Shiloh Jolie-Pitt: Tomboy, transkid, or hero?

gender stereotype

gender stereotype

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

5 thoughts on “Shiloh Jolie-Pitt: Tomboy, transkid, or hero?

  1. I’m fully supportive of trans kids and non gender confirming individuals BUT to me it has always seemed like Angelina jolie always wanted to have eccentric kids…and started pushing shiloh to dress that way when she was as young as 2. So to me its not news that shiloh is now john because she/he has been dressing like that for years. I think its just as wrong to push your kids into being what you want to be in the opposite direction of trying to be gender non descript

    • Hi, you make an interesting point. It is true that Shiloh has dressed this way since she was 2, however in recent months the media have become more aggressive and sensational in their treatment of issues surrounding gender and so-called ‘transkids.’ Shiloh has been adopted as a kind of poster child, leading to a rise in exposure and a wave of negative response.
      I agree that parents should never actively encourage or influence the social and sexual development of their children for personal gain or for their own personal agendas, and in the case of Jolie you may be right.
      However, I think the use of words like ‘eccentric’ is problematic, as is the ‘transkid’ label itself. In this article, I was trying to express how destructive negative associations can be – once the notions of ‘good/bad,normal/eccentric’ have been eliminated, there will no longer be parents attempting to ‘tailor’ the psychosexual development of their children in any direction, as they would no longer be biased and compelled to help their child to ‘fit in’ or go ‘against the grain.’
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, much appreciated.

  2. To suggest Angelina Jolie might be pressurising Shiloh into a particular way of dressing seems representative of the way we treat gender expression. When we see children conforming to their assigned gender in their dress we don’t question their parents’ motivation. Why should we question it when they don’t conform? As an aside, it is a shame that children are treated like adult celebrities in the media, being “papped” and analysed by strangers, just because they were born to someone famous. Anyway, great article!

  3. Look, I have always been a tomboy, and when I was little I wanted to be called Jorge and loved It when people took me for a boy. Even now in my fifties some people still assume I’m gay because of the way I move and dress. But no, a tomboy is all I am, I’m exclusively (and strongly) attracted to men. As a kid, mum was annoyed that I didn’t like deesses and didn’t do much to bring up my “prettyness”, but she basically let me be. Angelina, however, is an attention addict, it’s always about her, and it’s sad she’s even using her daughter for this purpose. No, you don’t choose your clotes at 2 your parents do, and this is when Angie started to design Shiloh.

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