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Why I Let My Son Wear Pink

Apr 18 2011
The real trouble with the J. Crew ad controversy is not a gay/transgender agenda but our culture's sexualization of children.

In case you missed the news story that Jon Stewart has named "Toemageddon," here are the facts: Retailer J. Crew sent out an online ad last week in which creative director Jenna Lyons appears in a photo with her 5-year-old son, Beckett. A quote from Jenna reads, "Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon." In her hand, she cups her son's foot, done up with bright pink nail polish.


Out came pundits accusing J. Crew of pushing a liberal agenda in which gender distinctions no longer matter, glamorizing a transgendered lifestyle, and, according to Erin Brown of the Culture and Media Institute, "targeting a new demographic—mothers of gender-confused young boys." Fox News blogger Keith Ablow accused J. Crew of being "hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race." Ablow put nail-polish-wearing boys on a spectrum of disturbing behavior, including boys in sundresses and people coloring or bleaching their skin so they could appear to be of a different race.

I didn't want to write about this brouhaha for the same reason I felt compelled to: my 5-year-old son. Until recently, my son's favorite color was pink. He says it no longer is, which is fine, although I'm sad that the major reason is that some boys at school (sweet, lovely little boys) told him that only girls like pink. Until then, he didn't seem to know that his love of pink, occasional wearing of nail polish, and devotion to Dora the Explorer (as opposed to her male cousin, Diego, who is marketed to boys) mattered one way or the other.

But I knew. Once, I overheard two moms in the pool locker room talking about my son's pink flowered swim goggles. "I understand," one said to the other, "that we need to let our kids be who they are. But that's just too much." People would often comment, "He must like pink because he has sisters!" I would respond, "No, it's because that's what he likes." As the mother of this bright, creative boy who continues to defy some gender stereotypes, even though he now names turquoise as his favorite color, the J. Crew ad backlash hit me in the gut.

Some facts are in order.

Fact: The association of pink with girls and blue with boys was not decreed by God at creation. As Jeanne Maglaty recently wrote for Smithsonian.com, the association is a modern phenomenon. A 100-plus years ago, pink was considered a masculine color, blue a feminine color, and all children, boys and girls, wore white dresses and long hair until around age 6. Ablow asked how we would respond to a photo of a boy in a dress. Perhaps he should find a photo of one of his male ancestors at age 3 or 4, and answer his own question.

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