Debate Magazine

The J. Crew Controversy

Posted on the 21 April 2011 by Juliez

the clearly evil photo in question

A recent J. Crew promotional email showed a picture of the company’s president and creative director Jenna Lyons laughing with her 5-year-old son, Beckett. A bottle of Essie nail polish is juxtaposed with their photo. The caption of this spread reads, “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is so much more fun in neon.” For most, this image, shown at left, depicts a loving mother and her son sharing a fun and sweet moment together, but some social conservatives have labeled the image as “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” This statement comes from an article written by Erin R. Brown for the website of the Culture and Media Institute, whose mission is to “prove – through sound scientific research – that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines American values.” The article begins, “J. Crew, a popular preppy woman’s clothing brand and favorite affordable line of first lady Michelle Obama, is targeting a new demographic – mothers of gender-confused young boys.” Brown goes on to suggest that Beckett has been somehow exploited by people pushing “liberal, transgendered identity politics.” Psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Keith Ablow also wrote an article on the topic. He went even further than Brown, calling the image “a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such ‘psychological sterilization’ is not known.” Ablow demonstrates his blatant idiocy to an even greater extent with this suggestion:

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? Why not make race the next frontier? What would be so wrong with people deciding to tattoo themselves dark brown and claim African-American heritage? Why not bleach the skin of others so they can playact as Caucasians?

Why should we hold dear anything with which we were born?”

Ablow’s extrapolations are outrageous. People don’t change their gender because of something as trivial as putting on nail polish; they transfer genders because the identity they were born with doesn’t match their biology. Similarly, sexuality isn’t something that can be influenced by external forces. If Beckett grows up to be gay or transgendered, it certainly won’t be because him mom permitted him to paint his toenails as a five-year-old. But you don’t need to take my word for it; Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who serves on the American Psychiatric Association’s committee addressing sexual and gender identity, has stated, “I can say with 100 percent certainty that a mother painting her children’s toe nails pink does not cause transgenderism or homosexuality or anything else that people who are social conservatives would worry about.” And the comparison to race is ridiculous. I won’t get all the way into this issue, but gender identity and cultural identity are two completely different things that a psychiatrist like Ablow should know better than to lump together.

In my opinion, this whole story is a non-issue that doesn’t even warrant discussion, but since social conservative ignoramuses like Keith Ablow have made it a topic of controversy, I think they need to be called out for their offensive commentary and the way they have blown this thing way out of proportion. The story being told by the photo is that of a loving mom who is embracing her son’s creative whimsy. Ablow closes his article by asking, “I wonder what Jenna would think if her son wanted to celebrate his masculinity with a little playacting as a cowboy, with a gun? Would that bring the same smile of joy and pure love that we see on her face in the J. Crew advertisement?” You know what, Mr. Ablow? I think that her reaction would have been just the same. She is clearly a mother who loves her son for who he is, and who would support him no matter what. Beckett is lucky to be being raised in an environment without harsh restrictions on self-expression. Whether he grows up to be straight, gay, or even transgender, I’m confident that his mother will accept him for who he is. That’s what this photo is all about.


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