By Michele Yulo
It was only a matter of time before I wrote about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. You see, when I first saw the photos of Shiloh in her ties, hats, and high tops, I was thrilled. Shiloh was one of the first kids I identified with regarding my own daughter, Gabi, who seemed to be the spit and image of this little girl. And it truly made me see that girls like Shiloh and Gabi are not anomalies. In fact, I have discovered countless girls who are just like them.
But take a look at the articles that come up when you do a Google search for "Shiloh Pitt":
"Shiloh Pitt...from a doll to a boy?
"The Real Reason Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Wants to Be a Boy"
"Shiloh Pitt - the tomboy girl"
"Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Wants to Be a Boy!"
"Are Angelina Jolie and Brat Pitt Turning Shiloh Into a Boy?"
We can certainly deduce from these titles, that there is, in fact, a tremendous amount of cultural angst related to anyone, especially children, who do not adhere to preconceived ideas of what each sex should look and act like. But take a look at these girls:
Yes, they are girls. Not tomboys, not girls trying to be boys. Just girls--being who they are. They knew who they were before anyone had the chance to tell them that they weren't supposed to wear these kinds of clothes, or dress up like warriors with swords and shields instead of princesses with tiaras and wands.
But it's a good thing they have their swords and shields because they face situations in which they have to defend themselves; now, and especially as they get older, they will have to continue to fight the notion that somehow they are not being girls. We know because, from the very second that Shiloh was seen in public, she became a media target for dissecting gender--mostly, from a negative perspective. Fortunately, Angelina Jolie made it quite clear that she will allow her daughter to make her own choices: "I would never be the kind of parent to force somebody to be something they are not. I think that is just bad parenting... Children should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they wish without anybody judging them because it is an important part of their growth. Society always has something to learn when it comes to the way we judge each other, label each other. We have far to go."
We do have a long way to go--on many levels. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think that boys and girls are preternaturally determined to have very specific roles, likes, and dislikes. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "girls just like princess," I would probably have enough money for my daughter's college tuition (and an eternally clenched jaw). But what does that say to girls like my daughter? If "girls just like princess and pink," how is my child supposed to process her uniqueness? Her unbelievable individuality? When we, as a society, make those kinds of statements, we put children in very vulnerable positions because they internalize those messages and, in-turn, begin to act upon them. Undoubtedly, how we discuss gender in terms of language is problematic. For instance, when a magazine article focuses on a father's (Brad Pitt's) worry that his child might be "ridiculed" for cutting her hair short (whether it is true or not), it is only corroborating those stereotypes making it that much harder for kids to be who they are without fear of being ridiculed or bullied.
There are some glimmers of hope that a wave of resistance to the status quo is beginning to have an impact. With all of the negative publicity and media attention, there are counter voices being heard as well. Recently, a blog post from the website, The Stir, entitled "Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Wants to Be One of the Boys But That Doesn't Make Her One" caught my eye. In the article, Sasha Brown-Worsham says "...maybe she [Shiloh] does like short hair and maybe she does want to be 'just like her brothers,' but there are hundreds of ways to be a girl and maybe this is Shiloh's. I missed the memo where girls were supposed to wear dresses, have long hair, and only go by uber-femme names in order to be considered female." Worsham points out that labeling girls as "tomboys" continues to perpetuate the idea that girls can't be "girls" if they like sports or short hair. The same goes with boys, of course, who are at risk for being called "girly" or "sissy" if they like pink and sparkly things.
And, while Shiloh and Gabi will probably never meet, I will show Gabi pictures of her. She needs to look around and know that she does fit in because "fitting in" means acceptance, not conforming; and that she is not defined by a stereotype or a generalization. In fact, everyone needs to see more kids like Shiloh and Gabi (who, by the way, is having her hair cut next week.) because, put simply, there is no right or wrong way of being a girl or boy. It is important that we start letting kids know this.