J.Crew Ad Tells Obsessive Moms that Obsessiveness is Okay

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J.Crew’s online catalog has a feature “Saturday With Jenna,” in which Jenna is shown painting the toes of her young son Beckett a bright neon pink. “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” This delightful tableaux of postmodern life is shown next to a striped shirt from J.Crew’s new “Wretched” collection.

The firestorm of pointless debate this triggered was so predictable J.Crew should have included it in their catalog as well. Arguments fall into three main categories: “emasculation and gender confusion of males” among the right-wing set, “separation of gender from sex/fluidity of gender identity” from the left-wing I-went-to-a-fancy-college-that-only-had-Division-3-sports-teams, and finally the “little kids are idiots/tempest in a teapot” crowd.

One interesting facet of all of these arguments is that none acknowledge the uniquely male aspect of the issue. Clothes that are traditionally male constitute a smaller set than clothes that are female. Women can wear men’s shirts, jeans, t-shirts, tactical gear, and they are still women. But they can also wear dresses, skirts, and the more conservative clothing as still code as woman (maybe a different notion of ‘woman’ but that’s besides the point.) It’s okay if women dress masculine. In other words, when women dress as men, it’s considered progressive and positive because masculinity is considered a positive trait, but when men dress as women, it’s negative, because femininity is and undesirable trait.

Many feminists interpret the mainstream reaction to this ad as evidence that mainstream society still ranks the feminine below the masculine, i.e. the mainstream still thinks girls dressing as boys and doing boy things is an upgrade for girls, whereas boys dressing as girls is a downgrade for boys. But that presumes that the ad is about the little boy. It isn’t.

The point of the ad is the mother. What the mother is doing and what she is reflecting and modelling relative to the mothers perusing the catalog.

This is a J.Crew catalog. The crappy striped shirt is $65. The sunglasses the boy is playing with on the catalog page are $450. J.Crew is talking to mommy through the images of Jenna (assuming that these are even real people).

In an editorial, Fox News resident psychiatrist, and Glenn Beck writing partner, Keith Ablow writes of the ad, “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” is not known.”

Looking at the mother in that photo, I do not get the impression that she would ever “abandon all trappings” of anything, especially gender identity.

What mainstream conservative opinion gets wrong (and consequently where feminist criticism of this position is led astray) is that this is not an ad about what is acceptable for boys. It’s not an ad that reflects the loosening of values or cultural mores. This is an ad about what is acceptable for mothers to do with and to their children. What rules and boundaries they can set and even what the rules are for playing with those boundaries. And all this is specifically targeted to the the mothers who are prime targets for the $450 sunglasses on offer in the catalog.

When people obsess over looking right, having perfect hair, nails, clothes, interior decoration etc, that is the expression of the superego.

Look closely in the photo at how she leans in and smiles at the boy to such an extreme degree. Notice the asymmetry between the smile on her face and the one on his. She isn’t laughing with him. She’s trying to elicit a sympathetic smile from him. She’s trying to get him to laugh with her. This is fun. We are having fun now. She is teaching him that it’s fun and good when mommy dresses him up, tells him what to wear, tells him that painting toenails is silly, etc. She’s imprinting herself on/as his superego. The message she is sending the boy is not, “painting boys’ toenails is okay” the message she is sending the boy is “painting boys toenails is silly and funny because boys don’t paint their toenails only girls do so if boys do it they are being silly and trying to get people to laugh”. This rule will form part of the boys superego. Will he wear toenail polish casually as part of his style? No. Because toenail polish on boys is enforced in his mind as something silly. Will he dress in drag as a silly halloween costume? Yes.

Ablow has it precisely backwards when he writes “increasingly, this includes the truth that it is unwise to dress little girls like miniature adults.” Wrong. The ad is saying precisely that it is good and right for moms to obsess over their children’s dress and dictate what they wear. That has to be the message of the ad, because the ad is trying to sell extremely expensive children’s clothes to their mothers. Their mothers have to get the message that the obsessiveness that they apply to selecting their own dress is appropriate and right for their children. Otherwise, those mothers won’t be buying their kids’ clothes from the same place they buy their own.

See Also: J.Crew Ad Promotes Something That Some Call “Transgenderism” 

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54 Responses to J.Crew Ad Tells Obsessive Moms that Obsessiveness is Okay

  1. wisegirl says:

    It seems perfectly natural for a mother to relate to her child in a feminie way, she is after all female. It would be a little more forced if she were throwing the ball with him or sitting on the ground wrecking toy trucks with him, although she probably does those things as well. Just as it is natural for fathers to relate to their daughters in a masculine way, throwing them in the air or acting like a horse and riding them around on their backs as a mode of play.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I would not say it is natural for a mother to encourage her male child to adopt feminine behavior. Mothers do not typically ask their sons to wear dresses, play house, and imagine themselves as women. My mother never did this with my brother. I don’t think any mothers do.

      However, if you happen to have a feminine son, it is very open minded and healthy to show the boy that it is acceptable and not a bad thing that he happens to feel this way. WHich appears to be what this mother is doing. It seems as if her son is probably very feminine (“I am lucky to have a boy whos favorite color is pink”), and she accepts it and wants the world to know its okay.

      This advertisement does not seem to be done purely for attention (which is what some people are suggesting), but it seems to be one open minded mother’s attempt to make the world safer for her son when he gets old enough to realize what he is.

      The mother is using her power (via jcrew) to tell this message to the world: My child is a boy, but he is feminine. Now what? What are you going to do? Is he going to hell? Am I going to hell? My son exists. Deal with it. Boys like him exist. DEAL WITH IT. They aren’t going anywhere.

      It’s not much different than a mother with an autistic child doing an advertisement which raises awareness for the challenges autistic children face.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Bah I read this too fast. It seems these people are made up. For some reason I assumed they were real.

        Well, if they are totally made up people, then I would agree this was done purely for attention and drama. It worked.

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Another correction. Jenna is president of jcrew and beckett is her real son, so apparently my original idea is spot on. ONly the president of jcrew could orchestrate something as risky as a gay rights argument, potentially ruining the clean and drama-free family image of the brand. It has to be something that is very important to this jenna person, president of the company. Her son is gay and she knows it.

          • philtrum says:

            Interesting. Last week it was only Lady Gaga who could do something so “risky”.

            I don’t know where you live, but I really don’t think that this tactic you assume Lyons is pursuing (and you are making a LOT of questionable assumptions about her life, her child’s life, and her motivations) is as universally “risky” as you think it is.

            J. Crew is positioning itself as a preppy fashion brand. It’s aiming squarely at affluent urban liberals and people who aspire to be affluent urban liberals. Those people are not horrified by the mere mention of homosexuality. In fact they tend to define themselves, their “tribe” as it were, by their socially liberal sensibilities. And they are numerous and moneyed enough that J. Crew can afford to alienate the religious right while pursuing them.

          • cliche says:

            I would bet that her son’s favorite color is not pink and that it’s just clever marketing.
            Successful publicity is successful.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Are you one of those internet people who constantly bring up prior discussions to bolster your points? Because, like, by keeping tabs on everything the person posts, you therefore win?
            Like “muahahaha I am going to reference a prior statement to discredit this new statement, even though they don’t contradict each other at all! I have your number, even though I dont!”

            In the previous discussions (of lady gaga) I pointed out that lady gaga’s popularity was jeopardized for bringing attention to gay rights issues. Which is ABSOLUTELY THE TRUTH. You then responded by saying lady gaga is immensely popular, which in no way addresses my point (lady gaga may be popular, but she would be more popular if she didn’t stick up for fags all the time – that was my point). I said I gave gaga credit for this because she has no reason to fight for gay rights (well she did say she was bisexual but she lives a heterosexual lifestyle it seems so it’s not necessarily something she should care about).
            In this case the mother has an obvious reason to fight for the right for people to express themselves sexually/gendered way they see fit, because I am making the assumption her child is significantly feminine. Her demonstration would not be the same as gaga’s because it is natural maternal instinct to defend and fight for your children no matter what. Even the parents of serial killers stand behind them.

            Like I said, it is entirely possible this whole campaign is merely exploiting gays so a bunch of yuppie liberals can feel enlightened enough not to be repulsed and morally outraged by their existance (“aren’t i a trendy upper middle class mother, I totally don’t think the fags are going to hell, in fact they are great hair dressers, I’m so sophisticated and trendy”).
            I simply prefer to believe the advertisement is honest, that the boy really does like getting his nails painted and he really does like pink (and other feminine things). It would be kind of slimy to make the whole thing up. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, I just prefer to be glass half full on this thing.

          • philtrum says:

            My point was not merely that Gaga is popular, but that she is record-breakingly popular, and that her most overtly pro-gay song has actually outdone her other songs on the charts, which nullifies your whole argument, unless you have exclusive access to some alternate dimension where Lady Gaga managed to top the charts for a full year with a song called “It’s Not Adam And Steve”.

            Really, I’m just fascinated by your insistence that homosexuality is forbidden, stigmatized and punished even in industries that have had a huge out gay contingent for decades (show business, fashion). This is what makes me wonder where you live; if you live in a highly religious and conservative area, perhaps homophobia really is as powerful and all-encompassing there as you seem to think it is everywhere. Otherwise I have no idea where you’re coming from, and that sort of fascinates me.

            I have no idea why you see only two possibilities here:

            1) The little boy is obviously queer as a three-dollar bill, he’ll be doing drag shows by the time he hits puberty, his mother is already collecting His and His towels for the hope chest, and she’s making this ad campaign supposedly to sell her clothing brand but really to fight homophobia out of goodness and natural maternal instinct; or

            2) It’s purely a cynical photo op meant to sell clothes, and the kid doesn’t even like pink, because he’s straight, and all straight boys dislike pink and nail polish, even when they’re preschoolers.

            Couldn’t it be 3): the kid, like most kids, genuinely likes bright colours and painting, and hence enjoys playing with nail polish, and his mum thought this made a cute photo op for the Essie polish J. Crew sells on its site, and that her acceptance/promotion of it signalled her put-together sensible liberalism to potential customers?

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Regarding born this way, the popularity of it is fueled by hype and careful timing of her releases. I have personally observed many people regard lady gaga with disgust for her pro-gay views and songs. I do think that born this way (the song) might have been even more successful if it wasn’t so “gay”.

            Gaga had an established fan base before she really emphasized her pro-gay views. This established fan base and their excitement for her new music is the reason born this way did so well (and why each lady gaga release has been and will be more successful than the previous, until she peaks anyway).

            Everywhere in america is highly religious, and a lot of areas are also highly conservative. Are you american (I notice you keep saying “colours”)? If you aren’t american you have no idea what I am talking about. A lot of europeans don’t get this thing because they don’t have to deal with the christians and catholics and political leaders who say stuff like “marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman” meanwhile they get sucked off by interns on the side.

            Regarding your dichotomy of super gay son / supportive mother vs greedy photo op… yea, those really are the only two choices. Perhaps you used colorful and exaggerating language to express the idea, but those really are the only two options here. Either this is or is not real.
            Your third option is invalid because all developmentally appropriate children the age of this child know that pink and nail polish are girls things. No boy wants to behave like a girl. It would be one thing if he liked pink (but had no other girlish behaviors) or if he liked nailpolish only. But *SQUEEEING* with joy at having his nails painted, while his mother brags about his enduring fondness of pink, can ONLY MEAN that he’s a very feminine boy… significantly feminine… out of the range of normal boyish behavior.

            Maybe if the child is developmentally delayed in some way (perhaps autism? social awareness handicap?) then it’s possible. But we’re assuming the boy is cognitively normal and at developmentally appropriate milestones, he should be well familiar in what is or is not normal mommy behavior or normal daddy behavior and which one boys like him are interested in.

          • philtrum says:

            Nowhere does it say he loves having his nails painted or that he is SQUEEing with joy to have them painted. There’s a single shot of him smiling at his mother, and his toes happen to be painted at the time. You don’t know exactly why he smiled at that moment. Maybe she said something that made him laugh.

            She says he likes pink. That’s it.

            As for development, how old do you think this child is? When my brother was four he wore a pair of pink girls’ sunglasses everywhere for months. He would not leave the house without them. As an adult, he is neither gay nor feminine nor particularly fond of pink.

            Oh, and yes, I am Canadian not American, but America is not some little obscure corner of the world. Your media, literature and pop culture are everywhere, inescapable. And while America’s overall levels of religiosity are indeed impressive, there are plenty of secular liberals in America, particularly in the large coastal cities.

  2. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    I don’t think the issue is that masculinity is “good” whereas femininity is “bad”. The issue is that masculinity is more IMPORTANT. It’s okay if a human being born female becomes a queer, a butch, or what have you, because femininity just isn’t that important. A failed woman is a problem, sure, but it is not NEARLY as big of a problem as a failed man. A failed man has doomed his family genetics to mortality. It’s very important that you have a boy, and that he be a manly masculine boy who excels at impregnating things, or else your genes are done with.

    This is all related to the way we reproduce (men = lots and lots of offspring; women = maybe a couple maximum). Because men can have so many more offspring than can women, families value male children more than female children, in every society, all over the world, at all periods of history. It isn’t misogyny, it’s evolutionary psychology and it only stands to reason that male children would be valued more than the female ones.

    These biological imperatives lead to ideas such as “it is not that big of a loss if a woman is a little butch queer dyke, but it is a tragedy and absolutely unacceptable if your male child paints his toenails pink and refuses to have sex with women when he grows up”. A little tomboy girl dressed with a pony tail, dirty jeans, into sports and baseball is funny and cute. A boy who shows any signs of being a sexual failure into adulthood is tragic and outrageous that the mother would promote it. A parent who encourages her male child not to procreate is as unnatural as incest.

    Of course a reasonable person would not and should not agree with these ideas, but all the same it is the real reason we have such a problem with things like that. Masculinity (in men) is IMPORTANT. It is like, a client account worth billions of dollars. It is like a winning lotto ticket. It’s all that matters. It is absurd and suicidal and incomprehensible for a parent to want an emasculated boy. It’s like, they might as well have showed an advertisement where the mom was poisoning her son’s food to cause deafness. “I always wanted a deaf son so I could be progressive and special, now I have my wish”.

    But that’s just the reason the mob is upset.

    The mob thinks its upset because jesus said being gay was wrong, or they think they are upset because it’s just “weird”. The real reason jesus said it was wrong (read: humans wrote myths which said it was wrong), and the reason it feels “weird”, is because male masculinity IS IMPORTANT BUSINESS.

    Personally I think this advertisement is fantastic. The fact of the matter is, if you have a boy who is born feminine (gay, transgendered/sexual, whatever)… if you have a feminine boy, there is nothing you can do to make him a masculine boy. It is far healthier and more loving to paint his toenails pink, than it is to smash all his dolls and force him to dress in army fatigues. You can’t make a feminine person masculine. Femininity is universal, just as masculinity is. It may express itself in a thousand and one culturally unique ways, but the raw essence of femininity is distinct, unmistakable, and immutable, just as masculinity is. You cannot make a feminine minded person masculine, just as you can’t make a little boy who is typical and masculine play nice, be quiet, and enjoy dressing up with his sisters all the time.

    A lot of little boys who happen to be feminine grow up hating themselves with a ton of problems, when all they needed was a mother and father who said it is okay to be born that way. Fuck the world.

    • fraula says:

      It isn’t misogyny, it’s evolutionary psychology and it only stands to reason that male children would be valued more than the female ones.

      “Evolutionary psychology” does not stand apart from the human beings who call themselves evolutionary psychologists and who have grown up in a sexist world.

      Because men can have so many more offspring than can women, families value male children more than female children, in every society, all over the world, at all periods of history.

      The last statement is patently false, and the logic leading up to “it only stands to reason that male children would be more valued” can be turned on its head to show why: “Because only women can bear children, it only stands to reason that female children would be more valued.”

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        In most species, including humans, males are capable of having many more offspring than are females. This is the foundation behind males being more valued as children. One female child might net you a handful of children, but a successful male child can have hundreds of children.

        Only women give birth, but that is totally irrelevant to the issue, because in an evolutionarily logical environment all fertile females have sex and get pregnant. Since all women will spend their reproductive years having children, all that matters is who impregnated them.

        Reproductively competent women, at a maximum, release one egg every 21-38ish days. If there is successful fertilization during the fertile window (which is approximately 3 or 4 days circa ovulation – the 2 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation) , and there is also successful implantation of the embryo, then the woman is pregnant for 9 months of gestation while the embryo matures into a primordial human. During this time she is infertile.

        After she gives birth, because the human is extremely underdeveloped and completely defenseless, the mother then nurses and raises the infant, an investment that takes up nearly 100% of her time. During this period she develops lactational amenorrhea to avoid getting pregnant again.

        After the child is weaned (about 2 years after birth) the woman can then become pregnant again.

        So we see that a human female can have 1 child approximately every 2-3 years. In a traditional environment females reach sexual maturity around 14 or 15 (no precocious puberty back before hyperinsulinemia and obesity) and they start to lose fertility around 35. 20 years of fertility, we’re looking at 10 children maximum. That’s assuming none die (a big assumption), and its assuming no prolonged famines or major environmental stressors which will cause protective starvation amenorrhea (another big assumption).

        In the time it takes a female to have 1 child, a male might have had 30 children or more in that time frame assuming he is a successful male.

        Also, you are confounding the issue with modernity – birth control pills, abortion, policeman who arrest men who rape women. In the world we evolved in, none of those things existed. If you were a female aged 15-35 you were actively pregnant, amenorrhetic from food deprivation/starvation, or amenorrhetic from lactation. You had little control over your reproduction, other than perhaps some say in which man you chose (not entirely, but some say).

        When you understand that in an evolutionarily relevant environment reproduction wasn’t this decision between a yuppie upper middle class 30 something married couple the way it is now, then you will understand why all human societies jump for joy when they have a boy.

        • ATraveller says:

          The following article contains the best explanation of this principle that I have heard to date:

          For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.
          For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).

    • blithelyunaware says:

      Nail painting is not an inherently feminine trait. It is a feminine trait in our culture, but there is no biological imperative that says nail painting or fastidious care of one’s appearance are uniquely feminine traits that signal homosexuality in males. Plenty of dandies have sired plenty of children so there goes that argument.

      It is true that male children can be and have been more advantageous than female children from an evolutionary point of view, however (as per The Atlantic) girls are now in more demand than boys. It’s so easy to prevent conception and to determine paternity that the advantage ancestral males had to spread more genes is gone.

      As for the ad, what about the view that it’s virilizing rather than emasculating the child. When I think of men who wear nail polish I don’t think of gay men. I think of guys like David Beckham or Johnny Depp who could pull any woman they wanted.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        I really don’t understand why people struggle with this so much. Masculine and feminine are defined by the symbolism behind the act, as well as the role models who behave that way.

        In general, young males who identify with the females in their culture are expressing the result of a feminized brain. Nail painting is feminine because it is something feminine people – women and girls – do. When a girl paints her nails, the symbolism in our culture is she is adorning her body to be more beautiful. This is very feminine. It is demonstrating feminine traits such as passivity (one who beautifies their body is passively waiting to be noticed), an interest in being thought of as beautiful by others (an interest in beauty is the opposite from an interest in conflict and violence, which are stereotypically masculine – beauty is agreeable, intended to make others feel better/positive, feminine behaviors).
        It is also assumed that wanting to be beautiful and feminine may originate from an interest in being noticed by masculine people, which suggests an interest in being with men.

        If cultural masculine role models celebrated a victory on the battle field by ritually painting their nails with blood red colors, then it would be something masculine brained children would want to do. Little girls would not paint their nails red, and little boys would want to do this.

        When people say “there’s nothing feminine about pink!” or “there’s nothing feminine about nail polish”, you are missing the point: masculinity and femininity are innate, but the symbolic acts expressing it are culturally defined. In our culture, nail polish is very feminine for the above reasons (it is worn as an act of beauty, thus passivity and femininity; it is intended to make masculine people notice you directly or indirectly; it is intended to make people feel positive upon seeing the bright colors, to reduce conflict, to be pleasant and agreeable and sociable). Little boys Beckett’s age already know which things are masculine and which things are feminine and have an innate sense of their own gender. It is pure myth and fantasy that children this age are asexual and have no idea what pink nail polish on their toes mean. Maybe an infant might be that far behind, but not a preschool or school aged child. They are well aware of which things are boys things and which are girls things and what makes a boy different from a girl in terms of behavior. They know mommy (or women) look and dress certain ways and daddy (or men) look and dress other ways.

        When you cite very extraordinary nailpolish wearing males like david beckham as evidence that ‘nailpolish isnt feminine” I would argue that such males wear nail polish PRECISELY because it is rebellious, and in doing so they augment their rockstar-like masculinity. However, in order to pull this off you must be in a position where you are clearly a sexy winner alpha male (i.e. a rockstar, a footballer, a local badass). It doesn’t work when a passive failure dork attempts to do it; he just looks like a failed male, thus weak males will never be seen wearing feminine clothes (unless they are genuinely feminine). However many successful desirable men will sometimes wear something slightly feminine – black eyeliner, nail polish – and they do this because they are saying “I am such a badass, so masculine, so original, such a winner, that I can completely flaunt societies rules and get away with it. Thats how sexy and powerful I am, and all the girls want me”.

        This has no relevance at all to this situation: a little boy wearing bright pink nailpolish on his toes. Everyone is thinking “he’s feminine”, and everyone is correct. He might not necessarily be gay, he might not even be transgendered, but he is clearly a less masculine boy than other boys, assuming at this age he really DOES love pink and really DOES love nail polish.

        • philtrum says:

          It is demonstrating feminine traits such as passivity (one who beautifies their body is passively waiting to be noticed), an interest in being thought of as beautiful by others (an interest in beauty is the opposite from an interest in conflict and violence, which are stereotypically masculine – beauty is agreeable, intended to make others feel better/positive, feminine behaviors).

          Except that that, there, is a very modern way to think about beautifying the body. In fact up until about two hundred years ago, elite men spent just as much time in self-beautification as elite women, and their clothes and wigs were just as ornate. Self-beautification indicates status: the money to buy beautiful things and the leisure time to use them.

          The notion that real men don’t adorn themselves isn’t innate to our species at all. It’s a modern invention.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Again, it doesn’t matter what people did 200 years ago. All that matters is what people do in society today. This is what programs the expression of ones masculinity or femininity (note, this is not the same thing as being biologically male or female – some females are masculine, some males are feminine, and will adopt the behaviors of the opposite sex in their culture.)

            200 years ago, before mass marketed chinese goods, self beautification indicated status and wealth. Today it does not indicate this, and self beautification only indicates femininity, wanting to feel feminine, and/or an interest in being noticed by masculine people.

            When a little boy has a brain which isn’t wired exactly the way a male brain is usually wired, but is instead wired significantly like a female brain, that little boy is not going to be interested in sports and rough and tumble play and conflict and other masculine traits. He’s not going to model himself after his father or masculine-behaving people in his society. He doesn’t feel masculine. He feels feminine. SO instead he will look to his mother, or to celebrated feminine/female role models. He will be interested in the things they are interested in, as they are vehicles for expressing his innate feminity.

            Those are the 5 year old boys who like nailpolish, and the color pink… because in our society, they are powerful signals of feminity.

            Yes, there are some 5 year old boys who like pink and nailpolish just for whatever reason and it has no relevance to their gender identity. Perhaps they are abnormally developmentally delayed and do not yet realize the gendered symbolism of the act (this is rare – most children understand nailpolish is for girls and so is pink). Most of the time when you see little boys playing with mommy’s things, it is because they are feminine boys who have an interest in being feminine.

          • philtrum says:

            Five-year-old boys who like nail polish are either gay, trans, or retarded? You seriously believe this?

          • philtrum says:

            And yes, I am aware that “retarded” is not the preferred terminology, but I wanted to tease out the full ugliness of your argument.

    • cliche says:

      Femininity and masculinity are not that black and white.
      If you think they are, then you’re buying into the media myths as much as every other idiot.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Femininity and masculinity are expressed via culturally significant symbolism – in our culture, girls express their femininity by painting their nails. In other cultures, they might wear a ton of rings on their neck or put plates in their lips, or file down their teeth, or be very overweight. There is nothing inherently feminine about polish on the nails or rings around your neck, but in the culture where such things are significant, then it is a feminine behavior. If a little boy in that culture wanted to look that way, it is a reasonable assumption (and probably a correct assumption) that little boy has a feminized brain, which leads him to identify with females in his society.

        Gay men keep MAC makeup in business not because our genes say that makeup makes you a girl… but rather because in our culture makeup symbolizes beauty and femininity, which makes it interesting to males who have feminized brains. In other societies, painting your face might be a masculine thing, a symbol of war victory or status.

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          Do you know any real gay people?

          While segments of the homosexual population engage in drag/crossdressing type things, it is by no means a prerequisite for being gay. While femininity and homosexuality often cross paths (no doubt due, in part, to the fact that people who have had to come to terms with non-majority concepts of gender and sexuality are more comfortable playing around outside the box), they are not inextricably linked.

          What I really take issue with is the idea in your post and in many others, that gay men are keeping makeup companies in business. This not only isn’t true, it’s a bizarre expression of discomfort with/ignorance of the gay community.

          There are men who wear makeup. There are many of them. Some of them are drag queens or enjoy crossdressing as part of performances or just for fun. Some of them may occasionally wear makeup for theme parties or on Halloween. Some of them are guys that like to wear foundation and/or eyeliner and/or mascara on a semi-/everyday basis. However, the majority of gay men DO NOT wear makeup, PARTICULARLY NOT on a daily basis. The majority of gay men look just like regular men. Even if they did, the percentage of people in the U.S. that are gay is easily under 5% of the population (that stat is culled from random googling, either way, it’s not that many). That simply isn’t enough people to keep the beauty industry afloat. The people spending all that money are women.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Yikes slow down! You completely misunderstood my point.

            I was not saying gay men all dress in drag. I have NO IDEA how you even got that was what I was trying to say. Clearly not all gay men are feminine – sometimes people are gay but their gender identity is entirely consistent with their birth sex.

            I do completely disagree with your line of reasoning that feminine behavior is more common in gay men because they “play outside the box”. The reason femininity is more common in gay men is probably because the prenatal hormonal conditions which result in male homosexuality also result in atypical gender expression/identification. Gay men identify as men, but typically they have significant feminine traits (thus the reason jack from will and grace is so funny, or more recently the “sassy gay best friend”. They are easily relatable – we all know gay men like this, and it seems more common that gay men are significantly feminine in speech behavior and dress – NOT that they are women, but they are clearly feminine men).

            Consider this. In studies of females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (a genetic endocrine disorder which causes very high levels of androgens prentally), both masculine gendered behavior as well as homosexual and bisexual orientation is much more common in these females. In females, it has been demonstrated that prenatal androgen exposure seems to be a causative factor in both masculine gendered behavior as well as homosexuality. It only stands to reason that homosexuality in men is similar (that it is a state of brain feminization, much like female homosexuality seems to be). The “brain” is not actually one organ, but multiple organs working in a system. Some areas can be masculinized, others might fail to masculinize and develop in a feminine fashion. Thus the saying “GLTB” – there are a lot of gender/sexual configurations. Mostly it is dependent on the nature and timing of hormonal events.

            I didn’t not mean what I said in any disparaging way of gay men or makeup enthusiasm. I am very interested in makeup and fashion (mock if you will!) and I am also a bisexual female so you are way off base. I am well aware the majority of gay men are masculine, and I find it hard to imagine that you thought I was saying gay men are women and dress like women all day. That’s preposterous.

  3. Comus says:

    On a side note, am I the only one who’s a bit freaked out about the mothers expression? Not so much “aww, we are gonna make a bit transgender-marketing device out of you-uu. yes we are, yes we a-re!” but more like “if you mess with my nail polish once more I’m a break your little feet”..?

  4. fraula says:

    There’s a recent article on Smithsonian.com that dovetails quite nicely with the issues raised here:

    Little Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits primly on a stool, his white skirt spread smoothly over his lap, his hands clasping a hat trimmed with a marabou feather. Shoulder-length hair and patent leather party shoes complete the ensemble.

    We find the look unsettling today, yet social convention of 1884, when FDR was photographed at age 2 1/2, dictated that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, also the time of their first haircut. Franklin’s outfit was considered gender-neutral.

    But nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. Thus we see, for example, a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.

    Why have young children’s clothing styles changed so dramatically? How did we end up with two “teams”—boys in blue and girls in pink?

    “It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says.

    Money quote, emphasis mine: “Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. ‘It could have gone the other way,’ Paoletti says.”

  5. bean says:

    No no. The point of this ad was to communicate to gay men and boys that they are accepted by the company. Shop j crew we accept you as you are.
    Having a son who likes pink is irrelevant. Many preschool kids like bright colors and pink is one of them. This is all about the mom trying to show us something about herself. Namely, look how pc she is!

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      The above comment is the sanest thing written yet.

      The 5 year old is gay because he and his mother decided to paint his toenails? Because his favorite color is pink? That is ridiculous. When Jenna says ““I am lucky to have a boy whos favorite color is pink,” she is doing a move done by yuppie-J.Crew-Div. III athletics only- types the world over.

      She is saying: “I am a “sensible liberal”. I am gay friendly, and I’m not so close minded as to flip out because my kid likes pink. Beckett has met Uncle Cory, my friend from college who used to treat me like his muse, score me coke for special occasions, and bitch with me about my boyfriends, and Beckett has met his various boyfriends (let’s not get into that revolving door). Liking pink doesn’t mean he’s gay (in fact, if he is, I’ll have less deicsions to make on my charity calender and more credit as not just another WASP), he’s just my little metrosexual.”

      She doesn’t care about the people who think she’s a monster and her kid is surely gay/transgender, not just because those people don’t shop at J.Crew or even exist in her life, but because she’s hoping that a Limbaugh-type attacks her so she can say: “I’m a liberal, and I believe in traditional family values. Steve and I both work very hard to make sure that we spend as much time with Beckett as possible. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with some nail polish. Your values may not be mine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t agree on quality time, right (read: I am accepting, you are closeminded and shitty)? By the way, how are the ex-wives?”

      This is the same as saying “I’m lucky enough to have a husband who cares about the environment and recognizes the need for change,” in a Prius ad. At the end of it, it doesn’t matter what Beckett’s favorite color is (seriously, with a marketing pitch this blatantly directed at the “gay-friendly” straight elite, we’re gonna take her word on the kid’s favorite color?), or how true the portrayal of their relationship is, it’s all carefully constructed to ensnare the real target: wealthy, liberal, straight people.

      How do I know it’s straight people? Because it’s a mother and a son, not the head of J.Crew and her gay friend that she’s known for 25 years who is now director of the charity for gay teens funded by J.Crew. Because a majority of gay people don’t wear nail polish, and if they do, it’s not from J.Crew. The high-end nail polish market is not saturated with gay males, it’s too small a population, never mind the child-having-nail-painting-gay set. In fact, the gay people who can afford to shop/are interested in shopping at J.Crew are probably not the nail polish set. Beyond that, there are enough brands catering to the gay demographic, that I really don’t think gay folks are gonna be super impressed with pink nail polish on a boy, thinking “Ooh, they totally get me,”. My guess is that if you’ve dealt with coming out in the U.S., that may read as a little tame.

      This is directed at mom, and maybe I-took-a-women’s-studies-class-once dad.

      • philtrum says:

        Yes. That is exactly it.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        This is a convincing analysis, however I prefer to be less cynical and assume she isn’t an asshole.

        • philtrum says:

          Why would this make her an asshole?

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Because exploiting an important issue like the plight of homosexuals just to sell eyeglasses is pretty low.

            It’s one thing to sell eyeglasses while raising attention to an important issue to you (the fact society would like to destroy little boys who feel like little girls, the fact that you happen to have a little boy who often acts like a little girl and you want to make the world better for him).

            It’s another thing to fabricate it entirely just for profit, when you don’t care at all about the issue and simply exploit those who deal with it every day. (So you create an advertisement where you pretend your biological son is feminine, just to cause controversy so that your overpriced sunglasses shift units).

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            How would it look if she showed her son lining up his toys in size order, while the caption read “I am lucky to have a son on the autistic spectrum; it makes him a special little guy who looks at the world in a unique way?”

            Meanwhile, she staged the whole event, her son is not autistic, someone else arranged the toys, the advertisement was purely a figment of marketing genius. “Lets pretend jenna’s son is autistic, just so the new advertising campaign has a tinge of controversy”.

            That would be extremely insulting to families with autistic children who live this difficulty every day,, while this jerk is exploiting it for cold hard cash.

            Because, when this advertisement states “I am lucky to have a boy whos favorite color is pink”, who enjoys getting his toe nails painted of all things, the implication is clear that the boy is gender atypical and possibly / probably going to be gay… and she is open minded enough to embrace him no matter what. This is what was clearly intended to the audience . If she made the whole thing up, that makes her an asshole of the highest order.

          • philtrum says:

            She didn’t claim her child is gay or feminine, she claimed he likes pink. Not everyone believes as you do that little boys who like pink are invariably gay or feminine.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            A man who has a soft orange scarf tossed delicately over his shoulder isn’t “inherently feminine” either, but all of us see this gesture and immediately code it as “feminine” which when possessed by a man we then code as “gay”.

            So, what are you getting by pretending that a a mother who describes her little boy as 1) loves having his toenails painted and 2) loves pink isn’t clearly sending off a feminine vibe? Whether it is contrived or not, the advertisement is intentionally asking the observer to assume he is feminine.

          • philtrum says:

            I’m getting that he’s a small child who likes bright colours and dress-up, as small children tend to do. (Although the ad doesn’t even say he likes nail polish; this could be a one-off.)

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            AnonymousAtLarge, do you have any answer to TLP’s assertion: “The message she is sending the boy is not, ‘painting boys’ toenails is okay’ the message she is sending the boy is ‘painting boys toenails is silly and funny because boys don’t paint their toenails only girls do so if boys do it they are being silly and trying to get people to laugh’.”

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            I don’t necessarily agree that message is being conveyed. They are laughing and smiling, but it is a leap of logic to assume they are laughing because they are being silly by breaking gendered rules. It seems that TLP interjected that line of thought into the picture but there is no evidence of it, other than the jovial expressions on their faces.

            The happiness might simply be from his mother spending time with him, in a way that the boy likes very much.

            If you are a feminine child, having your nails painted by a feminine role model is a delight that is hard to explain unless you have experienced it. I remember when my mother painted my nails when I was about this child’s age, it is one of the best memories I have with her. I have always liked feeling pretty and adorning myself with pretty things (in this way, I am quite feminine… not so much in discussions then I am all confrontation ;) ).
            My mother never had a lot of pretty like makeup or nailpolish or clothes… I still remember how good it felt and how exciting it was for my mom to teach me how to paint my nails. Even now when I paint my nails sometimes I still think back to then and how she told me to do it (to apply it “like waves” – even though professional manicurists do not use that method and it isn’t very effective, lol.)

            That sounds corny and contrived doesn’t it? Sometimes our best memories are just as maudlin as a media advertisement.

            I find it easy to imagine that the boy was just thrilled with his hot pink toenails, because they are hot pink, and his mom is showing him how to do it.

            It’s not much different than a dad showing his son how to shave or throwing a football with him or cheering for him at little league victories. We can easily accept that as a real right of passage because it is a masculine role model teaching his child masculine cultural behaviors… we can understand how important the boy feels about it and how excited he would be to partake in such rituals.

            TLP is making a logical leap that their smiles say “this is ridiculous we are being silly”, when the smiles might say “this is so cool and I feel so pretty right now”.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

            I see where you’re coming from, but I still think TLP’s got it. Granted, that’s because my analysis of Jenna fits with that idea, but I think it goes a bit further then that. Firstly, that quote above is ad copy. If you’re at all familiar with magazines targeting 15-22 year old women, you should recognize the tone in the writing. In fact, the whole “Jenna’s picks” spread is designed to imitate a common feature in women’s magazines.

            Take the copy quoted above, and change it to this:
            “Lucky for me I ended up with a guy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

            Slap it on a picture of a girl painting her toenails while canoodling with a “boyfriend, maybe with a pink shirt, and you have 1/3 of a spread in every woman’s magazine on earth. For tweens’ magazines you wouldn’t even have to change the copy. It could also function as the 5th page (the one where they show you what nail polish and bronzer and shirt she was wearing) of a 5-page spread featuring a C-level actress, just make sure she’s got one picture with a boyfriend in there (boyfriend doesn’t even need pink anything for that one, it could be his favorite color on her).

            The other reason that I think mom and son are dicking around is that the kid’s clothes are suuuper masculine. He’s got long hair like every oddly-named boy born in Manhattan, but if he has some funky gender stuff going on, why not dress him in something that doesn’t scream I AM A LITTLE BOY. Also, if J.Crew was looking to make a statement or stand up for gay rights for any reason other than to sell things, they would have actually implied that the kid has gender issues as oppoed to saying “He likes pink LOOK AT THIS NAIL POLISH.” The way the ad is phrased now, J.Crew can react to any criticism by saying gender wha? guys, guys, they’re goofing around, it’s just a little paint, it’s not like he’s wearing a dress or anything. That doesn’t sound like a stand to me.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            I agree with you, and I do suspect you are both right.

            I just prefer to be optimistic and hope this really means something. Since it can’t be proven either way, I would prefer to think positively rather than believe the more obvious and negative conclusion (that it is a marketing put on and clearly fabricated).

          • johnnycoconut says:

            Note: Pastabagel wrote this, not TLP.

    • Fifi says:

      Heh, why is not being a bigot being “pc/politically correct”? Sure, when someone who is a bigot lies about being tolerant they’re hiding their true feelings and thoughts behind what they assume is a more socially acceptable position to take vis a vis accepting or rejecting others (meaning they’re trying to be socially accepted or approved of, or at least not rejected or punished for trying to use a position of power to denigrate or prevent others from having equal work opportunities or generally being a bully at work). Not everyone is a secret bigot, despite what secret bigots seem to believe, some people are perfectly fine with others being individuals and equals.

      “PC” or “politically correct” was a term invented by people who got their nose all out of joint because their privilege got removed and they were forced to stop harassing others and abusing a position of power. Which, of course, is not to say that some people haven’t turned it around and themselves abused the laws that were put in place to prevent people in positions of power from abusing that power for personal gain or revenge. Entitled white men don’t actually own stupidity or abuse of power, even if they had somewhat of a monopoly on it for quite a while (in large parts of the world at least).

      Thanks for the fantastic link Fraula – it points out just how modern the anxiety about gender is (and how manufactured it may well be, or that it started after WWII at least).

      Sunshinefiasco, your analysis seems spot on to me and makes total sense in terms of JCrew and their target market.

      • CubaLibre says:

        Whoa now – the anxiety over gender is in no way modern; that anxiety being mapped to a little culture war over blue vs. pink is.

  6. wisegirl says:

    I think the ad is adorable and I guess, not coincidentally, I also shop at J. Crew.

  7. Comus says:

    As someone previously mentioned, it’d be highly unlikely that Beckett’s (a pun, surely!) mom would use that sort of nail polish herself. So the question arises, if this is a normal everyday layed-back setting, why do they have that pink polish? Who is it for? If it’s not for the mom (and I reckon not for the absent dad either) it must be for Beckett. Which would imply premeditation for this little casual where_so_wild_and_adventurous moment. It would imply that the mom set it up.

    Of course, it’s just an ad, and probably li’l Beckett would not succumb to such tomfoolery if it weren’t for the millions for her to make of all this.

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I, coming from northern Europe, don’t immediately see the link between pink nailpolish and gay. It could, yes, but surely this isn’t that watermark of a moment? Deducing gayness from the pink polish is like claiming he’s french because of the striped shirt. Especially as it is no way clear that the child had anything to do with this, the mother appears more active. Which again deduces poor Beckett to a back drop of a projection of the hip, yet well-off mother. It does not matter whether the kid likes it or not, you can be just like her!

    • philtrum says:

      Assuming the whole thing isn’t made up, it’s possible the kid asked for the polish at an earlier date. It’s also possible that the mother owns it and uses it for pedicures (women tend to choose wilder nail polish colours for their feet than for their hands, since feet can be covered up at work).

      • Comus says:

        Yeah, the latter would imply spontaneity, the former not. And I think that’s the point here. They are selling the image of a spontaneous fun-loving mother. “With our products you too can have that special air of carpe diem, without actually having to own any of those characteristics!”. Sort of like you “accidentally” leaving Being and Time casually opened on the table when your friend pops by.

  8. J says:

    How are you all commenters completely missing the point of the article? Unbelievable.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      What makes you think we missed it simply because we are not discussing it? There is a lot to be discussed; it is a cultural event. One man’s idea about what this advertisement says (that it is about mothers controlling their children, thus patronizing the fashion industry) is one interpretation. We’ve had this discussion before, by the way (that fashion is nothing but an illusion with nothing relevant behind it – see the analysis of the MUFE makeup advertisement). This is the same argument posited a little differently.

      My argument in the previous discussion was that fashion and being fashionable is rewarding and fun for some people and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with illusions or control or a bad thing. Sports may symbolize war and conflict, but there’s nothing harmful about enjoying watching the superbowl – it makes a lot of men happy, because it helps them express their desire to behave in a masculine way. My father always told me, when I was growing up, that he enjoyed watching football because it felt like war. My father has always been a big history buff, particularly war history and such things.
      My father may be a bit silly and that statement sounds like something a comical, endearingly confused old man might say… but ultimately he is right. Men like sports because they like physical competition, because their brains are organized in a way so as to orient them toward physical conflict and competition because these are useful behaviors for a male.

      Women enjoy fashion and adorning themselves because of the symbolic femininity and feminine thought processes associated with it in our culture. To continuously disregard such feminine behaviors and interests as an illusion, irrelevant, silly, an attempt to control or manipulate and nothing more is at the very least narrowminded.

      • blithelyunaware says:

        What are the feminine thought processes associated with fashion and how do they differ from masculine thought processes? Isn’t adornment just a form of competition (I look better than you ergo I have better genes) just as sports are (I am bigger, faster or stronger than you thus have better genes)? I don’t see how sexual orientation can be divined by preference for either activity, especially since we live in a culture where gender lines are becoming increasingly blurry (evidenced by the very ad we’re discussing).

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Actually, beautification and adornment of ones self and environment is extremely feminine and rooted in evolutionarily logical female thought processes.

          First it suggests the person is agreeable and seeks to reduce conflict. It suggests the person is concerned and motivated by the thought processes of others, and wishes to modify other people’s thoughts so that they feel more positively. It is smart female behavior to reduce conflict and promote positivity and stability because females thrive during stability and never benefit from conflicts. Women have a limited ability to reproduce and always require a very high investment in their offspring, this requires environmental and social stability.

          Women adorn their environments and are fond of interior decorating and designs because a stable nurturing place to raise children is so important to successful female reproduction.

          Women are fond of shopping because it is vaguely like gathering; women enjoy browsing items and having purchasing options with groups of friends especially because human females evolved to be part of highly social groups of other women which functioned as a unit to raising children.

          Males on the other hand are exactly the opposite and it’s all or nothing – they are oriented toward conflict and violence because they have such a greater opportunity to reproduce, with a very low investment proposition. Men do not enjoy social gatherings with friends where they go shopping; men do not spend their days dallying about with peers buying/collecting/finding things to make their home/themselves more beautiful and nurturing. These are clearly feminine behaviors with clear evolutionarily adaptive underpinnings.
          Men prefer to spend their time where small bands of friends directly mock out tribal conflicts (via sports) or vicariously (via video games and movies).

          You will never find a group of heterosexual males who enjoy gossip and socialization while shopping and buying various knick nacks. Male brained people do not behave this way.

  9. vprime says:

    I’m not seeing how this expresses the mother’s “obsessiveness.” Not being snarky, I really don’t see how buying the boy’s clothes from J Crew is obsessive. Isn’t J Crew rather expensive casual clothing after all? The boy isn’t being costumed as Little Lord Fauntleroy. There’s little difference anymore between clothing for children and adults. I often see men dressed nearly identically to their toddlers.