I thought that the release of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” ushered in a new era of tolerance and acceptance in our country, but apparently I was wrong. Last week, J. Crew sent out an email with this ad portraying the company’s Creative Director and President Jenna Lyons and her son, Beckett. In the ad, Lyons is painting Beckett’s toenails with neon pink nail polish. I’ve rocked this exact same color on my toes many times, so in my opinion Beckett has great taste. Plus, it looks like painting her son’s nails is one way that Lyons spends time with him, and don’t we all trust men who have a good relationship with their mothers better than those who don’t? I know it’s not just me who does that.
My response to the ad was not universal, though. Fox News psychiatrist Dr. Keith Abow remarked, “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity.” Why yes, Dr. Abow, we should abandon all trappings of gender identity. But this is not a “dramatic example,” it’s one of several weekly marketing emails sent by a fashion brand. Another critic, Erin Brown, says that the ad represents “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” Excuse me? Are transgendered children not worthy of celebration equal to that of any other other human child?
Speaking as someone who majored in psychology with a focus on gender studies, I feel very disheartened when I hear that people—psychiatrists even!—still hold beliefs of this nature. The strict gender dichotomy in our culture is taught, not innate. I once did a study of birth announcements for male and female infants. Announcements for boys were likely to have images of sports equipment, trains, trucks and other traditionally “boy” things. Girls’ announcements had pictures of fairies, ballerinas and bows and used words like “princess” to describe the new baby.
Why are those images and words relevant? Infants are born as blank slates when it comes to gender. True, an infant is born male or female, but that is the baby’s biological sex, not his or her gender. The concept of gender is what we as a society start to impose on a baby the second he or she is born. Makeup and nail polish are only considered things that only females should use because that’s how our culture is taught to perceive them. A one-week old male child can’t play baseball, but on his birth announcement his parents might be heralding the arrival of their “little slugger.”
When Jenna Lyons paints her son’s nails, in a gender-neutral society, this action would be viewed as fun, parent-child bonding and painting. In our strictly dichotomous society, painting a male child’s nails is viewed as forcing female behaviors on him. I hate to break it to Dr. Ablow, but if Beckett is transgendered or grows up to be gay, he was born that way. What’s most important is that his mother loves him no matter what.
What do you think about the kerfuffle over Beckett’s pink nails? Is Fox News completely out of line?