You may have noticed last week's cultural kerfuffle -- brouhaha? -- over an emailed feature that showed J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons laughing with her son Beckett, whose toenails are pink -- his favorite color.
It shared the news cycle with deadly radiation in Japan, the historic budget battle, civil war in Libya and a number of other equally weighty issues.
Full disclosure. I know Jenna. I know Beckett. And my husband runs the company.
Just for the sake of discussion, let's restage the photo shoot. Suppose instead of a mother, it was a father. And instead of a son, it was a daughter. And instead of toenail polish, the father was applying eye-black to reduce glare on the cheek bones of a little girl, with a backwards baseball cap, who was getting ready for a game.
Would the world be having this conversation?
Would Fox News (which seems to pounce on these kinds of things the way Al Jazeera covers American actions in the Middle East) have aired a charge by Erin Brown from the Media Research Center (whose mission is to "prove -- through sound scientific research -- that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines American values ...") that J. Crew is "exploiting Beckett behind the façade of liberal transgendered identity politics?"
Would FoxNews.com columnist Dr. Keith Ablow have cited it as a "dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity?"
Would the issue have been earnestly discussed from ABC to CNN?
The answer is no -- on all counts. Fathers with little girls who compete and even dress like little boys is celebrated. Mothers doing anything that carries even a hint of crossing a line of gender correctness is viewed as another insidious step in the emasculation of American youth.
It is moms, it seems, who hold the power over a son's sexual orientation. One misstep, and there he goes -- over to the wild side.
There must be something about nail polish that strikes a particular nerve. My previous book, Raising Boys Without Men was attacked on grounds similar to Beckett's pink toenails. Some had a problem with my stories of single and two-mother families who were raising happy, empathetic, well-adjusted and, yes, masculine boys. One of them had a son who liked to paint his nails -- much to the concern of other parents. The same son, it should be noted, had to be dissuaded from going to school with sharpened sticks taped to his fingers because he wanted to be like the X-Men's Wolverine.
I hope that Jenna saves the ad. I hope she saves the hyperventilations of the commentators. I hope that some day she pulls them out, for an object lesson and a good a laugh about how utterly stupid some can be about the things that do and do not matter in the journey to who we are.
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