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Saturday
Jan282012

Shiloh, Meet My Daughter: Why We Need to See Kids Like Shiloh Jolie-Pitt

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.

 

 

Reader Comments (10)

I love, love, love this. Although my own daughter loved having long hair, she defied female gender roles in most other ways, and there was a lot of pressure on her to be more feminine (and on me to be a better role model for femininity). Congrats for giving Gabi the gift of acceptance regardless of what she wears or plays with. There are SO many ways to be a girl.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLori Day

You guys need to read the most awesome book I've read in a long time exactly about this topic "Think", by Lisa Bloom, daughter of Gloria Alread.

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGiuliana

Brilliant piece. We as parents should be accepting of our children's opinions and choices surrounding their gender. my little boy always loved girls and girly things and I allowed him to be himself and dress and play how he felt comfortable. Unfortunately not everyone agreed with my decision and I ended up losing custody of my children as a result. Apparently I wa a risk of emotional abuse. Shows how small minded society is.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClair

I absolutely agree with you. I was a tom boy when I was little, it did not cause me any problems, I loved playing with boys and wearing trousers and shorts etc. This was just the type of child I wanted to be, nothing to do with gender. I am now a balanced person, I wear trousers and skirts and dresses and trainers and heels and boots, everything really. I am married with 3 kids, 2 boys and a girl. And my little girl..... adores pink and princesses! It is just the child she wants to be. And although sometimes my own taste pushes me to think I wish she dressed more like Shiloh or Gabi, I am giving her the freedom to choose. When she was a baby she was surrounded mostly by boys' toys (having 2 older brothers), and I was never one to cover her in pink dresses. But still she just chose: the pink car, the purple tractor, the babydoll I got for the boys when they were little! It was just the way she seemed to prefer things. I want her to have choices and to see that there are all sorts of ways to be a girl, but I will let her choose which way.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

Hi,

This is a great post - mainly. Just some of the last paragraphs made me a bit uncomfortable.

I'm a trans man. When I was growing up, I didn't want to be a boy I already was a boy but people couldn't see it. There are loads and loads of different ways to be a boy or a girl or something else and as well as not needing to follow gender stereotypes, children needn't follow the sex they were assigned at birth. If your child never questions her gender and is always sure she is a girl, that's great. But it has to be okay for kids like me who were 100% sure they are a gender their parents refuse to agree with or kids who change their minds.

There are hundreds of ways to be a girl. There are hundreds of ways to be a boy. I knew which I was but my parents disagreed - because I'm too girly to be a trans boy! I don't believe gender is defined by what stereotypes you can or can't line up with, so please please continue to support your child with the knowledge that there are hundreds of ways to be a girl. But remember that there's nothing wrong with being a boy either.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

Hey there at Princess Free Zone, thanks so much for sharing your blog with me on my Handsome in Pink facebook page. I started my clothing line originally because my son was all about pink and wanted to wear it everyday. However, he was very clear, even at age 3, that he was a pink loving BOY-- he didn't like it when people confused him for being a girl. If your daughter identifies with being a girl, I really think she'd love a Girly Girl shirt-- completely redefines what a Girly Girl is! http://www.handsomeinpink.com/cgi-bin/hip/hipcgg04.html Or perhaps a "Forget Princess, Call Me President" tee. http://www.handsomeinpink.com/cgi-bin/hip/hipc-cmp-hg.html
I just wanted to share!

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo Hadley

What a wonderful article! What a wonderful BLOG. And what a wonderful family! I also felt a little somethin' at the end, Liam, because I have SO MANY trans friends.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette Aiyana

Wonderful piece. I love following everything you post but am bothered by what you wrote at the end "I often show her photos of kids like her so that she won't ever think, "I wish I was a boy," or question being female." What if she is a boy? Why can't she question being female? It makes it sound like she's allowed to be who she is and be different, yet questioning gender (which she's already doing btw) would be one step too far because she would have to stay female-bodied? This is extremely alienating for anyone outside of/not comfortable with binary gender norm, which is strange since so much of what you write about is to be accepting and change the dialogue about gendered behavior, expectations, products, etc. It's a statement that says she can be a female, a girl, however she wants and I'll support her, but it's NOT ok to be a boy or transgender or genderqueer, etc (yet since gender is socially constructed anyone involved in a dialogue of this sort is questioning what it means to be female). I'm sure that's not how it was meant to come across, but from someone in the lgbt community who truly loves your stuff, I needed to say something.

September 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLayla

Thanks for your input Layla. I understand what you are saying, but, of course, that is not my intent--to dissuade her from anything. Whoever she is--she will be. I still do believe it's important for her to know that there are other girls like her out there--so she knows she's not the only one. I want her to know that there are different ways of being a girl and a boy. That gender is fluid. I get emails from other mothers of children like Gabi who also say that they would love for our daughters to meet--it's the same concept. She knows that my husband and I accept her for who she is and she usually articulates her thoughts and feelings without reservation. I have never told her "it's not okay to be a boy," but she doesn't know what "transgender" even is at this point. But we've had many discussions about boy/girl and how she feels on the inside and I have never and would never tell her that the way she identifies herself is wrong or unacceptable. Right now--she is a girl and identifies as a girl. We have allowed her to be who she is without restriction--so I think she knows we accept her for who she is. At the same time, I think there needs to be some discussion about the fact that clothes, hair, and toys don't make you a boy or a girl--and neither is relegated to one monolithic definition. There are spectrums--that's what I want her to know. As she grows and matures--she will be able to articulate more about who she is. I look forward to that. Thanks again for your comment. Gender is complex and nuanced and I appreciate your thoughts.

September 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichele

And after rereading it, Layla, I agree with you--it does come off as you say. I'm sorry for that--I just want Gabi to feel comfortable in her own skin as she is right now. That could change. And I would be okay with whoever she is.

September 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichele

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