The current kerfuffle about a picture in a J.Crew advertisement has caught my attention. Many years back I spent a rewarding and involving year working in the "creative" department (the folks who did the catalog and most of the ads) and I am proud to remember it now. I am proud of them for having run the image. And I am even prouder of them for having stood by it.
My only question is why hasn't anybody interviewed Rena Delevie about this yet? She used to be the operations manager of J.Crew's creative department, she stayed there for years, worked in other parts of fashion and publishing for more years, and knows plenty about the decisions made about what does and does not run in a catalog or an ad. And she's now doing a documentary about motherhood for which she's been interviewing moms for ages now. Not to mention that she's funny, very smart, clear thinking, and vivacious as all get out. And of course has spent tons of time on the other side of the mic and so knows what an interviewer needs. I'll bet that she gives killer sound bite.
Okay, and yeah, she's really cute.
Anyway, as for this whole gender thing, I dunno. In my experience all those years back J.Crew was amazingly rational and full of smart, capable people who had plenty of funny things to say (Jeff Grewe, I'm thinking of you) about narrow-mindedness but they were actually less indicative of norms in the New York media world than you might think. Or at least among many of the people outside editorial.
Later I had a long-standing gig at ad agency DDB Needham. I'd been working there on and off for around two years. One Monday morning we started talking about men wearing nail polish and I pulled off one of my loafers and showed that my own toenails were painted. (A wonderful turquoise from Bendel's, if I remember correctly). The barrage of homophobic comments and actions that day left me entirely gobsmacked. (For example, "I'm afraid to be alone in a room with you; how do I know that you won't rape me?") Later that week my gig got unexpectedly canceled and I never got work there again. To this day I wonder if part of it was simple shock on their part. After all, I was this perennially sweaty, aggressive, bearded guy who was constantly trying to pick up various cute women and now and again dating them. (Ahh! Stacy Turner!) I guess that when they saw my tiny little bits of color I was messing with their handy-dandy stereotype. Strange. And kind of sad, actually.
A few years after that when my similarly bedecked toes were noticed poolside after an Americares day with the staff of This Old House Magazine I found myself the subject of snotty and nasty remarks ("should we start calling you Rustina?") and general static, including some from my boss. Interestingly, the people who responded negatively then and in the days after were all women. Women who always wore makeup every day and were very gender conventional in their presentation. And again I suspect that part of it was that I was the same guy I had been at DDB, though now with a shaved head and a manic gamer friend in a beat up leather jacket who would drop by and hang. Though sadly, since I was by then the IT Director, I had reluctantly stopped asking the cute women out. ;->
This stuff has always seemed chowderhead to me, at best. What's your deal, folks? Why are you so threatened by this? What makes you so timid that you need to have everybody fit into little labeled boxes? We can do better. In fact, given the force that gender roles exert on things like norms for executive behavior ("the department needs to come across as strong so we're going to refuse to give in on that budget proposal") we need to remember that these forced dichotomies actually impede things like our ability to pass treaties or address international debt. Let alone to accept things like greenroof as serious. Even now I still see residual bits of contempt for those in architecture and engineering who work in "less manly" specialties like landscape design. And a tendency to muddy up otherwise clear proposals for things like swales with ungainly chunks of superfluous jargon and obstructively precise specifications that only serve to increase costs and pressure the implementors into trying to force living things into a degree of linearity that just can't ever work.
I used to have a friend, Janet Pascal, who was prone to saying that in 1600's Europe a gentleman's perfect day was putting on makeup, lace, high heels, and brocade, wading into bloody sword fights on a smoky, chaotic, mud-covered battlefield littered with the bodies of his enemies and loud with the screams of the dying and the horns and drums of the victorious. And then back home, where he would bathe, put on a nice lacy robe and perfume, and write flowery poetry about it all. Of course, it's crucial that one's lace, pen, and robe all have just the right sweet, diaphanous fragility. Shows one's quality, you see.
Yes, let's not forget that all this mahooah from "conservatives" about "how things have always been" is just yet more proof that they are, let's come out and say it, ignorant and foolish. Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben, the military genius who whipped the colonial army into shape (sometimes literally) and wrote the field manual that our military used throughout the Revolutionary War and for decades after was, by any rational definition, a man's man. A combat-hardened, tough, strong survivor and commander in a time when even just normal life for a person who traveled the world required considerable hardness. And the men who were his lovers would all have agreed.
Can we please just grow up already, admit that people vary greatly, that gender is a multi-variable and complex thing, and move past the second grader's need to divide the world up into primitive, simplistic, crayon-bordered categories of This or That?
We can, we must, do better.