Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Thoughts on the J. Crew Photo Firestorm

By this time I'm sure everyone has heard of the infamous J. Crew photo of a mother painting her son's toenails, which appeared in an email advertisement to existing J. Crew customers. The photo is of Jenna Lyons, the company's creative director, and her son. And as you know, it has sparked outrage around the country and (again) reignited the conversation on "appropriate gender roles for children."

I say good for J. Crew. But I honestly don't believe this was intended to spark such a response. I think it's fitting with their brand and doesn't really isolate their base of existing online customers who have opted into their email list. The photo seems to be on a page that's selling the idea of taking some time off to play with your kids, which is a nice way to position a clothing brand like J. Crew at the turn of the season to busy working middle-upper class moms. Nice to see a "real" portrayal of the mom here- note how she's not all done up in makeup, checking her Blackberry, and cooking dinner at the same time. 

I won't go into my thoughts on why this is harmless, because I think most of my readers know the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. But I will say that I find it really interesting that the people opposed to the photo demonize the mother. "Imagine how he'll be treated in school," they say, implying that he'll be picked on by all the boys for not conforming to a display of masculinity that conforms to cultural norms. Perhaps what this photo really illustrates is a culture that oppresses women- because we'd rather vilify a devoted mother for playing harmlessly with her child than question a cultural gender code that correlates neon pigmented lacquer with homosexuality. Wake up, America. 

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