J. Crew’s Toenail-Painting Ad Causes Pink Scare

The sweet J. Crew ad I celebrated last week has ignited a “pink scare,” with socially conservative commentators outrageously upset. The ad features a mother– J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons–and her son delighting in one another’s company on a Saturday afternoon by painting their toenails hot pink (and thereby selling J. Crew’s Essie nail polish). The ad doesn’t make much fanfare of the nail painting and is fairly inconspicuous. As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals- Redfine Girly, comments on Good Morning America‘s coverage of the gendered hoopla:

The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.

In, what Nikita Blue calls, “ominous paranoid ramblings,” Dr. Keith Ablow goes off in a “conspiracy-theorist tangent,” claiming this ad contributes to “psychological sterilization,” erases gender differences and homogenizes males and females by propagandizing them to choose a gender identity that is not the “natural” one they were born with:

Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?

Media Research Center’s Erin Brown claims the ad exploits Lyons’ son, Beckett, through the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” According to Brown, ads like these and irresponsible mothers such as Lyons will create more confused boys, much like the controversial “Princess boy.”

Sexist and homophobic concerns like the ones expressed by Ablow and Brown raise several important points worth exploring. First and foremost, the notion that there is a direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ludicrous. Color codes are recent social inventions, constructs originally inverse. Phyllis Burke’s Gender Shock and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter trace the sociohistorical origins of pink and blue segregation–gendered coding that wasn’t instilled until the early 20th century. Prior to that, glancing at a babies clothing didn’t reveal any trace of gendered identity: They all wore white gowns. Photographs of my great-grandparents, both born circa 1902, are identical and indistinguishable. Check out this photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884!

Once color coding got underway in earnest, the colors were reversed. Pink, a color close to red, was equated with strength and masculinity. Light blue was a “natural” sign of femininity and, according to Orenstein’s reasearch, equated with “intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness.” Given that history, it becomes clear that color codes are arbitrary, socially constructed and have no bearing or impact on one’s “natural” gender or sexual identity. As Dr. Logan Levkoff explains:

Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn't] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.

Secondly,  there’s nothing “natural” about gender. Gender is a social construct reflecting cultural dictates within a specific historical context and those gendered prescriptions change as the culture changes. Just as culture is dynamic and fluid, so are gendered expectations. Obviously, Ablow and Brown aren’t familiar with the difference between the biological concept of sex, referring to maleness and femaleness and the continuum between the two, and gender, the socially constructed definitions and expectations of masculinity and femininity. Their critiques of J. Crew’s ad demonstrates rampant essentialism–the idea that one’s biological sex is destiny while ignoring historical and contemporary contradictions to that idea. If having a penis “naturally” led boys and men to embody “masculinity” and a vagina “naturally” equated with all things “feminine,” we’d see much more historical and cultural uniformity.

Third, not only is the idea that the J. Crew ad squelches “naturally” assigned gender identity ridiculous given the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, but Ablow’s quote doesn’t address the real culprit in stifling natural and healthy explorations: the color-coded assault by marketers on children’s play. It seems to me that the hyper-segmented pink world of the princess and the blue world of the boy warrior is much more responsible for shaping gender identity than an ad featuring hot-pink toenails on a boy. In that way, J. Crew is a small sign of opening up gendered possibilities–possibilities that represent authentic personal choice.

In Brown’s opinion piece, she goes on to say that mothers such as Lyons or Sarah Manley are setting up their sons for a hard time in the future. There she’s right, and this gets to the crux of the issue. The system of patriarchy values masculinity and devalues femininity. In fact, within patriarchy, masculinity is a fundamental mainstream cultural value. In the Good Morning America segment, Manley rightly points out that if the ad featured a girl playing with trucks in the mud there wouldn’t have been this type of outcry. While girls are awash in a sea of pink, they are more likely to be encouraged and celebrated for exploring and developing “masculine” characteristics, while boys are discouraged and shamed for developing “feminine” characteristics precisely because of masculinity’s cultural capital. What Ablow or Fox don’t acknowledge is that these are simply human characteristics, gendered one way or the other and thereby differently valued. As I wrote on my Feminist Fatale blog last week:

When a 17-month-old boy is beaten to death for being too “girly,” a five-year-old is accused of being gay for choosing to dress up like Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, a boy who likes pink dresses causes headline news and a high-school football player is kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it’s more than obvious that social expectations regarding femininity and masculinity continue to be incredibly rigid, stifling and too often dangerous.

J. Crew’s ad doesn’t depict misguided and dangerous decisions made by J. Crew or parents like Jenna Lyons. The reactions and social outcry against it depict the dangerous world of gender policing within the system of patriarchy.

Close-up of ad via J. Crew

Comments

  1. Cristine B says:

    At first I have to admit that I was at first glance a bit thrown back, as I have been gender socialized to think this thing is out of the ordinary. Then I gathered my thoughts and realized this really isn’t anything at all, and the controversy around it is just absolutely ridiculous. It reminds me of how many people feel being gay is a choice, or that a gay individual’s parents did things while raising him that made him gay, yet when their own child is gay, they suddenly realize that it isn’t a choice, and is in fact the way they were born. I hope more ads come out like this in the future to keep a debate and dialogue going about gender socialization and gender roles.

    • This article really intrigued me to read because it made me realize how much we gender things especially with children. It shocked me how much people were so concerned with a little boy wearing pink nail polish. Who really cares? The little boy is happy and I am sure he is not gender confused. It also shocked me how homophobia there is out there. This ad should not be a big deal, yet because of the male dominated society we live in it unfortunately is.

  2. Johanna J says:

    Of course when I first looked at the ad I was like “what the…” because of the mother polishing her son’s toe nails pink. We’ve been disgustingly taught that color reflect’s one gender. We’ve been socialized into believing that boys do not wear pink unless they’re a fag or gay. The stereotypes that have been created about boys who wear pink do not reflect every boy. I completely agree with the idea that colors are not based on an individual’s sex and and do not impact one’s sexual identity. People should be more open minded and understanding with ads like this one not only because it absurd but because colors are just colors they do not have to define someone’s gender identity.

  3. Ashley A says:

    When I first saw the picture on this article, my first response was “what is wrong with these people”. Of course that was my response being raised in a society where color codes play a major role depending on your gender. However, that does not mean that my response was okay. I do believe however, our society is moving closer to ignoring colors somewhat because you do see more males wearing pink clothing, socks, shoes, or cleats either on the regular or if they play a sport and if it is breast cancer awareness month. I was shocked to read that a football player was kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats because it is something that is becoming “normal” to our society. Although our society makes up many things for people to conform to or believe, does not mean we as humans should go along with it, but no one wants to be an outsider and colors should not be the determining factor of someone’s gender.

  4. Jessica H says:

    In todays society we have been taught that pink is a very feminine color and blue would be more masculine. Before todays society things were the total opposite. The color pink represented masculinity and blue showed feminism. When I saw this ad it completely shocked me because I had never seen such a thing. I was not surprised though, this is an innocent child who likes the color pink and i believe there is nothing wrong with this such thing. I believe that a COLOR should not determine the factor of someones gender.

  5. When I was in the eleventh grade, my friend Alan wore a pink shirt from American Eagle. Stripes, popped collar, form fitting. I recall my male friends throwing a fit and and playfully teasing him about his sexuality. Alan simply responded with, “You know what…only a guy truly secure with his sexuality, whatever that is, can wear pink in this society.” I remember wanting to applaud him for his simply act of bravery and for in that brief moment, really desconstructing and challenging me to question the implications of what it meant that I, too, thought for just a second–”Why is this guy wearing pink?” I think without really consciously critically analyzing what had just happened, I had accepted the fact that color is color in that instant, and never having color occupy a space in my mind that felt gender-specific. I found it to be interesting then, that more than a decade after this incident in high school, that this ad had caused such an uproar in the media. I saw this ad initially and thought nothing of the toenail polish, the hot pink…but I was more taken aback by the possible exploitation of Jenna Lyons’ use of her child as a marketing gimmick. I was not aware at the time that Essie was owned and/or distributed by J. Crew, but I remembered thinking that I hoped this moment was sincere and not something staged and commercialized for the sake of a brand.

  6. Jasmine P says:

    When I first saw the picture, I was a bit thrown off but then I thought of the family that lives across the street from me and a situation very similar to this one. Most of the people that live on my street have lived here for many years and a lot of us are pretty close. When I was younger, the only house that had any children was directly across from mine and so my parents would always send me over there to play or the couple across the street would send their kids over to our house. The boy and the girl who lived across the street were very close in age and they spent practically all of their time together. One day, I went over to their house and I noticed the boy had pink nail polish on his fingernails. I was a little confused and I think they were able to tell because the girl immediately told me she had painted his nails during a play tea party they had the day before. I asked the boy why he didn’t take the time to wipe the nail polish off and he said he didn’t really mind it. He said he actually thought it was kind of cool and as we continued to grow older, I noticed on multiple occasions that he again had pink nail polish on. I still know the family today and that little boy grew up to be a super popular football player at his high school. He didn’t grow up to be a prissy little fellow just because he used to wear pink nail polish. I don’t think that people should be so concerned with this ad at all. Just because society tells us that blue is for boy and pink is for girls doesn’t mean its true. Colors cant define a persons gender identity.

  7. What is wrong with people? This picture just shows how sad and bored people must be. All this picture symbolizes is a little kid enjoying time with his Mom and people have to make negative comments about it saying that he isn’t naturally doing his gender. This is only happening because of color codes and color codes need to change. Color codes has changed a lot for example if a boy wears pink as a kid he isn’t magically going to become homosexual, that’s just stupid and these people need to stop and realize no real harm can come from this.

  8. Matthew M says:

    Although back in the day pink was masculine, in today’s society, pink is known to be a feminine color. To see a young boy with pink toe nails might be disturbing to most people or maybe just plain weird. Growing up as a kid, any boy in school who would wear pink wasn’t called “tough guy” or anything of that sort. They would be called names such as “gay”, “homo”, etc. Most people aren’t used to seeing boys with pink nails and in today’s society it’s just wrong.

  9. Like most of the commentators below, I was also taken back when I first saw this. It was not because of the pink but because of the nail polish itself. In our society, a little boy who paints his nails, even if as a type of bonding, will be frowned upon. Adults, and children promoted by adults, will poke fun at and bother the child. And while I support standing up for what one believes in I don’t think the mind of a little child is capable of understanding the complex layers of society and the lack of knowledge that is causing people to make fun of him. In the eyes of a little boy he simply sees what he is doing as wrong because society is telling him and his mother that he is wrong. This tug of war between society and his mother’s attempt at rectifying society could cause the little boy to be confused and could cause psychological problems for the boy in the future.
    I do agree with the statement that colors do not have gender. My little nephew, who is 10 months old, likes any color that is bright. When I show him a whole lot of stuffed animals, he usually goes for the red and the blue because they are the most vivid colors present in front of him. He does not care whether the colors are feminine or masculine. When designing his room, my sister tried not to make a “blue room”. Rather she tried to make his room colorful instead of the “gender neutral” color of yellow and cream. It is society that has assigned colors a gender, not nature. But these designations go past color. We have also given style a gender. A few months ago my friend and I were arguing whether a pair of glasses was for men or women. While I insisted the glasses were masculine looking, he insisted that they were for women. In the end, the worker informed us that they were gender neutral. This made me realize that the style of glasses does not have a gender. I had been instructed by society that the color of royal blue is masculine on glasses while my friend had been instructed that a delicate frame on glasses was feminine. Yet neither of those things has a gender. The glasses did not have a gender but our biases assigned it a gender. Why should we be limited and waste our time trying to differentiate the gender of glasses when naturally glasses are not supposed to have a gender? I do think we should continue to take away the gender that we have assigned to colors and other aspects of our lives. However, I do not think we should go to the extent of painting a little boys toe nails yet because of the negative consequences society would place on the delicate mind of the child.

  10. When reading this I remembered when I was eight years old and the scooter just becmae popular and everyone was getting them. So I asked my parents and they told me sure after begging them for days. Then when we went to the store and the employee asked what color would you like my dad answered him and said blue he loves blue. But, really what I wanted was a red one, so I told my dad, actually I want a red one then my dad said no and said to the employee please bring a blue one out from the back. While the employer was bringing one out I told my dad why I can’t I get the red one. He said all of your friends (which at time were pretty much boys) will have a blue one and you don’t want to be different and he said your sister will get the red one because she is a girl. In the end I did get the blue one and over time I guess from buying blue clothes and other stuff that were claimed “boy colors” blue became my favorite color than red. But, just recently my seven year old sister wanted a scooter and she wanted guess what? Blue, and my dad again choose to by pink and this time he was ok with buying red but she still wanted blue. I told my dad if she likes blue then why don’t you let her get the blue if you by another color she will get angry. My dad finally gave in and my sister has been happy ever since, as well as she has not gotten negative feedback from her friends. She has actually gotten positive feedback from both genders, and most of the feedback comes out as cool! Also, I would like to point out if we let kids pick their own colors, and don’t force them to like colors based on their genders then there would not boys teasing girls about the colors they like or vice versa.

  11. From looking through the comments and I realized that my reaction to the photo of the mother and her child was much more different than others; I had not realized that child was male! My first reaction was not to attach a gender to the child, I thought, “just looks like a mother hanging out with her baby, having fun, and playing with some nail polish that her baby probably found in her stuff.” And when reading the article and seeing how angry people reacted to the image and I was disgusted. I thought why do they have to villainize the mother and make her seem like an evil person for allowing her child to wear pink nail polish. But the little boy wearing the pink nail polish is not the problem, we are. We are the ones who are saying it is wrong, it is bad and putting that little boy in to a category, in to a little box that he might not want to fit in. We as a society need to get over our of fears about gender, breaking gender is not a scary thing, and having images like these are the first steps to breaking those norms and opening the doors for future generations to have a gender neutral culture.

  12. First off, I want to state that this ad is actually adorable and I think it’s great to see something different from the typical hyper-masculine, macho man that is portrayed in most ads including a boy or a man. It’s sad that such a beautiful, light-hearted moment between mother and son is ruined by the outcry and horror over a simple bottle nail polish. I have witnessed this type of opposition first hand in my own family when one of my younger male cousins insisted that he wasn’t athletic but rather liked painting and cooking, which in our society are not typically considered “masculine” activities. Coming from a patriarchal family where masculinity was highly valued, it was inevitable that the rest of my family saw something wrong with this and reacted with disproval and backlash. They told his mother to enroll him in sports teams and take him out of the cooking and painting classes because they made him too feminine and could possibly make him gay in the future. Obviously they viewed femininity and gays as inferior and wanted to “protect” my cousin from becoming anything related to those qualities. The reactions in my family directly parallel those to the J. Crew ad and they are wrong and uncalled for. Criticizing someone’s parenting style, creating specific gender roles for male and female, and treating “gay” and “girly” as unacceptable traits: it is all wrong. I applaud J. Crew for defying gender stereotypes and proving that not all boys and girls enjoy the same things and I hope someday other companies will follow in its footsteps.

  13. M. Lisa C. says:

    I, myself have two sons and am a single parent. When they were younger, and before they discovered girls!!, all eyes were on me. My older son has always been very reserved and my youngest always the curious one. One day when he was about 2 maybe, he took my make up bag and “painted” himself, that being his word, because he wanted to be like me. Needless to say his dad nearly fainted. I understood that he was just mimicking what he saw so I carefully washed his face, gave him a hug and explained mommy’s make up was too “spensive” for him to playing with. I never made him feel like he had done “wrong”. It’s terrible that society feels it has a right to dictate what a mother does with “her” son in “her” home on a Saturday afternoon. If you instill in a young child’s mind that it is wrong, that is the perception they grow up with. That continues the homophobic cycle that is so wrong in our society today. I would rather my sons’ grow up to be independent, well rounded and fruitful members of society and not put to them through the added pressure of what category they need to fall into because of what society dictates.

  14. Leslie S. says:

    When I saw this ad the first time I didn’t realize what was wrong with it. It was until I read the article that I found out about all the negative reactions that were being put into such a beautiful picture. One thing that I found very ironic was that one of the major issues people had with this picture was not that the mother was painting her son’s toes, but that the nail polish was pink. As the article mentions pink was originally the color chosen to represent boys, so I find it ignorant of people to be taken back when they see anything pink on a boy. Dr. Keith Ablow’s comment about encouraging children to fit into the gender they got at birth really bothered me, because a child is not biologically born with a gender it is society that enforces that onto children; In a way children are being stripped from their freedom of choice. More than creating confusion within children, I believe that the real reason why society cannot deal with children picking their own gender is because the people in society are too worried about keeping a patriarchy. Which leaves me wondering, if it would have been a dad and his daughter playing with tools would people’s reactions had been the same?

  15. Jacqueline C says:

    This reminds me so much of my younger brother and how I used to dress him up like me when he was a little kid. Then one day he decided to surprise me by coming to pick me up at school with my mom, dressed up as me. I remember the shame I felt for both of us when my friends confusedly kept asking “Why is he dressed like that????” When I kept explaining over and over again, they would not accept my explanation as a valid excuse. As if I need an excuse at all, why can’t they just accept the fact that he’s only three years old and dresses up for fun? Why is that such a difficult concept to grasp? So what that he dressed up as a girl. Do we not all dress up as things we aren’t as little kids?? What is it about children in the playground that makes them all pick on each other using each and every single little piece of any so-though flaw they can possibly come up with to make fun of someone for it? As this article so eloquently explains: Adults do that just as well, if not more.

  16. Maritza R says:

    I had the same reaction most people have at the first sight of this ad. I was at first surprised by the ad because it shows something far from what we, as a society, are taught is normal. We are socialized into thinking that color and certain actions like painting your nails corresponds to a certain sex and that it is completely natural when in reality it is far from that! This ad is a perfect example of binary opposition. When little girls are seen doing what would be considered a masculine activity they automatically are praised and celebrated. This is because in societies eyes masculinity is way more valued than femininity so when a girl is seen as acquiring a masculine trait they in a sense are adding value to their beings. When a male is depicted doing a “feminine activity” like the little boy in this ad is accused of doing people are quick to judge the little boy and label him as feminine and judge the mother as well for making her son into something he is not supposed to be according to society. Because everything society has taught us from an early age we are conditioned to immediately have a negative reaction to such a normal act. We are distracted from the actual beautiful moment a mother is having with her son and how happy they are to be with each other. It is not this mother that is confusing this innocent child on his gender, it is society with comments like these that cause young kids to be confused on what normal is.

  17. Tiffany M says:

    It is so tragic that certain colors, such as pink and blue, determine the femininity or masculinity of a certain person. Colors do not, and should not specify a gender or sex. Currently, the color pink symbolizes “female” and blue symbolizes “male.” However, in the past, males wore pink while females wore blue. It shocked me to know how concerned the critics were with J. Crew’s release of the picture of the innocent little boy’s hot pink nail polish. It should be up to the boy to make his own decision, as opposed to the society telling him how to behave.

  18. Christine E says:

    I wish that society would educate themselves on the difference between “sex”, “gender”, and “gender expression”. I also wish that the majority of society understood color codes and the fact that colors do not have anything to do with the gender of an individual. Society, in general, gets so offended by anyone who does not follow the norms. Girls have much more flexibility in regards to gender, boys on the other hand are much more heavily sanctioned in they do not perform gender correctly. If this ad has instead featured and young girl in a more masculine role, it would not be receiving as much negativity. This of course is because masculinity is more highly valued in our society.

  19. Elizabeth C. says:

    In the beginning yes, it is a little surprising to see. But why does it have to be? But when you take away the preconceived gender stereotypes that society gives us we realize that it is just nail polish on a young child who seems to be having fun. Years before, the gender codes were switched- girls were light blue and boys were red. Some may not believe this but if you think back to your favorite fairytales like Peter Pan, Wendy wore a blue night gown and her little brother( whose name I do not remember) wore a pink/red onesie. Another example would be the BLUE fairy in Pinocchio and there are so many more examples. I though Levkoff have the best summary of the whole situation. He said “colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn't] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.”

  20. People amaze me with their ignorance. This photo is absolutely beautiful. It showcases a mother and her son having a great time and being joyful. Yet people’s standards and society norms have tried to taint this great photo and turn it into a completely absurd controversy. Colors are just colors, they don’t define or categorize a person’s sexual orientation, especially a child’s! The thing about colors and children is that they aren’t born thinking that since they are one sex that they should only play or dress in a particular color. Its their family, friends and society that press these standards on to them and try to guide them to liking what they are suppose to like. This overbearing and sexist color manipulation has steered the public away from the true message of the picture, and that is a mother and son enjoying their time and love together. Isn’t the love of a child more important than the insane issue that the outer public is trying to perpetuate.

  21. What struck me most about these socially conservative groups’ homophobic reactions to J. Crew’s ad was that, as absolutely ridiculous as their objections are, they really have nothing to “fear.” (Yet.) Because of the concept of cultivation, this one ad on its own will never contribute to the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children” that Media Research Center’s Erin Brown accused Lyons of exploiting her son for. What Brown and the conservative groups should be more concerned with, I believe, is the domino effect that J. Crew’s ad might eventually cause years into the future. We don’t live in a culture in which cause-and-effect mediation (the idea that one single ad with a unique message can cause a change) actually makes a difference to our values and norms, so it is safe to say this one advertisement will not have a significant impact on gendered socialization in America and our approach to color coding in particular. Yes, the ad makes you stop and think for a few minutes, but it doesn’t change the overarching American stereotypes behind masculinity and femininity. However, if multiple other progressive corporations take J. Crew’s lead in ad campaigns such as this one, we might begin to see an increased level of tolerance towards the LGBTQ community – and also towards our heterosexual peers who don’t fit what it means to be a “real” man or woman – in the future. Why? Because, by then, the images of tolerance and unconditional love necessary for such a shift in mentality will have been cultivated.

  22. At first glance at the picture you realize how beautiful the relationship is between the mother and son, not the color of pink. The argument of how the pink color makes the child feminine at a young age and has brought about a “pink scare” among conservative critics is absolutely ridiculous to me. I would like to argue that the color pink on a man should not be judged so easily by ignorant people who don’t have a full understanding of gender socialization . In fact, the color blue was a feminine color and the color pink was a masculine color in the 60′s and 70′s. The color pink in our society’s culture has been deemed as a color for females. Despite this stereotype, I believe that the color pink on this young boy should not have an affect on this boy’s sexual orientation.

  23. I don’t understand what the big deal is about a stupid color. We are raised to believe there’s a set gender role along with color, but when you think about it, the issue is non-existent. Gender was created by society, who is someone else to tell me I’m gay if I like pink or enjoy things that don’t fall within my genders boundaries. Gender is a fluke of society that I’m fed up with and people need to get over. The main issue is that many people don’t know the difference between gender and sex, which is the key issue. Before taking women studies, I didn’t know the difference either, which is why I don’t blame society for acting as such.

  24. Ashley B. says:

    This story reminds me a lot of something that occurred in my life. I never had a sister, I only had a brother, and while I was growing up I would always play with my mom’s make up. Sometimes I would put blush and lipstick on my brother. My parents would get really mad at me and tell me to stop. So instead of doing something so obvious like lipstick, I just stuck to putting on blush for my brother but my parents still noticed and they got upset. Sometimes I would ask why they didn’t like it when I do that, and they responded by saying “It’s not good”. I didn’t see anything wrong with it; I just wanted to have some fun with makeup. But my parents thought that it would make him more feminine. This ad is not harming in any way. Having the boy wear nail polish won’t harm him in any way making him feminine, even though there is nothing wrong with it. Color codes for genders signifies that blue is masculine and pink is feminine, but a long time ago red was actually considered masculine. Someone’s sex should not be color coded and have a pre-destined way of acting. Having the media lash out against the son’s pink painted toe nails, was sad to see. I don’t think that society should determine what colors are meant for each gender.

  25. Daniella S. says:

    When I first saw the picture on this article, I was in shock to see a mother painting her son’s toe nails pink. Looking at the picture, I was a bit confused and angry as to why the mother would do such a thing. At first I didn’t think anything was wrong with my response/reaction because I was raised in a society where color signifies your gender. Since the first day you are born at the hospital, if you are a boy they wrap you up in a blue blanket and if you are a girl they wrap you up in a pink blanket. After reading this article I was embarrassed for having such a negative reaction towards the image seen on the article. Throughout the years there has been a great change in our society and what is expected from each sex. No one should be discriminated for their choice in colors and colors should not determine someone’s gender.

  26. Nathan P. says:

    I’m pretty sure that anyone that argues with the factual points addressed in this article is either inept or just trolling. Everything stated seemed to be right on the money. Gender identity and the materials and characteristics that we prefer are not innate traits. They are learned and taught. Reading this makes me think of the times when I have made choices based on what I feel I should do or shouldn’t do because I’m a heterosexual male. For example, there have been several instances where I noticed a sick shirt I wanted to buy but I didn’t because I was afraid people would criticize me because of its pink color. I think some pink shirts are great and very unique and make you stand out, but I also know that you have to be careful because people will think you are gay if you wear them. Its crazy to notice the amount of limitation that is pressed upon us, even with things as simple as buying a t-shirt. There would be so many less issues with men today if they had done things a little more “feminine-like” as kids. Instead of rejecting all things feminine (like expressing emotions apparently), men should embrace them and take the best of both worlds.

  27. Michael S. says:

    As previously discussed in class, many years ago pink was for boys, and blue was for girls. In modern-day society, the color roles have switched. However, I really don’t see why we are raised and taught ever since we are a toddler, to like a certain color or not. Blue paint, blue blankets, blue markers, blue everything for boys and the opposite in pink for girls. I don’t see why it would make me any less of a man to like pink, purple, nail-polish, or other “girly” things. It’s just the image that is engraved in my head on what to like and what not to like. We cannot blame society entirely for these incorrect gender roles, but rather start to implement change. I definitely feel as if nobody should feel embarrassed for liking something as simple as a color, just because societal gender roles say not to.

  28. Caroline F-H says:

    I wonder what would have been said if the ad was the same minus the color of the nail polish. For example what if it was orange a technically “gender neutral” color, or even green for that matter. It really saddens me that there is such an unnecessary fear or that there is a need felt to comment on or judge superficially the moment in time. Children are curious creatures and disallowing them to explore hinges there ability to critically think and assess the culture they are based in as they grow. Gender is a choice and because one little boy wanted to paint his nails pink like his mother is not something that is going to dramatically effect the choices he makes later in his life. Calm Down it’s not the end of the world if he paint’s his nails!

  29. After reading this article I noticed how corrupt our society is, since we are subconsciously told to pick a color depending on our gender. Im pretty sure I was wrapped with a blue blanket when I was born, and was given objects with colors that resembles ‘males’. Even now, I naturally pick colors such a green and blue, and hardly ever think of picking colors such as pink. I guess its simply because of the fear I would receive from the people around me (society). Taking this class, further broaden my knowledge to understand that your gender has no relations with colors. People should have the freedom to decide what kind of colors they want to use for their kids, and no one should be arguing about it. Freedom to decide is important, but the society has to allow “change”, so that people wont find any problem with pink colors on boys or blue colors on girls. I believe J Crew did a terrific job to show that girly colors are absolutely normal to put on boys. I believe these kind of photos and articles will spark more ignorant people’s mind and move towards a society where color doesn’t define gender.

  30. I personally have never seen this ad and my first reaction is “good for her!” Great that a mother is teaching her son that he can choose to do what makes him happy and they are having fun! We live in centuries old tradition of a patriarchal society – anything that doesn’t associate pink with girls and blue with boys, will cause mayhem in the structure and role of society. Our expectations of men are so embedded in our DNA and as women we are taught to idolize them, beginning with our father, in order to have a functioning society. A good example would be the ad mentioned, showing a girl playing in mud with trucks, there is no outcry to ban Tonka, and many find it amusing and won’t look twice or be concerned that she may turn out to be a lesbian. It will probably garner the response “awe. How adorable.” Why? Because there are no expectations of a female, past the role as a woman in a patriarchy society. She doesn’t have the pressure from society and family to go out, make a living, make a home, and support a family, which is the man’s role. It’s okay for her to have fun and play in the mud with trucks – it’s just that- fun – her plans are not to be a truck driver or work hauling dirt, let alone marry a woman and ride off into the sunset on their tractor. The man on the other hand, is born with expectations. If a boy is playing in the mud with trucks, society will react “oh he is such a boy,” “he loves trucks,” he is going to be a race car driver. For the naysayers of the J. Crew ad, their perception is by painting his toe nails pink, Jenna Lyons is so blatantly influencing his “natural” gender role – she is altering his perception and he will not grow up to be a strong man who loves girl, but a pansy who will be confused about his sexual orientation. When I use the word “natural” I am referring to what society has decided is normal. Pink is girl and blue is boy. All in all, it is time for us to start removing the patriarchal hold we have endured. It is okay for boys to like pink, just like it is okay for girls to like 4×4 trucks. We are creating the labels and categorizing on what is considered natural behavior for a woman vs. a man. The J. Crew ad depicting Jenna Lyons shows a loving mother who is enjoying time with her son. They bond over painting and not playing with trucks in the dirt. In this instance, they are not painting on paper or on the wall, but on their feet. Any woman will attest that learning to paint your toenails is an art to master that requires precision and concentration.

  31. Ariela R. says:

    When I first looked at this picture, I assumed that the little boy was actually a girl until I read the article. This goes to show how I’ve been socialized to jump to that conclusion as soon as I see nail polish and the color pink. As I read on, one point that stood out to me is, “there’s nothing ‘natural’ about gender.” This also shows me how the social construct and expectations convince us that everyone with a vagina likes pink and everyone with a penis like blue. This might be what seems to be “normal” but even though it may be hard to change this way of thought, it must be changed. In the article it mentions that the young male in the photograph is being set up for a hard time in the future. This mentality is what makes people repress who they really are. If he wants to wear pink, I believe that, as hard as it is, we need to change our perspective and be more accepting of what we may think is different.

  32. I looked at the picture before I began reading the article, and the first thought that came to mind was “Why is that boy wearing nail polish?” and once I concluded the article my thought was “Wait, who cares??”. The fact that the nail polish is pink didn’t even concern me, because quite frankly who cares. Society instilled in us literally from the moment we were born that pink is associated with girls and blue with boys. To me, that is just ridiculous. How does a COLOR determine how masculine or feminine you are?? As a matter of a fact, I don’t even own a single pink article of clothing. So does that mean I am a man? I just don’t like the color pink, and society shouldn’t tell me otherwise. Now on to the fact that the boy is wearing nail polish. Typically, only females wear nail polish, which is why I was confused initially. But if you really think about it, all you are doing is painting a nail. Who cares if a man does it too? Men should not be called gay for putting color on their nails. I think it is bold and refreshing that J Crew made that decision in this ad.

  33. I think this is an amazing ad!! What is more shocking to me are the strong reactions in opposition to it. When I was pregnant with my second son, I “registered” for a hooded towel that looked red on the website. When my friend purchased it for me she was upset to find out, when it arrived, that it was actually hot pink. Truly, I was happy to receive a hot pink towel for my son, as I believed in introducing all the colors in the world to him. To me it was just another color but it was really hard for my friend to want to give it to me. She felt incredibly uncomfortable and embarrassed by it. This idea that we put our children in these confined boxes of gender really bothers me. I wish that we could live in a world where we respected everyone’s individual preferences and allowed everyone to be free to be who they are. It is hard to get away from the forces of socialization though because even though I feel this way, my sons already categorize things as being “for girls” or “boys” at age 3 and 5. I find that when I buy birthday presents I “cave” into buying differently for boys or girls because I am nervous myself, of disappointing parents whom I don’t know, if they aren’t “appropriately” gendered. It is true what the article says about it being more OK for girls to approach masculine activities but for boys to engage in feminine activities comes with negative consequences. As media often presents quintessential stereotyping of gender, I think it would be incredibly inspiring to see more ads like this that would try to unravel the harm that is created through gender stereotyping.

  34. Lindsay Grossman says:

    I feel that this ad brings to light one of the major flaws we have in our modern society. I personally feel that this photo is amazing. I love the fact that J.Crew chose to advertise their PINK nail polish instead of another color. I love the fact that they highlighted and humanized one of the major head’s of the company and I love the fact that this ad goes against every gender stereotype we have in our society. The fact that there was negative publicity surrounding this ad really shows how un-progressive our society is. This ad proves that love as well as gender has no boundaries and that child should be able to express themselves anyway they seem fit. This carefree child is hang quality time with his mother and making memories that will last a lifetime. It is a shame that our society feels the need to highlight the “negative” aspects of this ad. I have personally gained a new respect for J.Crew, a worldwide brand that is breaking out of the social norm and proving to society that the majority is not always right.

  35. I love this ad by J. Crew because it is subtle and sells the product well, but I mostly love the tenderness between Jenna and her son, Beckett. The way she is holding her son’s feet so affectionately as they are laughing together—I sense no biases or ulterior motives, just enjoying each other’s company. The fact that Jenna’s son’s toes are painted pink is more than a minor detail to the overall atmosphere of the advertisement, but this small fact is considered blasphemous in this world by so many.
    Because of this thinking, I can see how backlash towards this advertisement is a tool of patriarchy and sustaining the system of homophobia, sexism, and gender socialization in US American society. When children are taught to think in limiting boxes of pink and blue, princess and prince they are learning what is expected of them in order to be seen as ‘normal.’ They are also learning to internalize parts of themselves as being deviant and not appropriate because the television and people around them say that they can only like certain things.
    Sustaining sexism in US American culture plays a large role in this type of backlash because ultimately the critics are saying Beckett is acting like a girl. Bottom line, what is seen as the problem in J. Crew’s ad is that Jenna is allowing her male son to act feminine—and that is the main problem. Women can embody masculine attributes (while still retaining some or their femininity, of course) with applause, but when men embody feminine attributes they are critiqued for relinquishing their masculine qualities and sanctioned to the max for falling out of line with patriarchy and its androcentrism.
    This can also be seen with homophobia—lesbians have to endure far less negative sanctions in society for being gay, while gay men experience one of the highest hate crime rates against them because patriarchy. Homophobia works as its tool to keep men, women, and children in their places and conforming to the normalizations of our culture.

  36. Michelle Omidi says:

    I am a very visual learner and the first thing that I notice are colors, photographs, and prints before the writing. I have to admit that when I first looked at the photograph, I had to closely observe whether or not that was a boy or girl wearing pink toe nail polish. But after hearing our lecture about color coding and gender roles, I begin to watch what I say or feel. Although I was thrown off by the pink toes on the little boy, I understand that I have been gender socialized. I have been taught to believe that it is ordinary and normal for a boy to wear blue and a girl to wear pink and that it is not normal for a girl to wear blue and a boy to wear pink. We have to remember that color codes are gender signifiers. This is all recent because before there were no color codes at all–all babies wore white and the colors were switched (boys-pink and girls-blue). I have a particular family experience to share from a family outing to our local Boba shop. My family and I decided we wanted to get Boba as dessert after our lunch. After receiving our drinks, the only straw colors were pink, green, yellow, and blue. My dad grabbed straws for each of us. He grabbed 3 pink straws for my sister, my mom, and I and 2 blues for my brother and him. I asked him why exactly he would distribute those specific colors to us and he replied by saying exactly this, “I am just used to it, I guess” and shrugged his shoulders in confusion. This made me realize exactly what I learned in my Women Studies class about gender being signified through color codes and how it is the way we socialize.

  37. Before reading the article I looked at the picture and thought the child looked like a boy but then when I saw the pink nail polish on the child’s toes I was thought oh must be a girl. As I began to read the article I found out the child was a boy and it came to my realization how much we as a society are so gender socialized and how we depend on these socially constructed color codes in order to determine someone’s sex. Reading the comments made by Ablow and Brown shows how much our society looks up to these color codes that one’s sex determines your gender, when in reality as pointed out by Dr. Logan Levkoff “colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors doesn’t mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.” As I came towards the end of the article reading how the crux of the problem is that our society run by a system of patriarchy values masculinity over femininity. I then realized and remembered from what I learned in my into to Sociology class and intro to Women’s Studies class how women are given more liberty to cross boundaries to show characteristics of masculinity to a certain extent whereas when guys that show qualities of femininity are then criticized for it. Our society shouldn’t value masculinity over femininity but because of our society run by a system of patriarchy and being gender socialized from a young age it’s difficult look past it and through a gendered lens that they are ultimately just colors and we learn and are products of these social constructions.

  38. Jasmin Lavi says:

    Let me start off by saying that this ad has left me with a huge grin on my face. It was so nice seeing something other than the typical mother and daughter shopping or father and son getting to work. Our culture is so use to seeing boys and men as hyper-masculine that it is no surprise to me that people went against this ad. It is so sad that this adorable moment between mother and son is ruined by a bottle of nail polish. This isn’t the first time people have been outraged by gender roles being challenged. I even have my own experiences with it. I was at a family gathering once and the topic of my younger male cousin liking Barbie dolls had come up. At first the topic was light and we had all seen it as a comical situation. As time went by and the topic had come up again, the situation was not taken so lightly anymore. Parents became worried that my little cousin was developing feminine traits, which could lead him to become gay. They immediately started thinking of ways to present masculine traits to my cousin, for example buying him action figures, Lego’s, and enrolling him on a sports team. At the time I agreed with my family. Looking back on this situation with what I know today, I have become so upset at myself as well as my family members. It hit me that I live in a family where feminine traits are looked down on and masculinity is highly valued. This brings me back to the J. Crew ad and the negative reactions it got. In both cases, the reactions were wrong. Jenna and her son should be able to do whatever they please and not get criticized for it. Creating specific gender roles causes people to backlash and treat gay and feminine traits as unacceptable. This is horrible. Hopefully one day, other companies will join the ideas that J. Crew is trying to send out and we will see gender roles being challenged more often.

  39. Stephanie Hua says:

    I have had, and currently still have, little cousins who are boys who would wear pink and purple nail polish. I guess because I am so used to this in my personal life, this ad this not affect me, but I could relate to how it affected society. When my boy cousins first started wearing nail polish I did shame them and asked around if they are gay or something, but after seeing this happen so much in my family with the boys now, I have learned that it is absolutely nothing to fear over. A color is just a color and has no significance to children or people. Wearing this pink nail polish will not make this little boy gay or feminine. I agree with the article that pink is just another color in the color spectrum and should be treated as just that. The traits we associate to it are man made and is used just to socialize. We should let children embrace every color and aspect of their personality and creativity because these rigid gender roles are ridiculous and destructive towards society.

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