With one recent walk on the red carpet, 8 year-old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt defied gender stereotypes by wearing a boy’s suit and a boyishly-short hairstyle. On December 15, Shiloh accompanied super-star dad Brad Pitt to the premiere of “Unbroken” – helping to represent mom Angelina Jolie who directed the motion picture but was home sick with chicken pox. In Angelina’s absence, Shiloh (who apparently wants to be called “John”) stole the show and sparked public discussion about children and gender expression. I, for one, think Shiloh’s story is a total WIN for standing out for who you are, rather than just fitting in.
It’s a WIN for reminding us of the important distinction between sex and gender.
A person’s sex is based in biological and physical characteristics. But gender is a social construct. The manner in which we expect girls and boys to dress, wear their hair, and behave – and everything else that makes up gender expectation – is defined by society, not by biology In fact, gender characteristics can differ between societal groups. So what if a boy wants to wear pink? And what if a girl wants to be called “Joe”? Children (and adults) can express gender differently than what a society normally expects. For many people, disgust or fear are the initial reaction to any gender expression that breaks the mold. But everything about gender expectation is socially constructed in the first place. So let’s give Shiloh – and every child or adult – the room to express gender however they wish.
It’s a WIN for avoiding labels.
Some people question whether Shiloh is just going through a childhood phase or whether Shiloh truly does identify as a boy. I say, who cares? It’s human nature to want to categorize things. But the more we try to label people, the more we create boxes in which everyone does not fit.
It’s a WIN for unconditional – and public – parental support.
Angelina and Brad set a great example of how to unconditionally support a child – especially one who does not fit societal expectations. I especially love how they treat Shiloh’s gender expression as normal and public – not odd or secret. Since Shiloh was just 2 or 3 years old, Angelina and Brad have talked publicly in media interviews about Shiloh’s desire to be called “John” and dress like a boy. They don’t limit Shiloh’s gender expression to just the privacy of their home; they allow Shiloh to shine publicly – including on a Hollywood red carpet knowing the world will see. We never want children to feel ashamed of who they are or what they feel. Give them a sense of normalcy for whoever they are, and I bet they grow into more realized adults.
It’s a WIN for self-expression of all kinds.
While people are focusing on the gender identity question for Shiloh, for me, the story is a bigger WIN for self-expression of any kind. A growing child is expressing Shiloh, John or whatever version of self feels right. If only everyone – at any age – could be so free and supported in expressing who we are, what we feel and what we want. We could all live happier, authentic, and more fulfilled lives.
Make it a WIN for you.
Whether you are 8 years old or 80, Shiloh’s story can teach you lessons to WIN in your own life:
- Recognize there are societal norms, but have courage to break the mold if it feels right for you.
- Give support to your kids, family and friends if they want to stand out in a different way.
- Above all else, express who you are – so you stand out and WIN.
Photo credit: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com