The Sexist

Paint By Gender: What Color Is “Penis”?

From Austin to A&M points us to this amazing survey on gender variation in the naming of colors. In an effort to determine whether men and women identify colors differently, Randall Munroe had users name over five million colors across "222,500 user sessions." The result? "Basically, women were slightly more liberal with the modifiers, but otherwise they generally agreed." That is, until the color "penis" came in to play.

"Men and women tended on average to call colors the same names," Munroe found. Here's a visual representation of Munroe's data:

Picture 1

"So I was feeling pretty good about equality," he concludes. But: "Then I decided to calculate the ‘most masculine’ and ‘most feminine’ colors. I was looking for the color names most disproportionately popular among each group; that is, the names that the most women came up with compared to the fewest men (or vice versa)."

Here's what he found:

Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among women:

Dusty Teal
Blush Pink
Dusty Lavender
Butter Yellow
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:


I … that’s not my typo in #5—the only actual color in the list really is a misspelling of “beige”. And keep in mind, this is based on the number of unique people who answered the color, not the number of times they typed it. This isn’t just the effect of a couple spammers. In fact, this is after the spamfilter.

Munroe doesn't specify which colors were identified as "penis." Questions of hue aside, Munroe has also kicked off a lengthy discussion on the potentially problematic way he chose to classify responders by sex.

Photo via Team Dalog, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • kza

    I knew men didn't see red as well since they only have one X chromosome but I didn't we could see penis so well.

  • Katie

    I get most of the "male" responses as something that could naturally occur in a person's mind (albeit for rather immature reasons), but what color inspires a reaction of "what the FUCK?" I really want to know.

  • noodlez



  • upk

    Just an fyi to those who are unfamiliar with Randall Munroe. He draws xkcd, a web comic that is wildly popular among computer and internet nerds. It's no surprise that his test population included a high number of kids who think giving "penis" as an answer is hilarious. I'd bet the top 5 female colors were mostly penned by guys as well.

  • Marty

    Ugh, man, why did I think it would be a good idea to look at the comments section on Randall's post?

    How much experience do I need before I accept trollism as a pandemic affliction?

  • Simon C.

    "Problematic" does not even begin to describe Munroe's views on sex and gender.

  • bellacoker

    I really like that the guys called out "salmon" while the ladies did just included it in the general pink spectrum.

  • pipi long stockings

    They need to call it salmon so when people ask, "Hey, is that a pink shirt?" They can say, "No, it's salmon."

  • KT

    Simon C - does Munroe have very problematic views on sex and gender? I've only read the comic, not his blog, but as a woman in the computer science industry, xkcd is one of the few places I can go and feel like someone actually understands what things are actually like for me.

  • matthew

    I am a man and I say salmon a lot, though largely in the context of printer paper. I didn't know it was a man thing, though.

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  • Amanda

    For the record, I'm a woman and I have no idea what a dusky rose would look like.

    It's fascinating that a man would be so put off and presumably even embarrassed by being asked to name a color, that he would go out of his way to write "gay" or "penis" rather than a simple "red" or "yellow" or whatever. Even the "dunno" I could understand. My boyfriend and I were both art majors though, so we tend to refer to colors by paint tube names. That would also further explain my lack of dusky rose knowledge, I suppose.

  • S

    "It’s fascinating that a man would be so put off and presumably even embarrassed by being asked to name a color"

    Or they were just messing around...

    The female responses seem somewhat unbelievable also, but then perhaps those kind of names are common in cosmetics.