Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pink is Not the Color of Confusion

I'll admit - I get a lot of my news bites from the Yahoo! front page. News blurbs at the click of a visually pleasing thumbnail. Though it wasn't on the top page at the time, one in particular caught my eye like a flashing hot pink strobe light.

Hot pink-toenailed boy in J. Crew ad sparks controversy


That's right - in a world where Japan is one month out from the worst tsunami of our time, our country's budget is barely determined and most of the nation is holding it's breathe while waiting to hear what cuts and hikes will take place....and people are getting unhinged because J. Crew's latest catalog includes a page showing president and creative director Jenna Lyons smiling with her son Beckett "off duty in style", which included painting his toe nails hot pink, which she says is his favorite color. 

On the forefront of the out cry is Erin Brown of the Media Research Center, who went so far as to say that this is a exploitation of a child by J. Crew to push "liberal, transgendered identity politics.", while also making mention that J. Crew is a favorite of Michelle Obama, which anyone can see is an attempt to connect the Obamas to this made-up conspiracy as well.  

But more than the conspiracy theories, the idea of the a "girly" pink nail polish effecting a male child's sexual identity is the real issue here. Dr. Keith Ablow from Fox News goes so far as to say that psychotherapy will be needed down the road for the boy, and this is an "example of the way our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity." Erin Brown also says "Jenna's indulgence...could make like hard for the boy in the future" and claims that J. Crew is now targeting the demographic of mothers of gender-confused young boys. What I want to know is how one photo and caption could cause an entire culture to feel encouraged to abandon it's stereotypes of gender identity, and who in the world has decided that Beckett is a "gender-confused" young boy? The photo looks to me like a boy and his mom, genuinely smiling at each other and having fun. No confusion there and certainly nothing that looks suggestive of a difficult life ahead. 

On an segment for ABC News, Dr. Edward Hallowell, a child psychologist who urges parents "first and foremost to enjoy" their kids on his personal web site, explains that it is normal and common for little kids to cross-dress and play make-believe in other people's clothes. Children are naturally curious and don't assign gender to things until they are told so - trucks are not "boy's trucks" and pink is not a "girl's color" until someone has told them that they have to think that way. Obviously, Beckett is lucky enough to be being raised where he can express himself and his interests with out shame or being pushed into an expected role by his parents.

It makes you wonder if there would be the same type of out roar if the nail polish had been blue. From personal experience, I know how reactive people can become over boys in nail polish. One of Agent M's favorite things was once for me to paint his toe nails after I painted mine. I'd pull out the cigar-box sized basket of every color under the sun and just let him pick. Sometimes it was pink, sometimes black, sometimes it was two or three colors per foot, though mostly he favored the bottle of navy blue polish with silver glitter. He'd seriously hold as still as possible while I applied the tiniest of brush strokes, then would sit stiff as a post while we waited for our nails to dry. Those memories are more about the time we spent together though - not what color choice he was making. Never once did it cross my mind that I was endangering his gender identity, just in the same way that I don't worry that he'll grow up to be any less masculine just because he is primarily raised by his mother. To the people who would comment on it, most thought it was cute but a couple did remark that at least he was wearing "boy" colors (these were not the people who saw his toes in their red and pink phase). Agent M and his dad even sported matching colors for a while. It just was never a big deal. He asks every now and then for me to paint his nails, but mostly isn't as into it anymore. Does he seem confused over his gender? Not at all. Am I saving up money for future psychotherapy sessions? Nope. He's a happy, well-loved, healthy kid. Just like I am sure Beckett is. 

I do agree with Erin Brown on one point though - she states in her article "Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow...", which is completely true. And with that acknowledgement that he could change his own mind at anytime, no matter what color toe nail polish he wore that day, it also makes the issue that much more ridiculous. 

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