Dennie Quill, Columnist
ONE OF the 'biggest' items of celebrity news that I have come across lately is the fact that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is now sporting a shorter haircut. Shiloh is one of six children whose parents are Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. This little girl has mostly been seen dressed in boy's clothing and so her boy's bob comes as no big surprise to those who keep up with celebrity postings.
Commenting on this in a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Angelina said: "She wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys' everything. She thinks she's one of the brothers."
She told another publication: "I want her to do what's in her heart and what's in her heart is to dress like that. I think it's beautiful."
I know that it seems incredible that we should be devoting valuable editorial space to the style of a six-year-old but there is a wider debate about the mode of dress and the role parents ought to pay in guiding their children's choices. In the Internet debate about Shiloh's haircut some have castigated the parents for being too indulgent and allowing their child to dictate her own style direction.
Even though many religions interpret Deuteronomy 5:22 to mean that women should not wear men's clothing and men should not put on women's garments, it has become commonplace in modern times to see women dressed in pants. However, norms about clothing would find a man dressed in a skirt, except as in the case of a ceremonial kilt or toga, unacceptable in many societies.
Interestingly, there was a time when everyone wore dresses. Leather, fur and leaves gave way to cloth during the Industrial Revolution. And there are many expressions of cross-dressing in Greek mythology, and we see these examples in theatrical productions and in the literature of yore. But dresses gave way to tights for man and these evolved into pants. Today, pants are no longer exclusively a guy's article of clothing.
The simple truth is that clothes are social symbols and they tell a great deal about the wearer's social, economic or religious status. This conversation about mode of dress cannot be complete unless one also examines sexual orientation, gender identity and gender role. These are all very complex ideas to grasp and are loaded with stigma and judgement.
tomboys and sissies
Parents are confronted with decisions about their children's preferences all the time. What should parents do if their daughter likes to dress up as a boy? Society assigns certain behaviours to the genders, and when this does not go according to the script then we find the girls are called 'tomboys' and the boys are called 'sissies'. Many people connect cross-dressing to transgender or homosexual personalities. However, a person who dresses as the opposite sex at a Halloween party may not offend anyone or cause concern. And many argue that gender identity should not be confused with sexual orientation.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt may be wise to allow their daughter to make the choices she feels comfortable with, and these choices may be temporary or could become permanent. However, many parents out there who are trying to cope with these issues are not sure whether to leave the children alone or force them to conform.
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.