I regularly label and box things.  And yeah, sometimes I use different borders, to signify varying levels of sub-relation in a completed and highly visual scheme that makes sense to me but mostly just makes me feel like the whole thing is more complete.

I wouldn't call that "girly" per say, so much as creative thought organizing. The physicists, male and female, that I know, tend to fall into two categories:  OCD with a capital O about neatness, or else a complete organizational train-wreck.  Both methods highlight equally important aspects of getting the work done:  keeping track to avoid careless mistakes and to see everything linked and caregorized, and yet also focusing simply on the thing at hand without being destracting by anything else, until you get where you need to be.  So organization is no stranger to the male physics world.

But even the OCD organized ones don't do the boxes and the colors and the sort of visual tie-together that I do.  Although, interstingly, actually putting color on the page doesn't matter that much, because my brain sees color there, certain colors associated with certain things, even when there is none.  And what I do helps me.  There was a time when I thought anything remotely girly was an anathema to rid myself of, there was a time when I associated "feminine" with "inferior."

It's great that I outgrew that.  Now I recognize my potentially "girly" methods as involving my right brain in an otherwise rather left-brained process, something that may be more easy and desirable for women who supposedly have more connections between right brain and left brain than men.  If you believe that stuff.  Gender, biology, nature, nurture, all that stuff, is really complicated, and I'm just talking about borders on a quantum mechanics diagram.


  1. Fascinating. At a guess, I'd say you have some mild synaesthesia, which you've found a way to make useful in helping you remember how these rather advanced theoretical concepts work. So, good for you, and keep it up... but don't expect your system of colour-labelling to work for anyone else.

    Congrats on disassociating "feminine" from "inferior", also, and embracing aspects of yourself which might be somewhat "girly".

  2. I find that I (female) do exactly the same.
    Especially the redrawing, relabelling, ensuring that it looks 'neat' thing.

    Adding colours I try to restrict myself from (initially). Mainly to avoid spending too much time on it (initially).
    But indeed, it makes the end-result so much more pretty, *and* easy to use.


  3. its not synaesthesia just to have strengthened memory by adding color and shape associations to concepts... that is exactly how memory works. By using colors and shapes you engage multiple modalities, recruiting more of your brain to the task and make more complex and strong associations, which is the neural basis of a memory. The more you engage your mind, the more salient an experience appears and the longer it will last/better it will be encoded. These tricks work almost universally, @the you most certainly should expect these tricks to work for anyone else. Granted, just with synaesthetics, everyone might use a different color or shape for each idea, but the general method would hold. Indeed the whole concept of synaesthesia might suggest that those people might have more potent memory mechanisms because any given experience recruits more sensory modalities than in the average person. But, since memory is a competitive process, ultimately you'd still be pitching the same relative signal strengths "against" each other, so perhaps not.... anyway congratulations on rediscovering intro psych