And this is what I think about that.
April 14th, 2011 | Posted by Jordan | Baby | 15 Comments »
I wholly agree with you about unconditional love, but isn’t painting a young boy’s toenails (a traditionally only-female activity, like wearing high heels or eyeshadow) kind of encouraging him to take part in feminine activities?
Unless he’s begging for his toes to be painted pink, I’d say this is an odd activity for a mother to choose for her son–like she’s trying to force femininity on him as a statement. Fox News sure did over react, but it does weird me out a little. Maybe J.Crew is looking for controversy, it seems a little contrived.
Well, the issue is certainly complicated by the presence of advertising, because when it comes down to it, the truth is that J.Crew is a mega-corporation and their values and goals are by necessity a big part of the picture here.
But that aside (and that’s a big aside), my impression was that the child enjoyed the activity and sought it out. And even if he didn’t – even if the mother suggested it – to me, encouraging a child to challenge stereotypes and explore self-expression from a young age is an important lesson. And I do understand – Kendrick and I had this conversation just last night – that permitting/encouraging “atypical” gender activities raises issues of teasing, etc…but again, I think that’s an important conversation to have with a child. Teasing happens to everyone to varying degrees, and while there are many situations in which you should take others’ thoughts into account, when what you’re talking about is having fun with a color that you like or participating in an activity that feels right to you and makes you happy (and causes no harm)…really, who cares what they think?
Oh (and I know I’m replying to myself here), and to touch a little more on the J.Crew-as-mega-corporation thing…they know exactly what they’re doing when they publish a photo of a little boy in pink nail polish. And while the goal may have been (probably was) to stir up controversy and get more press…that’s still the kind of thing that I’m thrilled to see in mass-market images, advertising or no: a willingness to challenge stereotypes and embrace difference.
I’m not trying to piss anybody off, and I don’t think painting toenails is inherent at all. I reiterate…at all. Neither is liking the color pink. That is 100% taught, and it’s a very strictly enforced social norm.
I said “traditional,” which is not the same as “inherant.”
No, thank you for sparking conversation! I appreciate and welcome the different perspective (and agree that painting your toenails pink definitely isn’t a “traditionally” male activity, although said “atypical” gender explorations may be more accepted/encouraged in certain families/communities/social groups than in others).
One thing, though – I do think that “liking the color pink” can be inherent, for sure, and not a learned behavior – certainly not 100% taught, and certainly not a strictly enforced social norm in my experience, either. That’s personal taste, and elements of both nature and nurture come into play here.
This also raises the issue of whether engaging in “traditionally” (or “inherently”) masculine/feminine activities is an expression of gender identity. To say that an attraction to non-gender-typical activities such as toenail-painting is 100% learned (which I’m not sure you’re saying; I’m just exploring the issue here) treads into dangerous waters, for me, when it comes to arguing that sexual preferences are learned behaviors (and can thus be “unlearned”).
and this is why you’re going to be an awesome mom
As a preschool teacher I encourage a child’s creativity and exploring their minds. I have seen a few boys play will dolls or do dishes in the house. Most of the time they’ll play with trucks or dinosaurs but they aren’t going to turn down playing with their friends who are girls. I have also babysat for boys who like playing with dolls and grow up to be “normal heterosexual males.” When girls and boys grow up they then see society and choose to either be themselves and stray from the social norm or will want to mimic those their own age and gender. I do believe JCrew was sparking some controversy but hey, I say more power to them.
Unfortunately I think its sad that this is news when there are so many more critical and important wordly matters that need our attention.
I wish there was a way to prove it one way or another…to be able to take several babies of both sexes and raise them completely gender neutral, away from all media and popular culture, and then see what their tastes, preferences and interests are.
I like your point that natre does come into play. Social gender norms are based on something, afterall (girls playing with dolls vs. boys playing with trucks makes sense from an instinctual standpoint). And so I see your point here, that painting toenails might be something females naturally tend towards, even without social norms present.
However genderizing colors–I still feel like that’s a total social construction. What makes pink feminine and blue masculine? I can’t think of a real reason.
I completely agree with you Jordan.
I really feel for men on this one: we live in a culture where men who do anything “feminine” are considered to be less manly. Not only is this harmful to men (by limiting them to certain behaviors and interests that are considered “normal” by society) but it is also harmful to women, by presenting the idea that feminine characteristics are less valued than masculine ones. And, it creates a culture where many men (but thankfully not all) are scared to show “female” characteristics such as empathy, listening, sadness, etc. For me, reinforcing stereotypical gender norms isn’t good for anyone- men or women- and I applaud this ad for challenging them.
I think Jenny’s comment showed this problem perfectly when she said:
“isn’t painting a young boy’s toenails (a traditionally only-female activity, like wearing high heels or eyeshadow) kind of encouraging him to take part in feminine activities?”
This puts forth the idea that there is something wrong with “taking part in feminine activities”- which there shouldn’t be! I don’t think we would be having this same conversation if the ad featured Jenna Lyon’s daughter, who likes wearing ties, and showed Jenna helping her tie a few. Because in our society, masculine traits are valued, so many people wouldn’t have as much of a problem with that.
If a male is naturally inclined towards painting his toenails, or the color pink, more power to him. He should be able to do what he wants without being judged. However–if his mother is painting his toenails pink as a statement about how open minded she is, or to shake her stuffy reputation (which is what I feel J.Crew is doing here), then his toenails are painted for the wrong reason.
Really well said. I especially like the point you make at the end – at the very heart of this issue is the implication that there is something wrong with a desire or willingness to participate in activities that could traditionally be considered more “feminine.”
I get what you’re saying here: that the problem is if this is maternal agenda-pushing. But it’s my belief that if any agenda is being pushed here it’s one that encourages exploration and difference, not “forced femininity” – and that’s an agenda I can get on board with.
Haha, love those comments and fully agree. We’re the ones who make these artificial identities for inanimate objects and colors, so why the hell do we feel it’s weird when someone uses them outside the box? She’s spending time with her child and let’s remember, he’s a CHILD. Kids do all kinds of silly things, doesn’t mean it’ll dictate their future. It’s like saying video games cause violence. If someone is one way or another they will continue to be one way or another, doesn’t mean when your mom painted your nails your favorite color at the age of like 5 or something that it was the defining moment in your life. Probably just meant you were 5 and intrigued by an effing color!
This is my idea of a great night.
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