You may have seen that the blogosphere has been swamped with articles excitedly debating the meaning of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s decision to wear boys’ clothing. The young daughter of Brad and Angelina chooses to go by the name ‘John’, and her decision to wear a boy’s suit to the red carpet premiere of ‘Unbroken’ caused an uproar. But why?
In this day and age, it seems puzzling that enforced gender identities remain so defined. With the rise of feminism and women’s suffrage, traditional gender stereotypes started to break down. The feminist rejection of ‘Loaded’ lad culture in the 1990s led to the rise of the ladette, and women could be seen scrapping and vomiting on street corners on a Friday night alongside men. From repressed, domesticated silence to pint-swilling excess, the trajectory of femininity continues to change with each new generation. In 2015, one would have thought that our society would accept Shiloh’s decision to adopt boyish/masculine traits. Surely, a young girl’s choice of outfit is no business for the mass media?
While Brad and Angelina have publicly supported their daughter’s tomboy behaviour since as far back as 2010, many commentators have criticised this, owing to Shiloh’s young age, saying that her choice of dress sends out ‘confusing’ messages to impressionable young girls. Shiloh is frequently described as a ‘transkid’ in the media – an inappropriate and sensational label that seems to perpetuate negative exposure and association. While the likes of Amber Rose have publicly backed Shiloh’s choice of dress, their use of the phrase ‘transkid’ is problematic.
Tomboys are fairly common, and traditionally tend to be more socially accepted than boys who display so-called ‘feminine’ traits. It seems as though boys and girls receive different treatment when growing up in an assigned gender role. At school, I remember a boy being bullied by the teacher in front of the class for wearing an earring (although wearing an earring is now commonplace for teenage boys).
Boys who were thought to be feminine were often bullied, beaten and ostracised, and I’m sure the same type of old-fashioned attitudes can still be found in schools. Perceived femininity in boys is labelled as ‘gay’ or ‘soft’, but being a tomboy is usually seen as ‘just a phase,’ and not associated with sexuality. The recent reaction to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s ‘boyishness’ goes against this, as much of the discussion has been focused around unhealthy displays of gender identity and even gender dysphoria.
It has been found that a child’s sense of gender identity is usually formed at just three years old, and is fully developed by the age of six. Eight-year-old Shiloh is unlikely to have a disruptive influence on the gender development of other young girls. It seems much more likely that her choice of dress and manner will encourage uninhibited self-expression, as young girls realise that they don’t have to wear pink dresses and pigtails to be ‘normal.’ The media’s treatment of the subject is likely to be more damaging and confusing for young girls in terms of gender development and self-expression, as mixed messages fuelled by misogyny and stereotypes override common sense.
To treat men and women truly equally is to recognise the natural differences between us and the inherent similarities we share. Strict and defined gender roles only enforce rotten hierarchies and suppress personal expression. It is the stifling of sexual or gender identity that often leads to problems, rather than the actual identities themselves.
Young girls like Shiloh Jolie-Pitt should be viewed as positive role models, rather than demonised.
Words: Ted Ralph
Images: Deanna Miles