On the one hand, we wring our hands and say, ‘how can we get boys to express themselves more?’ On the other, when an ad dramatically depicts one doing exactly that, we freak out about entitlement
I had no idea John Lewis did home insurance and now, thanks to the furore of people who muddle John Lewis adverts up with government campaigns, I do. Well done, sharply-dressed advertising types. The endless string of meetings, meticulous casting process and oat latte overdoses paid off. The advert with the kid in a dress flouncing about his home making a total mess while his mum and sister look on is all over Twitter and has made exactly the right splash you were aiming for.
The advert shows a young lad with glasses on, who has pulled a dress over his own clothes and is running amok through their shiny home, wrecking the joint in time with Stevie Nicks’s Edge of Seventeen. Right-wing columnists raged about it. The cult-like clusters of boy-in-a-dress haters declared that the child is the “embodiment of male privilege”, doing whatever he wants with impunity while his sister and his mother look “meekly” on.
Nice one capitalism, you took the hot topic of the day and goaded people into shouting about your brand.
The two types of people who objected to it are rightwingers who detest any kind of “wokery”; anything which positively represents minorities or liberal sensibilities. They are the ones permanantly outraged that anything at all in culture moves forward in anyway whatsoever.
The other type of objectors to the advert are people who consider themselves extremely accepting and tolerant and champions of minorities. They would have been the first to praise the decision to finally have non-white people being represented in national adverts.
They are the types who will donate to a refugee charity at Christmas, and would stick up for people at a bus stop if someone used a racist slur. But when they see a young kid expressing himself, tearing down the stereotypes of what he should wear or look like, they see it as an attack on cis women – as a message that a bloke can do what he likes with no repercussions.
We all see things from our own perspectives, and here is mine: I live in world where boys and men are killing themselves at a much highter rate than women because it is still not acceptable for boys to cry. They still are given the message to bottle their feelings in the way women and girls are not.
I am raising a son who is a bit of an introvert. He loves playing football, but off the sports field is a quiet, studious boy who has never given me much cause to tell him off. From when he was tiny, he sought to remove himself from boisterous, loud types (soos, erm, his mother and sister). He is not a “lad” type and there is precious little, still, on screens to represent boys like him positively.
My children are allowed, as I was when I was growing up, to draw on their bedroom walls. My daughter and her friends spend hours decorating hers with drawings in felt-tip pen. My son wouldn’t dream of it and his walls are immaculate.
My daughter gives me a minute-by-minute running commentary on her every emotion. When my son gives me the slightest notion of what he is feeling, I literally hold my breath, as the moment is so rare that I don’t want to make the slightest noise or movement in case he skedaddles.
I see the boy in the John Lewis ad as a kid like my son. He’s not a kid who has ever done what he is doing before and the ‘meekness’ of his mum and sister is because they are so taken aback that he has come out of his shell. I see this advert as championing the freedom of boys who are not “lads”, but the quiet ones who don’t fit in with the “it’s just banter!” types – and are beating their own path.
To say the boy is “entitled” for behaving the way he does dehumanises him. We don’t know his story. Maybe he’d shut himself in his room all weekend because he was being bullied at school and this was his way of showing he’d had enough.
On the one hand, we wring our hands and say, “how can we get boys to express themselves more?” On the other, when an ad dramatically depicts one doing exactly that, we freak out about entitlement (it’s worth noting John Lewis did a similar ad in 2015 with a girl behaving much like this boy).
I recently came home and found my son and his mate cheerily painting their nails. He grinned at me and said, “boys will be boys!”. Their generation are way ahead of mine, who are endlessly dissecting a home insurance advert. We are dinosaurs. The youth have got this.