Gender, Nail Polish and Politics

If I want to horrify my mother, I tell her that I was out with friends and we sat at a bar to consume a glass of wine. Sounds civilized, right? But she sees that -- sitting at a bar as opposed to a table -- as decidedly manly behavior unbecoming of her 40-something daughter.

As for my father, well, he seemed amused when I told him last week that I’ve been learning how to hit a bag at the gym and I like it. However, I don’t think I imagined that he cringed a little bit, too.

Whoa, bellying up to a bar and sporting boxing gloves? Testosterone alert.

These are things that don’t fit neatly into my very loving, but old school parents’ preconceived ideas of gender roles. Yet somehow I don’t think they’re sitting around wondering why the pretty pink dresses I wore as a little girl or the perfectly formed curls my mother made with a brush and my hair wrapped around her finger didn’t make me more girly. Nor are they knocking themselves out to recall if I ever played with one of my brother’s Matchbox cars, causing this utter deviation into masculine behavior.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 20, 30 or 40 years from now, Beckett, the adorable, curly-haired son of J.Crew designer Jenna Lyons, will be getting a good chuckle when he and his family look back and see the hoopla around the photo of him wearing neon pink nail polish as a 5-year-old.

In case you haven’t heard, a J.Crew advertisement headlined “Saturday with Jenna” was accompanied by a photo of mother and son looking at each other in a loving way. He is wearing pink nail polish and the copy reads, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

As it turns out, this sweet little mother-son moment has become a litmus test for the uptight among us. Because certainly now at the very least Beckett will be appearing on an upcoming episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and at the very worst he will become the cross-dressing serial killer “Buffalo Bill” from Silence of the Lambs.

On the Web site of the Culture and Media Institute – whose tagline is ‘advancing truth and virtue in the public square’ – Erin R. Brown calls it “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” Whew, maybe loosen the corset a little there.

And at, contributor Dr. Keith Ablow is concerned, to put it lightly.

“This is 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’ [my word choice] is not known.” Ablow writes.

While much has been debated about the latter part of this statement, I’ve got to begin with Ablow’s use of the adjective “dramatic.” Really? Because the way I see it, this ad is anything but. It is innocuous and highlights just another day in the life of a mother. It’s about real family values in America – glowing at the sight of your child and vice versa. I’m not a therapist, but I think the drama comes in when we project our own stuff on to innocent child play and make it into an evil plot to corrupt our society.

Interestingly, I am in complete agreement with Ablow on his next paragraph:

“In our technology-driven world -- fueled by Facebook, split-second Prozac prescriptions and lots of other assaults on genuine emotion and genuine relationships and actual consequences for behavior -- almost nothing is now honored as real and true,” Ablow writes.

Where we part is that the J.Crew ad in any way adds to that problem. The question of what is real and true in gender issues for me comes into play with things like adolescent and teen girls who are clearly heterosexual going out of their way to kiss other girls as a way to draw male attention. Or high school kids who know they are attracted to others of the same sex who must live in shame for what is natural to them.

The show Glee addresses this with a level of sophistication that is apparent, I find, mostly to viewers in their 30s and 40s that I’ve talked to about it. There are two girls on the show, both of whom are dating boys, who occasionally express their physical attraction to each other. In one episode, one of the girls was honest and declared her feelings for the other girl; however, the girl on the receiving end just couldn’t handle it and rejected her.

It was painful to watch, but I have heard gay adults express how wonderful it would have been to have that kind of subject matter on television when they were kids. At the very least, it would have been validating and made them feel less alone and freakish. Glee also aired a first kiss between two boys and it was beautifully handled because it captured the innocence and the fear.

Of course it has plenty of detractors, not the least of which is former Saturday Night Live comic Victoria Jackson.

“Did you see ‘Glee’ this week?” Jackson wrote. “Sickening! And, besides shoving the gay thing down our throats, they made a mockery of Christians -- again! I wonder what their agenda is? Hey, producers of ‘Glee’ – what’s your agenda? One-way tolerance?”

Seems to me their agenda is being entertaining while also having an actual impact on societal gender/sexuality roles and other issues facing teens.

Maybe we could get Friends to reunite and let us know what happened to Ross Geller’s son, Ben, who took a liking to a Barbie doll in one episode. Is he a fashion designer now? A pilot? A stay-at-home father?

Or perhaps the testosterone was permanently sapped out of him when he exhibited joy at the sight of something pink.

Oh, the horror.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to