Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Why is Angelina Turning Shiloh into A Boy?"

That is the headline I saw when I was perusing through the typical selection of celebrity magazines at the grocery store earlier this week. There, on the cover of Life & Style was cute little Shiloh Jolie (Pitt? Jolie-Pitt? I don't know): one picture where she had long blond hair, and another where she is wearing a toddler vest with her pixie cut. Plastered across her body are the words, "Why is Angelina Turning Shiloh into A Boy?" I felt my blood start to boil a little, although I should know better. There is usually some off the wall cover story on magazines like Life & Style, but for me, this time it was different. Maybe it was the fact that they were bringing up gender because of her clothes, maybe it was the fact that these poor children are continually assaulted by the media, maybe it was a combination of both.
Regardless, it upset me to see yet another example of how the media takes a lot of liberties when it comes to interpreting the actions of celebrities and their children.

First of all, it actually kind of looks like Shiloh might have taken the scissors to her own hair, and then someone came in to do damage control by giving her the pixie cut (take a look at her bangs). Obviously that's pure speculation, but celebrity children can't exactly be immune to the growing pains of childhood, including the moment when we all inevitably decide to try and cut our own hair (or was that just me?). And, in all honestly, Shiloh looks adorable with her short hair cut and her little vest. But, this isn't really the point.

Although I wouldn't consider this any sort of serious news piece, especially in the midst of the "repeal of DADT" bill being introduced into the Senate, I think it does illustrate a point about the strong expectation of gender rigidity in American society. The media has to make some disastrous story out of the pure appearance of a toddler, to me, as a means of social control. The cover makes it seem unhealthy that a young girl would start dressing like a young boy, when in reality if Shiloh really is going through some sort of toddler "transition" it is more healthy for Angelina to encourage her to express herself how she wants. And if this is purely a fashion statement that has nothing to do with Shiloh's gender identity, then what's the fuss about?
It seems to be loud and clear: a little girl should have long flowing blond hair and wear dresses, and if she doesn't, there is obviously something wrong. Even in adults, women with short hair cuts ought to be ultra-feminine (see Carey Mulligan at the Oscars, right) whereas men with long hair in ponytails need to be ultra-masculine (Colin Farrell, left).

And, this isn't for naught. In my opinion, without strong gender roles that are mutually exclusive, there is no way to create a gender binary, and no way to reinforce a gender hierarchy. By telling little girls that they have to dress in pink gingham dresses with ribbons in their long blond hair, we make sure that these little girls grow up recognizing the implicit passivity that complements the little boy's growing assertiveness and power. By telling a little boy that he cannot wear pink or try on his mother's clothes, we ensure the survival of a dying breed. Why a dying breed? Because just as women transcend their passivity, men also fail to meet the insufferable standards of masculinity.

Maybe you think I'm reaching, and maybe I am. But, I think that you can learn a lot about society by dissecting little indicators of social norms like the cover stories of Life & Style. The solution? I can't answer that. How about a gender spectrum instead of a gender binary? Maybe wishful thinking. But I think it would help to break down these unattainable standards for men and women, and allow there to be a fluidity in gender so that people whose identities don't match the gender binary can find a perfect place for themselves on the spectrum.

But, then what would the media talk about? Politics? The economy? Kim Kardashian?

Source: Life & Style, March 2010
Shiloh Cover: www.advocate.com
Colin Farrell: www.people.com
Carey Mulligan: metro.co.uk

No comments:

Post a Comment