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


  1. Monatana C. says:

    Give kids a break! While reading this article, I could not get more enraged at every peanut gallery remark, criticizing the mother and son bonding via nail polish. Gender is an invention made by society and now deemed a true fact. Sadly this is what we force our children to live up to in the world- how many a little boy can grow up to be, playing with GI Joe and buying halloween costumes with padding to simulate large muscles, or little girls dripping in pink adornments and dressing up as their favorite disney princess. I have a family friend who loves her 6 year old son and they both love Disney. When Halloween came around last year he chose to be Rupunzel from Tangled and she had no problem with it. It did not determine if he was gay or any less of a male, but he enjoyed the movie so he wanted to dress up like it. Neighbors gave strange glances and it was clear that many people felt awkward around this little boy. Last year he was Woody, but no one cared then. Why should a dress or nail polish affect how we treat children in society and only make them paranoid as they grow to live up to those expectations for their gender? There will always be someone to pick on us or our children, but if we can’t make new social changes in the 21st century, then we never will.

  2. Gloria T. says:

    This article depicts social inequality, once again mentioning that girls should wear pink and boys should wear blue. Although society has labeled this to be a gender identity, it doesn’t mean that it is correct. As mentioned back in the early 1800’s there was no color assigned specific to any boy or girl, everything was neutral and I bet sexual identity was not questioned as much. I don’t see the big deal of the hot pink toes on a kid. It looks like the kid is having fun with his mother; naturally it is noted as wrong and shameful for the rest of the boys. Brown’s opinion about Lyon’s setting up her kid for failure by doing this is sickening in the mind. How close minded can you be? Kids that age want to imitate their parents whether male or female, therefore I believe it’s a phase with no permanent damage.

  3. Venezia R says:

    I agree that colors are just colors and they do not determine your liking in boys or girls. I’ve also read that back in the early 19th century the color codes we associate with baby boys and girls were reversed back in the days. Some of the media is taking away from the importance of the photo. The importance is a moment captured where mother and son are enjoying each other’s company and laughing. So what if J. Crew chose a little boy to be in their ad for their nail polish. Is that to say only little girls/women car about their nails? Or that little girls can’t be in ad’s for the latest plaid blue J.Crew colored shirt? It’s ridiculous to make such an issue on a little boy painting his nails pick. Many boys at a young age want to mimic what their parents do and that isn’t limited to only wanting to reenact what their dad is doing. Color-coding is one way our society is preventing our youth from growing in a positive direction.

  4. Alicia S. says:

    Before reading this article, I could already know what they article is going to talk about. For example, there is the phrase that says, a picture is worth a thousand words. This articles mentions how “color codes” really separate people of what kind of colors they can wear according on what is expected in society. This then relates how this article is about social inequality by differing children at a young age what kind of colors they can use and they cannot. Even though society might not expect a young boy having his toenails painted hot pink, immediately, they will face the child parents since they are the ones that are making their children look “bad” in society by painting his toe-nails pink. Even though most of the advertisement is not the issue about the child having his toenails painted pink, this articles expresses the gender issue. I believe that having colors and actions should never stop a child at such as young ages stop them from doing something that is right. For example, the young little boy, he is not doing any harm or anything wrong in society, and I feel these actions should not bring the idea of questioning the gender of a child just for his actions. Not only I feel that some parents don’t let their child express themselves, but I feel that a lot of parents are worried that they might feel discriminated and embarrass since they don’t really want their child to be the odd one in a school and be bullied around by other kids. This then relates how parents becoming worried about their child if they are dressed a certain way by not following the norm that society is expected for a child to dress.

  5. Jennifer H. says:

    I completely agree that if the ad would have depicted a girl playing with a truck or car there would not have been such a stir and negative criticism from people. But the fact that this ad shows a boy with pink toe nails, several people felt the need to take away from the joyous moment a mother and child are experiencing together. There was so much emphasis on the color pink being on a boy because in present time our society believes pink is feminine and not masculine. Although it is interesting to note from this blog that back in time our society viewed the color pink as representing masculinity, while light blue was associated with femininity. This change in society’s belief system as to what represents masculinity or femininity, proves gender is socially constructed. It also seems as though ideas and beliefs change and become fluid when it benefits keeping patriarchy in place. In addition, our society devalues what is considered or close to femininity and this is why if a boy or man decides to dress or act in a way that represents what society believes femininity to be, these men and boys are tormented and bullied in society. Those who bully them have unfortunately still not grasped that gender is not biologically determined as sex is. Also, hegemonic masculinity comes into play when those who bully others based on their sexual orientation think they are correct in causing such harm. Those who are viewed as being the lesser masculinities in society are scrutinized and our society’s views on gender and patriarchy play a major role.

  6. Takisha B. says:

    I was a bit angry while reading this article. Angry because of the big deal people are making this ad. It was not the idea that the boy got his toe nails polished but that they were polished with a pink color which made it a big deal. Since when did colors mean you are a certain gender? I see young boys, young girls, men and women all wearing different colors and none of the colors make them more or less of a woman or man, so why is it such a big deal for this little boy? I don’t believe that getting his toe nails polished pink will cause him to have gender confusion later. Pink was once a color associated to boys and it was not a big deal then. It is only a big deal in this situation because society has created ridiculous expectations and since a expectation was “supposedly broken” individual members of society is turning this into a big deal.

    Society should really get over this ad and allow for families to have quality time in any way the desire. Society seriously need to stop being so judgmental and should stop over-reacting to things people do. In my opinion, society has been over stepping its boundaries and creating ridiculous rule or expectations for people to follow. People have the freedom to do what they want, be who they want and believe what they want.

  7. Tanya G. says:

    It is unfortunate to see how ignorant people could be. It is now the year 2012 and society still discriminates young kids. I have to admit that if it were not for me getting educated about gender in college, I would be one of those ignorant persons stating that the kids wearing nail polish or pink clothes were abnormal and were going to grow up to be gay. Children and even adults should be able to wear whatever color they like without having the fear of being negatively criticized and/or harassed. I support J. Crew’s ad and I think that there should be more advertisements such as this one to show that children should not be restricted to do “girly” things if you are a boy and do “boyish” things if you are a girl. Ads such as this one could be a great start to stop bullying and discrimination and diminish gender stereotypes and prejudice.

  8. Simara Williams says:

    I don’t understand what the big deal is! So what if he got his toe nails pink. It was a fun thing to do why take it to the next level by throwing in a gender? Our society is too strict on how they see boys and girls. We all need to take a step back as a society and just let people be who they want to be with out judgement. Why can’t a mother and son have harmless fun together?

    There are so many things that society expects from women and from men. Why does someone elses environment matter to society? This ad was built on showing a mother and son having fun. I didn’t even realize his toes until I saw the nail polish on the table. I thought it was cute and playful. This society is so judgemental that they have managed to cause an uproar over a mother and son having a playful afternoon.

  9. Carmelle C says:

    This article does not depict horrible mothering, instead it demonstrates how ignorant our society is. In my opinion, Jenna Lyons has done nothing wrong. In 2012, women are more encouraged than men to break the boundaries when it comes to gender roles. Today it is far more accepted for a female to date other females than a male to date other males. In other words, society looks at feminine men as less than then masculine women. As a child, I watched my mother put nail polish on my brother’s fingers as he smiled and used nail painting as simple bonding time between a mother and her son. However, when my father noticed the nail polish, he immediatly became infuriated in fear his son was too feminine. With society constantly making fun of feminine boys, these boys are taught not to be themselves, further instilling there is something wrong with these young children when there isn’t.

    Simply put, I just dont understand why some people believe they have the right to tell others how to live their lives. Quite possibly the sensitive male is a better lover.

  10. Jasmine Y. says:

    Jenna Lyon’s choice to share bonding moment with her son through painting his toenails pink was completely misconstrued by the public as a poor judgement on her part. The whole ad was blown out of proportion – would an ad involving a young girl playing dress up in her fathers clothes while her father stands to by adoringly confuse a child’s view of gender? They are just clothes. It is just for play. There is nothing dangerous about children who want to explore and experiment and find out who they are, let alone try something on for size.

    My 2 year old cousin always loves to dig in his mothers purse for his lipstick and put it on himself or put it on other people around him. I can tell that he is trying to have a good time, and at this age does not know anything of the social constructs that surround him.

    To express one’s self through painting their nails or through their wardrobe does not define one’s gender preference. Gender knows no boundaries.

  11. After reading about the remarks made by Keith Ablow and Erin Brown, I am outraged that such a beautiful image depicting the love of a nurturing mother on her son can be tainted by the sexist outlook of others. Moreover, when viewing the image, the last thought that went through my mind was that the mother was “confusing” her son of his gender identity. In fact, if anything the mother is supporting her son to be creative and follow his own footsteps. What bothers me most is that these two are making such outrageous remarks without truly thinking of the consequences. Moreover, these remarks are cementing inaccurate gender roles in our society. Last week, we had family over for dinner and naturally my three-year-old cousin made her way towards me in an effort to play. Excited to see me, she ran over with her pink backpack and said “Ben! Look at what I have!” After digging through what seemed to be hundreds of lollipops, she had a case of scented children’s nail polish. As I looked at her nails and commented on how pretty they were she asked if I would like her to color my nails. Eagerly I responded “Of course”. She then carefully colored three of my nails in three different colors. The smile on her face after I thanked her was priceless. When she bragged to the rest of my family about her masterpiece my family was so happy to see her having a good time. After reading this article, I noticed that I should be thankful for a family that does not judge each other with wrongful stereotypes and patriarchal gender roles. Although, I agree with professor Klein that girls are more encouraged to experiment with masculine traits, while boys are discouraged from developing feminine characteristics. For this, when I have children I plan on letting them partake in whichever activities they choose, just as my parents allowed me. If my daughter wants to go boxing, then go for it. If my son wants to join a ballet crew, then have fun.

  12. H. Stevens says:

    It took me rather back when reading about pink or blue that, that has anything to do with what gender a person is when they grow up. Although the vast majority of society identifies with colors for the baby’s sex when they learn if it is a boy or girl, that does not limit them to a certain gender. If women begin to paint their boys toe nails hot pink, i believe that is a way over the top statement trying to make society allow their children to choose their own genders when in reality they are going to anyway. Our society has been the way it is for decades and decades and although it is thought that men who take on women’s characteristics are weaker, it is sadly associated with homosexuality and negative sanctions. It is not like back in the old days where women stay home and men are only allowed to work and take on any responsibility outside the home. Anyone is free to do what they want to do and it is more acceptable now in our society then it was back then. If we start dressing our boys in dresses all the time and allowing them to paint their toe nails, the roles will be so completely reversed. Men and women were made completely different for different reasons.

  13. It’s too bad that individuals like Ablow and Brown and the organizations that back them cannot instead use gender issues as discussion points rather than mud-slinging. Really, going from portraying a child wearing – and seemingly, enjoying – wearing pink to construing that this will lead to men castrating themselves is not only bizarre but offered with no concrete evidence.

    I know that many parents would not be happy to see their sons wearing pink nail polish. However, how are we socializing our children to feel secure and comfortable in their own skin when an (illogical, unmerited) opinion is shoved down their throat? Ablow and Brown’s approach, no matter how strong their words, just seems counterproductive and, honestly, ridden with fear.

  14. Melody A says:

    This article makes me laugh. When reading the article, my own brother popped into my head. My brother is 5 years younger than me, and I still remember the way he would ask if he could try on my pink nail polish for the first time. He knew that I loved putting on nail polish so every time he would see me do it he would run over and ask if I would paint his nails. I have to admit, I thought that this was weird. I mean “why would a boy want to put on pink nail polish? My dad doesn’t put on nail polish so why would my brother?” the first time he asked I said “No! You’re a boy!” thankfully, my mom came over and looked at me and said “what does it matter?”
    I’m really glad that at such a young age we were both allowed to be creative and experiment, we didn’t have such gender socialized parents that would criticize us for wanting to explore with different things.
    Growing up is not easy, you always seem to be doing something wrong. However, if you are fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that doesn’t judge you on the color of your shirt, or the wanting to try on nail polish, then you should consider yourself lucky.

    I think that everyone should read articles like these, so they can understand how to raise their own kids. I know that it’s really given me a lot of insight on how I want to raise my own. Who cares if your son wants to put on nail polish or play with a Barbie instead of a truck? Who cares if your daughter would rather play football than “house”? As long as your kids are happy and are enjoying themselves, you should consider yourself a good parent. No matter what people say.

  15. Richard Escobar says:

    It’s quite fascinating how terrified our society is of any deviation from what they consider “normal” to be. It’s also a bit terrifying that some of this oppression has probably also taken it’s hold on me. I’m a guy, and I would probably never paint my nails, or cross-dress, or wear pink, even on a t-shirt. I now find myself wondering, is this because I actually don’t like the painting my nails or wearing the color pink, or because I have been trained by society to consider those things as inappropriate for my sex to wear? I’m truly thankful for being able to reflect on myself in such a way, and I really hope that I can be as loving a parent as Lyons appear to be in this ad. It may only be a bit of nail polish, but most parents would never allow their sons to display behavior that may be deemed as “girly”, especially in our patriarchal society.

  16. Lizbeth Hurtado says:

    Color codes, which is a recent phenomenon is only obtaining more momentum as the years pass. Children are now taught to not like certain colors because their gender could be at question. This is completely insane, because they are only children whose freedom of choice is disappearing. Children are only allowed to choose with what is given to them. Society is slowly stripping away the freedom of choice to children. What it has done is encouraged misogyny in young boys. They cannot be associated with any feminine “likes” because their family and everyone who surrounds them will question their gender. Now is this normal behavior by the adults who have taught this behavior to young boys? No it is not because children are being punished and even killed by their parents. Who needs to change are the adults not the children, because there is nothing wrong with these children but the adults.

  17. kevin moore says:

    I first want to start off by saying painting a child nail, boy or girl will not make them gay or straight. Children mainly grow up with their mom, and want to do what mom does. It is sad how girls are not look down on for playing with boy toys, but if a boy child picks up a Barbie doll, they will be considered not masculine. I don’t understand why we are looking at children as masculine and feminine. This is their time where they have the innocents and should not be socialized to be more mainly and less feminine.

  18. I remember seeing this advertisement when it first came out, and the mere fact that an image of little boy with pink nails was able to shock me speaks volumes about the constructs and expectations our society places on us. I commend J. Crew’s strength in ignoring societal policing concerning appropriate gendered issues. A color is a color. But what makes this even sadder, is as you pointed out: that if it was a little girl painting a toy car blue or something of the sort there would have never been an outcry in the first place. To be feminine is to be weak and devalued. “Female” traits hold no capital. The idea that pink represents these traits is all imagined by society, just as is that female traits are female and male traits are male. That the two are biologically related and that the two can be ranked according to value is a sad truth that hopefully, with ads such as these, is able to someday change. The picture of Jenna Lyons and her son is beautiful –a wondrous depiction of maternal love and the capturing of a moment of pure bliss. The witch hunt it ensued is a grotesque picture of the society we function and “thrive” in.

  19. Yadira DiSiena says:

    Gender confusion, in my mind is the last thing a child is thinking about. So what if J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons decided to paint her son’s nails. She has every right to do so. The fact that we still label activities as boy and girl activities is ridiculous. We live in a society that wants equality between men and women. If that were true than this article would never exist. Jenna Lyons is teaching her son to be open minded to change. Change is occurring at every moment and we must choose to accept it or live in the past. The past only dragging us behind.

  20. S.Lockey says:

    In society today children are constantly being marketed to and influenced to meet gender stereotypes. There is especially pressure on boys to be masculine more than for girls to be feminine. If a girl plays super hero it is okay, but it isn’t okay for a boy to get his nails painted? I do not understand how society a twist these norms. Why can’t a boy get his nails painted or play with barbies? Does doing those things mean he will want to be a girl or will be homosexual? No. Does a girl playing super hero or refusing to wear skirts mean she wants to be a boy and will be homosexual? No! It is a possibility later in life these children may choose to change their sex or be homosexual but it will not be a result due to children’s play. It will be an adult decision, and traits that those individuals always have and decide upon as an adult. A person doesn’t choose to or be influenced to be the opposite sex or be gay, it is just a part of who they are and what they want. Children are just children. They are not concerned with sexual orientation, they haven’t even gone through puberty. It is the media and society that establish these gender norms they learn through childhood to conform to. My little cousin loves to get his nails painted with his two little sisters. He also loves masculine sports and Stat wars. He’s just being a kid. Children should be allowed to have a gender neutral childhood and just enjoy being kids. They exit the womb and society already wants to put labels on them. It’s not right.

  21. Eternity Holloway says:

    Colors are just colors to me. I can understand that in today’s society colors are linked with certain gender traits. For example: if a women is having a boy she will buy blue clothing & blue stuff for the baby room and a girl pink clothing and pink stuff for the baby room, generally. I have two boys and I just got neutral colors…green, yellow,orange…colors that could go in a girls room depending on who and what you like.I think as future unfolds more and more boys and girls will not be so self causious about what they cloring they are wearing. I see straight men all the time wearing pink or purple shirts and they look great in that color, specially if they have the right coloring and I see nothing wrong with that. It’s only a problem when you got people pointing it out and degrading that person. Colors are just colors, we give them labels. Any child or person should be able to wear or do what ever they want with out society putting labels on them because they are to affraid to live with out labels.

  22. Samantha H says:

    When I saw this ad, I thought it was adorable. The idea of a color only being able to fit for one gender is ridiculous! I think it is so cute when a guy wears pink or purple, but our society has shaped this to be girl’s colors. Now if I guy wear’s a “girl” color he is called gay and other similar insults to a man’s masculinity. A little boy with pink nails will not “make him gay” and is not confusing him about his sexuality- it’s just a color. The idea that letting her young son paint his toes is “setting him up for hard times in the future” is insane. We should not live in a society where we color code things and socialize our kids to be a certain way because of their gender. I of course had dolls and pink things, but I loved to play with my brother’s toys and play sports, and my parents didn’t stop me. Kids should be able to explore colors and toys and shape their own identity, not forcing them to see the world based on if they are a boy or a girl.

  23. Angelica Oseguera says:

    Back in the days no color was assigned to a specific gender and their identity was not questioned. But of course, given that we live in a society like this everything gets questioned. Wearing a specific color does not determine your sexual identity, but will make you question why are they wearing that? As parents we are aware of so many things and we tend to be as careful as possible. As I was growing up I was aware that the common color for girls was ” pink.” Again, “common” not “expected” color to wear. Personally, I did not like pink because I wanted to be like my father and he did not wear pink. I didn’t change my gender or did not feel any less than other girls just made other choices. All in all one will be the person whom they want to be and by the choice of color does not make up your identity. Now in day since everything is so advanced we don’t want to make our children feel excluded from the rest.

  24. LilianaC says:

    When I first saw this ad it was not strange to me because my attention went straight to the mom and son having a good time. Then as I observed the picture is when i noticed the nail color on the boy. This is where the controversy comes in. Why is it such a big deal for a boy to have pink nail polish. This has to do with the gender roles that are expected in our society.If the nail polish was a darker “Manly” color there would not be so much controversy. They would probably be critisizing the picture for the mother trying to make her son metrosexual. Since the nail color was pink it has more negative sanctions.We live in a society that has assigned certain gender qualities for everyone. When we go against the norm we are immediatley put under a microscope. Overall this is just a color therefore we shouldn’t say that children will have psychological problems just because they use a certain nail color.Children should be free to do what they want in order to develop correctly. We shouldn’t tell them they are deviant for doing something like using pink nail color.

  25. Catie Smith says:

    I have a lot to say about this post. First I should mention that I shared this on my Facebook because I think it is absolutely ridiculous that people are SHOCKED by the child’s toenail polish. Children are children. It is unfair to make them feel they are doing something wrong if what they are doing is innate and natural. The mother in this ad is in the right by allowing her son to freely choose which color he wanted to paint his nails. The comment made by others saying that it is propaganda for children to go against their natural gender is also ridiculous. If anything, it should demonstrate that IF this child ends up being homosexual or identifies with being a female, (again this is only IF), then it something a child is born as and not something that is learned over time. Secondly, although I am commenting on this article today, I read it a few months ago and was reminded of it yesterday. I was babysitting and took the six year old I was watching to gymnastics. There I saw a little boy who was rambling on and on about Angry Birds. I looked down and his toes were painted yellow. I thought to myself that is so awesome that his parents allowed him not only to paint his toenails, but allowed him to walk around barefoot in a public setting where others can see. In this day in age it all about self expression, not restriction. This J. Crew ad is demonstrating self expression in a happy positive way.

  26. Nicole Z. says:

    Wow, this article is truly eye-opening. I can not believe that this ad generated so much disbelief and outrage amongst the public. Critics argue this this ad may cause gender confusion in young boys and even go as far as to chastise Jenna Lyons for objectifying her own son. I do not believe that this ad in anyway perpetuates negativity or is deleterious to the well-being of young boys. As mentioned in the article, the establishment of gender identity is not natural in any facet because it is a social construct. To claim that this ad interferes with the formation of gender identification is absolutely ludicrous. Furthermore, to assume that a color is a direct derivative of a certain sex is unfounded and inane. As explained by the article, colors are arbitrarily assigned depending on the sentiments tied to them by a given culture. The real underlying issue as Dr. Albow eloquently states is this article, “homogenizes males with females.” In a system of patriarchy, males must always remain dominate over females because we are viewed as the inferior sex. Masculinity is the valued trait, and any attempt to infringe upon this culture value is highly shunned by society.

    With that being said, I do concur with Brown’s statement about these young boys being set up for a tumultuous future. However, what is true is not always what is right. Gender formation should not be as stringent as it is today, and children should be granted the opportunity to explore the world free from disparagement. Boys are undoubtedly subjected to greater censure than their female counterparts. Females are somewhat encouraged to develop masculine traits, but males must abstain from investigating their feminine side. I think the take home message is that we need to be more open-minded as less critical during our children’s formative years if we wish to foster creativity in our youth. But first, society must make generous strides in the way we view gender in order to support this lofty ambition.

  27. To be honest, this article almost makes me laugh. It is so unfortunate that something as small a hot pink nail polish on a little boy could create such a fuss. Apparently its a big deal, and an even bigger deal that it is a “big deal”. I especially think its wrong to call out Jenna Lyons, saying she is “irresponsible” by creating confusion in her little boy. I don’t think this ad in anyway has a negative effect on the well-being of young boys or any males for that matter.

    As i reflect on what i just read, i am left thinking if its the color of the nail polish or the nail polish itself that is more of any issue. As infants we are associated with color, pink for girls, blue for boys, and the occasional yellow if you wanted to be surprised. I wonder if there would be less uproar if the boys toenails would have been painted blue? Maybe not. Nonetheless I think the argument remains “Why does the ad depict a mom painting her sons toenails?” An activity that is “unnatural” for males.

    But what about gender is natural? Nothing. Gender is and will remain to be a socially constructed category. Instead, if need be, we should be classified by our sex, not our “gender”

    J.Crew’s ad does not depict misguided judgement, rather our reactions as society do.

  28. Jovanna G says:

    I am in favor of the erasing of gender roles but there has to be a line drawn of what is the limit. Painting a boys toe nails is of course going to cause him to think why the other boys aren’t painting their nails and only girls are. The boy will have some questions of his sexuality as both of these gender roles are implied to him. If the boy where to go to school like that then it is most likely he will get ridiculed. I think a lot of this has to do with how the parents think. I remember one time the sister of my brother’s ex-wife painted my nephews hand nails with the clear nail polish. For my brother this was not acceptable. My brother beliefs there is certain things boys and girls can’t do. Like many of society the first thing my brother said was, “He is not a girl!” Patriarchy rules my brother’s life as his culture also plays a role in the whole machismo. To him guys are to be strong, rough, and hard working. When he saw my nephew’s nails he saw my nephew’s maleness go down to soft, weak, and fragile. Parents should not make the decision for their kids in crossing the gender roles instead they should explain to them what they believe is better for the child to do so he won’t be bullied in school and we see all these hate crimes of students against other students.

  29. First looking at this picture, I thought, “Huh? Pink nail polish on a boy?” It’s startling and weird but my question is why is it weird for me to see this little boy with pink nail polish? We grow up thinking boys are supposed to be tough and get dirty and girls are supposed to look pretty and play with dolls. We never question why, we just think that is the way things are suppose to be. It’s interesting how we associate blue with boys and pink with girls but until the 20th century those colors were actually flipped. It makes me question what I truly like. Do I like girly things because I truly like them or do I like them because society tells me that is what I’m suppose to like? I really liked the part in this article that said if there was a girl playing in the dirt with a truck it wouldn’t have created as much hype as this picture did. It completely shows how we value a man’s role compared to a woman’s. Of course this picture is going to be shocking to most because of how we are gender socialized but whether or not a boy is wearing pink nail polish should not matter. Its sad that it does.

  30. Teresa H. says:

    There is so much negativity being presented to young children over color choices. We are so programed to make the most innocent thing into a bad thing. A boy choosing pink breaks the norm but why should it! Colors are just colors it is our society that has condemned pink to be a feminine color: a sign of weakness. If boys are seen wearing pink they are immediately picked on. The media reinforced these color codes that exist. They give too much notice to children who wearing a color that is socially unacceptable. We have been taught to think that certain activities are gender based. Who decided that painting your nails was only a female activity? These criticisms around J. Crew’s ad are unnecessary. I personally do not see any wrong if a boy decides he liked pink or if a girl likes blue. They are just colors. They will not determine if you are a female or male.

  31. Society has issues that undermine parent’s ability to love and provide for their children, the experiences of freedom, choice, and creativity. Simply for a child’s preference of like in clothing or color, toys, or whatever has you, it should not be an issue. Children should be encouraged to live outside of the box before society ruins that aspect of who they are. I feel that with this freedom of acceptance and encouragement early on, kids will grow up to be confident, self-accepting, and especially more open to the differences of others.

  32. Kyle Rudell says:

    The uproar over this ad seems a bit ridiculous, and people are definitely reading too much into it. As pointed out by the author, gender and gender roles are social constructions; without these ideas of what it means to be male and what it means to be female, there would be nothing wrong with painting a boys toes, or with paint a boy’s toes pink. Plenty of young boys want to play with their mom’s makeup or have their nails painted, and this shouldn’t say anything about them. Boys have a natural attachment to their mothers and like to be involved in their activities. This won’t lead to anything harmful in itself; as they get older, most boys learn to understand what is expected of them as a male. If this ad pictured a mother painting her 16-year-old son’s toes, that could be a bigger issue. There is still nothing wrong with it, but the boy would have a hard time fitting in, as he would be going against the social norms that have been outlined for boys. We live in a very patriarchal society, which dictates how boys should act. However, going against those norms is not wrong.

  33. lucero Medrano says:

    A lesser know fact about the colors blue for boys and pink for girls is that the roles of these colors used to be reversed. In the past, pink used to be used specifically for males while females used to be assigned blue. Why? this is because pink resembles red, which is the color of blood that is associated with strength and aggressiveness. Blue is a color that is very “soft” and sweet, like the sky or ocean. Thus, a peaceful shade of blue was assigned to girls. However, the roles of these colors started to change, surprisingly, in the last decade; more specifically the 2000s. Therefore, what is the big deal of a boy wearing pink nail polish? It’s very simple. We live in a patriarchy. What does this mean? This means that boys are valued far above girls. If a boy displays feminine qualities, then he will be very heavily sanctioned in our society. If a girl wear boy clothing then it’s ok, because she is mimicking aggressive behavior.

  34. Michelle A says:

    When I was a kid I never played with dolls. In fact, I hated the color pink, barbies and anything remotely “girly.” My parents allowed me to find who I was on my own and did not constrain me to specific gender roles. Now I really like the color pink and I like males.

    Brown and Ablow’s critique is harsh because like it is stated in the article, pink is just a color and it doesn’t define who we are. In the past women wore blue and men wore pink which didn’t change their sexual preferences or lead them to get a sex change. I believe that people are just scared to step outside the normal gender roles because of what may or may not happen. Children should be able to explore everything and not be restricted because of their sex because in my opinion placing restrictions on someone only leads them to rebel and that may lead to more serious problems.

  35. Jessica C says:

    I hope to see more ads like this that open people’s minds to the option of being less strictly gendered. I agree that clothes, colors, or toys do not have the capability of making a person gay, and so what if it did. Ads that show various ways of doing gender would help society by desensitizing people. For gay and straight men, their safety is in jeopardy when they step outside their gender norms. Seeing more ads that push gender boundaries have the possibility of changing society’s outlook to make it safer for men to freely be the man they choose to be. It’s not uncommon for older sisters to dress up their younger brother in dresses and make up, yet people do not mention how the majority of those boys did not “turn gay” because of it. The media has the power to provide this awareness, but will they?

  36. Tina402 says:

    I realized the extent to which our society is homophobic years ago. When my son was turning 2 the only present he wanted was a tea set to have tea with mommy and a barbie like Jesse (his older sister). I purchased him the barbie and a ken doll. His father flipped saying “I was making his son ‘gay'” and many other not so nice comments. At Christmas that same year I gave him the tea set he was still asking for and he loved it. He had tea parties with me, his sister, his grandma and anyone who would take the time to indulge him. His father asked “where is his purse and heels”. My son was upset by this and didn’t use it nearly as much. My son is now 19 and still has his tea set which he gave his younger sister earlier this year threatening her not to break it. She could not believe that he had such a wonderful treasure to share with her and asked if he really used it when he was a kid. He was proud still proud of it. Just goes to show “pink” tea sets and nail polish don’t ruin kids…it gives them character.

  37. Juana Vitela says:

    I believe that Gender is not defined by a color. This ad is extremely beautiful, a moment where a mother and a son are sharing an evening together and they look happy which is the only thing that matters. Its sad to say that now a days kids should be gender socialized to what society believes is “right” why should a boy not like pink or wear pink just because its a “girly color.” That to me is just plain pathetic. Gender is something that is socially constructed. If you’re born with the characteristics of a boy but you dont want to be a boy you should be able to express your self and your emotions and thoughts in which ever way you please. Choosing to paint your nails pink if your a guy shouldn’t be a reason for people to judge. Pink is nothing but a color and that shouldn’t define a persons gender.

  38. Kaitlin V says:

    I hate these gender color lines so much. It just seems so ridiculous to me. My male cousin was asked not to wear a pink shirt to school anymore by the junior high administrators because it was attracting too much negative attention. I had an outburst with one of my aunts because she didn’t want to buy her soon a stool that seemed “too girly”. I hate these sort of references that doing a certain activity or wearing a certain color is going to detract from your masculinity or femininity. I retract that last statement; women have less negative sanctions for doing something considered “masculine”. The men are the ones who have to deal with this blatant homophobia and transphobia greater society has inflicted upon them.

  39. Nicole D says:

    This article reminds me that a year ago I saw a man with painted nails and I was appalled. I have realized now that I should not have judged him. After learning more about gender and sex and how gender is learned through cultural expectations, I see that the ideas I have about girls vs. boys is solely based on what others have told me and what I have observed. I would never think twice about seeing a woman with painted nails, because that is so commonplace and ‘normal.’ I wonder though, why is NOT ‘normal’ for men to wear nail polish? This is because our culture has told us it’s not. I wonder why it is instilled into our minds that pink is ONLY for girls and blue is for boys. Similar to what this article says, if a girl wears blue it is okay, but if a boy wears pink, it is not okay. If a young boy wears pink to school, he will be teased, ridiculed, and probably called either gay or a girl. It is disturbing that our culture has become like this in the past few decades. I feel that the sexism is only getting worse, and the fact that one simple ad caused so much controversy is astonishing to me, and shows how homophobic and sexist our culture is. Color simply should not define gender.

  40. Natalie P says:

    This is a perfect example of an issue that would ping pong back and forth between FOX news and MSNBC. Social conservatives love finding gems like this J.Crew ad, to analyze, criticize, and whip up some frenzy, in order to reinforce messages of socially constructed gender roles. They instill fear in those people who are not capable of discerning what is important about an issue such as a mom and son playing with “colors,” together, as well as capitalize on those who are not aware that there are alternative ways of thinking gender roles, values, and just about everything else. It is maddening to hear this constant barrage of dialogue supporting and reinforcing the ideas, norms and values of our patriarchal system. Even more disconcerting is that the average American will swallow up and regurgitate the lies and manipulations presented to them by media giants like FOX, and give no thought to the factual details like the historical reversal of color in gender coding.

  41. I wonder if it would have made a diffrence if the nail polish was a diffrent color. It’s interesting to see people make a big deal over a child with nail polish, even though there are grown men who go on tv everyday to sit in front of camera and deliver news with make-up on. There isn’t much conversation about the make up that these grown men wear. It must have been a slow day at fox news so to bring some ratings or attention to their news channel they needed somthing to stir up some controversey so they made this ad.

  42. Gladys S says:

    Kids should not be categorized by what bthey wear or what they play with. All that age the kids are just experimenting and having fun. By a kid wearing a specific color it does not make them straight or gay its just society that see’s it like that. Back in the days they were not such colors for boys or girl. If men or boys in our culture wear pink their masculinity gets questioned and they received negative sanctions because its not in the norrm. But girls have the privilege to wear any color including Blue, its okey for women to do so. Sexism is getting worse is not just because of the colors but also the toys. Now their is toys that are only for boys and only for girls even though they are the identical toy with the exception that they are different color. What society is teaching kids is to start stereotyping and categoring others at a young age. Color should not definding the gender of the kids or their sexual preference.

  43. Kristin Singleton says:

    Colors are just colors, I think society is putting too much pressure on children and gender socialization. Just because a mom and her son want to have a fun moment together, why does it matter which color they chose to paint their nails? Pink and blue are just colors, not symbols for one gender to abide by for the rest of their lives. It’s the same thing as restricting what the children can and cannot play with. When I was growing up, I was never prevented from playing with toys that were considered to be “boy” toys. I do not understand why people are making a big deal about the color of the nail polish used. As mentioned earlier, shouldn’t they focus more on the happy relationship between a mother and her son?

  44. Danielle K. says:

    I see things like this all of the time! I understand why people would be bothered by this ad, but I feel as though it is only because they simply DO NOT understand children. I work with kids and I often see little boys with their nails and toes painted. It is not a gender thing when it comes to little children. It’s all about simply living. There is a twin boy and girl at the school I work at and I can see why the boy would want his nails painted. He wants to get and do the things he see’s his sister doing, nothing wrong with that! The color pink has been stereotyped to girls only. However, blue, brown, black, red, and other “masculine” colors have been accepted for girls to wear as well. Girls really do not have any restrictions when it comes to colors and boys toys. They are allowed and not criticized because of it. For boys, that is a different story. If we begin to advertise that gender equality should go BOTH ways, then there would be a lot more understanding and fairness distributed to children’s actions.

  45. Jasmine M says:

    When looking at the picture, I see a beautiful moment between mother and son. They both look like they are having a fun time. The son is smiling big and the mother has joy written all over her face. It is unfortunate that the capturing of this moment has been reduced to the sate of being a controversy over whether or not the painting of a child’s toenails leads to “psychological turmoil.” We are socialized from the time we are born, into roles that society deems acceptable. Whenever someone comes along and doesn’t interact in socially acceptable ways there is an outcry. Sometime, these outcries are valid, but in this case they are not. Her son is at the age where he is not overtly aware of gender roles. I think its great that his mom stepped outside of the box to interact with her son. Painting his toenails pink is not going to make him into a girl and is not going to affect his masculinity. If anything, the child will have higher self-esteem than most because his parents are not holding him to strict gender roles. The picture captured, was that of an innocent moment between mother and son, and has gotten deeply misconstrued. I do not think there is anything wrong with the mother painting her sons toes pink. I think it is laugh worthy and those who do find something wrong with it, should revaluate all they ways they have been socialized into being masculine or feminine. Furthermore, they should think about everything they have missed out on because they were afraid that someone would judge their masculinity or femininity.

  46. Debora G says:

    After reading this article I found it ridiculous how people would see the Ad as something wrong just because it goes against patriarchal views. The concept of color representing gender is how people were taught to categorize things. For example at the hospital newborn girls are wrapped in pink blanket and boys were wrapped in blue blankets. But as mention in the article, “colors are just colors. Linking certain colors doesn’t mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.” The color pink has made a big fashion statement recently among men. The first time I remember seeing a men wear pink I was thrown back because I was taught that pink was a girls color and boys who wear pink were often gay. I’m not quite sure if the color of the nail polish made people upset or the overall concept of a boy having his nails painted did? I always wonder if the color would have been blue would people still have a problem with the AD. I have a nephew that loves to get his nails painted at first I thought it was a bit weird but after taking this class I learned that children are too young to know if it is out of the norm. The act doesn’t mean that he will be gay. It’s just something he enjoys and has fun doing.

  47. Melody Sabet says:

    Just when I begin to believe that maybe we are making partial strides to combat homophobia I see them overshadowed by the rigidness of society and its expectations. It is very interesting that the abundantly clear message of a mother and son spending time together is completely overlooked and the small detail of color is zoomed upon and blown completely out of proportion. A color is a color and society is the only thing that determines its meaning. If this is not the case then from the beginning of time the theme of pink for girls and blue for boys would have been consistent and unchanging. If we lacked the cone cells in our eyes that give us the ability to see color and could only see in black and white there would be no segregation of gender based on color (although my gut tells me society would still find a different way to symbolize the different sexes). Another trend that I continue to see is the hatred for femininity and how masculinity is put upon a pedestal and when threatened by femininity is taken as an insult and attack of mass proportions. This highlights, circles, and underlines the theme patriarchy and how deep its roots run within our society.

  48. Brittany P says:

    When reading this article I didn’t even notice the pink nail polish at first. After I did it didn’t really bother me because the mom and child looked happy. A child should be able to choose any color of the rainbow and be able to like it. Boys should not have to only like blue and green and girls pink and purple. The fact that this one picture is causing so my drama is outrageous. A child needs to experiment to find out who they are. If we hinder their creativity then we hinder them growing as a person. Color does not mean that a child will grow up to be gay or different (not that, that’s bad) it just means that they are open to all experiences. I think it was pretty interesting to see that these gender based colors did not always exist and in fact men used to wear pink to signify strength and blue was seen as feminine. It is the exact opposite now so knowing that we see that colors have no impact on how a child grows up. They can like and color and still be a “normal” boy or girl.

  49. Melissa M says:

    I cannot express how much I love this ad that J. Crew put out. I completely feel that there needs to be more ads like this. This article caused a lot of frustration within me. I feel this frustration because I have a younger 4 year old male cousin who lives with my parents. My four year cousin has his mother and older 8 year old sister that he spends his time with. Not to mention my other 5 year old female cousin he plays with after school. So when I see him walking around with my two other females cousins with a pink purse in hand or wearing glittery pink fairy wings, I am not surprised. He is playing with the things he is surrounded by. He sees his mother and sister having their fun with dressing up. So he wants to dress up. Some members of my family become alarmed by this and think he will grow up to be gay. And I think that is absolutely ridiculous. Just because one plays with purses or walks around in their mother’s heels, doesn’t mean that they will love men. And even if he did grow up to be gay, I don’t see a problem in this. I mean it’s like it was mentioned “direct correlation between color, gender, and sexual identity is ludicrous.” All these gender norms that are within our society were set by society. It’s time we all start realizing this. I love this idea of gender possibilities. Because it only makes me think back to these young boys who rather play with a Barbie than a football is, but he can’t because that is wrong according to our society. These are the children who grow up disgusted with themselves because society tells that they are wrong and will not be accepted if they go against gender norms. Allowing for gender possibilities is giving these kids the opportunity for happiness in simply painting their toenails pink even if they are male.

  50. I think children shouldn’t be worried about gender confusion. I don’t think we should be getting worked up over a little bit of nail polish on a boys feet regardless if it was pink polish. She can do whatever she feels. I think part of it has to do with the fact that our society groups activities into gender specific acitivies. Its pretty interesting how scared we are of difference in society. If something is different and no where close to societal norms, we automatically reject it. Gender is created by society and it should be normal to do as we feel. I hope when I am a parent I can teach them to be who they are and not feel scared to do things that may seem different.

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