Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cluelessness and pink toenails

A reader asked me to comment on the J. Crew little boy/pink polished toenails controversy. If you haven't read about it, it's here:

It began when a photo of J. Crew's president and creative director Jenna Lyons painting the toenails of her son Beckett in an ad was sent to customers last week in a feature, "Saturday with Jenna."

"Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink," says the caption. "Toenail painting is way more fun in neon."

My take is pretty simple: Jenna Lyons is apparently not overly blessed with parental intelligence, to put it as kindly as possible.

Do I think she was trying, as president and creative director of J. Crew, to send a pro-trangendered/pro-LGBT message by allowing the photo of her towheaded boy wiggling his poster-paint-pink toes in the consumer advertisement? Well, no, primarily because charity demands that I not believe a mother could be that selfishly exploitative of her own son without some sort of evidence that she is that kind of person, which does not exist. Since I have no basis to believe that she is a selfish and exploitative mother, then, I must sadly conclude that she was simply clueless; that she failed to realize that what is probably a cute little custom in their home would appear to be sending a pro-LGTB message in our politically charged culture.

And based on the reality of LGTB organizations cheering this ad as some sort of breakthrough/validation/super-duper special moment in corporate America, the inadvertent message was sent--which, I think, is what some of the right wing backlash is addressing, not so much the photo of the boy and his mom and their nail-polish game.

Now, I have girls, so I can't say if I would have been the sort of mom who thought it was cute, or just sort of weird, to let a little boy run around in my high-heels with lipstick and nail polish, or whatever it is some moms of some sons think is cute these days; but if I had been that sort of mom, I would have limited the photographic recording of these games to a couple of sweetly embarrassing pictures to be saved aside for the little tyke's engagement party or something. I would not have posted them on Facebook to be easily shared by all my contacts, and I certainly wouldn't be so thoughtless as to put them in an advertisement going out to total strangers--creating the very real risk that my hypothetical son's real playmates would see it and tease him about it. That's just not a "cool mom" thing to do, in my opinion.

Because--let's face it--kids grow up. One day they're posing in a onesie on the living room rug; the next day they're playing in the dirt wearing a diaper and a smile; the next day they're letting you paint their toenails pink; and a week or so later they're navigating their teenage years, which is hard enough to do without being known as The Boy With the Pink Toenails. Or the Babbling Twins on Youtube. Or...but you get the idea.

When it comes to parents behaving rather cluelessly, though, I have a credo: never ascribe to politics or malice or an agenda what can be chalked up to short-sightedness or plain stupidity. Because, as every parent knows, we all have our stupid moments; and the Golden Rule sort of requires that we look past other parents' stupid moments with the same tolerance and good humor with which we hope people are viewing ours.


The Ranter said...

I have a 4 yr old girl, and a 2 yr old boy. When my daughter and I paint our fingernails or toenails, my son also want his done. It's not a matter of any personal belief...more that he wants to do what his sister is doing, and the fact that they are pretty colors. Any pictures are for blackmail later in life. ;-)

melanie said...

Its more what she says and how she says it that really bothers me. "lucky me I ended up with a boy who's favorite color is pink?". What kind of message does that statement send? What if his favorite color was yellow? Which next week it's likely to be? Or white?
Or orange? The message her statement sends about her son is that somehow she is made happier by the fact that he likes pink. It has nothing to do with unconditional love.
Worse still, at first reading it sounds like she would have rather had a girl! So yes Red, the most charitable reading is just to say it was a really boneheaded parenting moment on her part.

Bathilda said...

I think that painted fingernails or toenails are vanity and make one look like a hussy (to use my mother's word) Ditto makeup. I have a boy who eschews anything feminine, but I wouldn't think that pink painted toenails on a boy is making him gay any more than I think painted toenails on a little girl makes her slutty. it's just polish. maybe she would've preferred a girl, or maybe she's just embracing her son's feminine side. Just like I let my daughter play with trucks, play sports, and she knows how to use tools. What if it was a picture of a little girl in overalls learning to fix a motorcycle? Would you stereotype it as a pro lesbian picture?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

True, true, and true.

Painting the child's toenails is no sin, boy or girl. Putting your child out in public to gratify the parent is.

This is no different, in principle, than Christopher Robin's mother (there really was young man A.A. Milne based his stories on) making a record of her and her boy singing songs from the Pooh books. When he got to a boys boarding school years later, nasty classmates just loved to play the cute little record and laugh at him.

Parents have plenty to do socializing their little darlings so they are fit company to appear in public. Adding layers of entirely avoidable embarrassment can be dispensed with.

John E. said...

If that kid enters into his teen years with a reasonably athletic frame, he will have teen girls lining up to paint his toenails.

He won't suffer from this. When he reaches 18, he could host a Reality Show called "Paint My Toenails" where young women of his age group talk about how the kid had become the internet meme of his generation. Girls would ask each other about a boy, "Paint his toenails or not?"

So now they are on the show to paint the toenails of the kid who's ad started all this.

And they could use this as a starting off place to talk about intimacy and sensuality in any sort of relationship where this is desired.

I don't watch the media and I suspect that a lot of this is manufactured controversy.

However, if this still continues to be a media controversy a week from now, I would expect to see a series of YouTube type ads with n-tuples, with n as an integer of value 1 or greater.

The special case of 1 is for those special times when you just feel like painting your own toenails.

Scene Setup:
An arching narrative of individuals, couples, and groups, affirming their relationships as being worthy of their affirmation.

The n-tuples will be shown in various states of toenail painting and various states of associated humor and/or sensuality, at one point saying "We/I paint his/hers/my/their/our toenails.

And, Red, I agree with what I hope are correct recollections of what you've proposed, I think seriously, that the civil authorities only record than an n-tuple legal relationship had been formed in which n is an integer greater than 1 had been formed.

I'd have some standard boilerplate that the arrangements must specify such as how (or if at all) property invested is to be returned if the relationship ends.

The parties would be free to choose how to split that up. The state only requires that the means is agreed on.

Some things, like parental rights, could not be negotiated away. Current child-protection law would still apply, but in the absence of such action, the parent/s of record would always be able to assert parental rights over their children.

All that and more could be worked out for these Civil Unions.

Marriage would become a word reserved for whoever wanted to solemnize a relationship by declaring that marriage as they defined it is now, or has previously been, enacted by some process or even mere declaration of such state.

It could be as formal as a Nuptual Mass, or as rough as, "The Old Lady and I went down to the courthouse and filed the paperwork - we're married now, son." "That's great, dad - about time mom made an honest man out of you."

And most people are going to conflate the two as in the last example - they will use 'married' as a synonym for 'filed civil union paperwork together' because it is simpler.

And people like Red and Maggie Gallagher and "Dr." Laura will make reasoned arguments that that isn't 'really' marriage, but most people won't care.

I'm going to cross post this at Alexandria. Hope it generates some discussion.

John E. said...

The link to the crosspost:

Anonymous said...

I was the reader who asked what you thought of this. Thanks for the response!

Your response seems generous, I must say, giving Ms. Lyons the benefit of the doubt. I guess we can't know otherwise. I'm not sure I would be so generous.

I was most surprised at many responses around the Catholic blogosphere. Specifically, regarding how many Catholic moms are out there who will let their sons wear nail polish and feathery boas and princess dress-up clothes and you get the idea. And how defensive people get about this! It seems so simple for me, those things are for girls. Period.

Anyhow, thank you for your response and the discussion.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

John is right also. There is every potential for things to work out as he describes -- although if the young man grows up with a less than athletic frame, and does not have the girls lining up to paint his toe nails, he may have a harder time of it.

In the end, there is no way to decree by law every detail of family life, nor should there be, so some parents are going to paint their boys' toes, and some are going to say "those things are for girls." At age 18, the boys will make such decisions for themselves.

I would have posted at Alexandria John, but a charge of lese majeste bars me from doing so.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised too, especially the Faith and Family crowd that usually has a hissy fit about girls and women wearing pants and two piece bathing suits. I found it ironic that it didn't seem to bother them one iota that a four year old boy was sporting neon pink toe nails. I guess it's ok to be girly girl, but not ok to be a boy.

I know a lot of people like Ms. Lyons. I live outside NYC and have a lot of friends who work in the fashion industry and advertising. The thing is, she, like most of them, grow up in the boonies somewhere and came to NYC and made it big. Now she is the quintessential hip NYer (who lives in Hipster Brooklyn). Basically, what she is saying to all us Suburban Sallys out there is that she is cool and couldn't care less that her son likes pink toe nails. She's an enlightened artiste, not the rube that she was once. She has evolved, and so should we.

That's what I saw.

Anonymous said...

Oh for the love of...

The right-wing media needed something to get people's eyes off the Congressional ball, eh? No one will notice what the budget is doing while they are raging toenails on a preschooler.

I work in retail. Over my decades here I've seen many a 4-year old boy come shopping in his big sister's "dress up" clothes, to no long term ill effect.

I'm guess the mom's comment about the color preference of her son had to do with the fact that she didn't have to go out and buy other colors for his toenails to satisfy his toe-nail painting curiosity.

I can only imagine what the "family values" people would say if he preferred black. Satanism, anyone?


Anonymous said...

Many years after I dressed my 4 year old boy in a mini-toreador suit for a violin performance (including fancy gold buttons and frog closures) that I sewed for him myself, he still complains he was dressed as a fancy-pants, but the truth of the matter was there is no photo, and he did not appear any other gender than himself and he played beautifully. It was his older brother that taunted him, and that is an interpersonal problem. Bullying and teasing are valid reasons for holding teachable moments.

MightyMighty said...

@anonymous: What right-wing media? And why would rightwingers NOT want Americans looking at the budget, as they demonstrate AGAIN, that liberals can't do math and don't have reasonable priorities?

Also, how would you know what the long-term affect of cross-dressing was on children you presumably saw on occasion, if even more than the one time you saw them in the store?

I agree with others that 1.) What happens at home is different than what should be shared with the world, 2.) it pays to have some basic gender norms in a household. I can use power tools, I don't think that is just a guy thing, more of competency-thing. But I am not going to pretend to love fantasy sports leagues to fit in with the guys, nor is my husband going to wear make-up. Stuff that is strictly gendered, like skirts and nail polish, or peeing standing up, is going to stay gendered.

Anonymous said...


All the snippets I caught about this were on various hysteria shows like those on Faux News - hence my "right wing media" comment. Didn't mean to offend. But it does seem like a diversionary tactic, doesn't it?

(And Red, why do you care what hay the LBGT community may make of this? They are probably at least half-reacting to your side. Their point is accepting children as they are, not making them gay.)

I work in a cooperative food store where people shop over a lifetime. I've been here 30 years and seen them grow up and have their own marriages and kids. Yes - the very boys who once tried on a sister's Halloween princess costume or ballerina skirt.

"Cross-dressing"? You're kidding, right? Do we have to sexualize everything children do? This is about imagination and play - the very things that are a child's job.

If my son's preschool behavior had been predictive, he'd be a Ninja assassin commando or a demolition expert now, instead of a college graduate (in economics) working at a non-profit on a project to get tools to communities that want to better themselves.

Most children go through a phase of thinking the opposite sex has cooties, too. Is that now predictive of sexual orientation?

What was most telling about that J. Crew picture was the joy and love in the expressions of mother and son.


Susan Kehoe said...

The Today Show had a lengthy segment on this issue. So I don't get why you think that it is only a right wing diversion.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

MightyMighty, the only Republican left in this country who can do math is my mother, and she has been deeply embarrassed since 1980 that her beloved party has run up record deficits, while the Democrats actually balanced the budget (for a couple of years) and introduced "pay as you go" budget rules.

The so-called "conservatives" who appear to have mesmerized you do want you to think about the budget, and the deficit, and the debt, and they want you to stay mesmerized, which is why they insist that no tax cut should expire, even though the last round of tax cuts precipitated the return to deficit financing.

In short, they don't want you to look at the details, you might figure out that they are a bunch of liars.

Anonymous said...


I explained my comment. Like the rest of you, I go by my own experience.

However, with major corporations owning most so-called mainstream media, I consider most mainstream media to be right wing when it comes to how the bread-and-circuses diversion from what is really important.