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April 16, 2011

It’s 2011; who cares if a boy wants to paint his toenails. ~ Joe Yeoman (Jon Stewart, J. Crew)

Will makeup be the death of America? Well, maybe, at least according to Fox, NBC, CBS, CNN…

“Hot pink on his toes? What’s the message here?”

That he’s a kid, you stupid “journalist.”

As Melanie Klein discuss in her article, should become more gender neutral:

My toddler son has a thing for all things wheeled. He can easily distinguish a skip loader from a backhoe and a semi-truck from a dump truck. He’s also intrigued by my jewelery box, stacking bracelets high up his pudgy arms. After watching Mommy’s daily morning ritual of applying some eyeshadow and liquid liner on countless occasions, it’s none too surprising that he’s fascinated by my make-up box, eager to smear eyeshadow across his eyelids (forehead, nose and cheeks). My friend’s little boy loved sparkly ballet flats and dollhouses while another’s had a penchant for his sister’s pink tutu and glittered angel wings.

These boys are commonplace-and not represented in mainstream pop culture. There’s no room for these normal explorations in our hyper-segmented world of marketing. And, as a tragic example further down in this post will show, these normal, healthy childhood curiosities and small pleasures are usually quickly beaten out of boys, figuratively and literally.

And from her article in Ms. Blog:

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.

She is way smarter than me on this issue.

Personally, I was a theater major in college (I ended up minoring in acting). Makeup allows you to be more expressive, to embody another soul, to create a fantasy. In reality, it should have no foothold in gender. Masculine actors, Republican politicians, and the news anchors hurling hate all wear makeup, paint their fingernails clear (the coat looks better on camera), and slather on pale shades of lipstick. So what if a little boy wants to experiment with their personality? It’s called play. That’s how we learn how to be people.

Support kids being kids. Don’t support them adhering to the rigorous Ken and Barbie, Brady Bunch, Leave It to Beaver stereotypes. It’s 2011; who cares if a boy wants to paint his toenails.

Enough of me. Here’s Jon Stewart:

Joe Yeoman thinks you’re pretty awesome. Hopefully, when you meet him, you don’t spit in his face. You can contact him at Joeyeoman [at] gmail [dot] com. Follow him on twitter @themindfullife, @walkthetalkshow, and @joeyeoman. Friend him of Facebook.

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