Life & Style takes gender policing to a new level


Text reads: Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into a boy? -A boys haircut and clothes -Calls her ‘John’ -No girlie things. Is it harming the three year old?
I know this magazine is basically a tabloid, and probably contains all sorts of content that we as feminists would find objectionable. But the idea of kids and adults standing in the grocery store aisle, looking at this cover, and absorbing the message it sends was too much.
Where to begin?
First of all, the gendering of kids’ clothing for a three year old like Shiloh is utter bullshit. There is little to no difference between the body of a young girl and the body of a young boy–the norms we hold around clothing and hairstyles at that age are pretty much made up. There is little difference in kids’ bodies until puberty.
Babies and young kids, because they are difficult to gender from just looking at them, often get gendered with clothing. You know, blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Things like hair clips, ribbons and hats are all essential to making sure people know how to appropriately gender a child. And trust me, they will want to. The primary question a pregnant person gets asked is “What is it?” and people want one of two answers.
All of that to say that the idea that Shiloh wearing a collared shirt or her hair short, does not mean they are “turning her into a boy.”
But what if Shiloh was exploring their gender identity? What if Shiloh wanted to be a boy, or wear “boy’s” clothes, or go by male pronouns? That of course, would be unacceptable, according to Life & Style magazine. It might even harm the child. Such a typical narrative around gender variance in the mainstream media.
While this cover is an extreme example, it’s indicative of larger norms that exist around gender. These norms are real, and alive, and affect us from the the moment we are a bump in our parent’s belly to the day we die.
Want to tell Life&Style that gender policing is not okay, even for a tabloid? Send them an email at tips@lifeandstylemag.com.
UPDATE: The Advocate has more on this story, including the response from the National Center for Transgender Equality and GLAAD.

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38 Comments

  1. Black Cherry
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Since when did short hair and sweaters become “boy things”?

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I know, I’ve seen loads of little children–both girls and boys–with short hair and cute little sweaters.

  2. Silva
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    …and have you noticed how this perceived harm is being done only by Angelina, even though the girl has a well known father?

  3. whaler
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t be surprised is Angelina wasn’t dressing her like a boy so that when she was with the nanny in a stroller, she would go under the radar of the paparazzi or god forbid kidnappers. She is less of a target if you might just think it’s a little boy.
    I agree, that people shouldn’t be so worried about what gendered clothing a toddler is wearing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Angelina was trying not to enforce gender stereotypes onto shiloh (Maybe in reaction to tom cruises daughter being paraded around in tiny high heels).

  4. Silva
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I frequently think that if I had a daughter I would dress her “like a boy”, in an atempt to keep pedophiles’ eyes from her. Not that they only target girls, but we all know that girls are the biggest victims.

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      That’s a smart thing to do, right? I would definitely say so…

  5. Brittany
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I’d say forcing a dress on a little girl and raising her around a princess persona is more harmful.

  6. Tehanu
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    What about the harm to the child of having those pictures and questions splashed all over supermarket checkout counters, and on the internet for years to come? Hard enough growing up the child of a celebrity, I’d say. But clearly Life & Style thinks it’s just fine to sensationalize this three-year-old in order to sell magazines.

  7. supremepizza
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    “There is little difference in kids’ bodies until puberty….But what if Shiloh was exploring their gender identity? What if Shiloh wanted to be a boy, or wear “boy’s” clothes, or go by male pronouns?”
    I may be reading this wrong, but it seems as if we’re trying to have it both ways. A child of 3 is too young to be gendered…but the child at the same time could be exploring its gender. That doesn’t make sense.
    Three year olds are primarily interested in toys, food, and toys. In that order. Gender? Not so much.

  8. LadyOrion
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I actually picked up the magazine the other day and skimmed it. there was a quote something to the affect of “Shiloh likes to dress like her dad”. and you know what that sounds like a good as reason as any for a toddler to do something: to be like mommy or daddy.
    and ironically enough, my best friend’s daughter is about the same age as Shiloh and looks almost exactly like her. About a month ago, she cut her hair short to look like daddy too. It gave me all kinds of tingles to hear this, since her dad is an amazing person.

  9. MishaKitty
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Very true. Both Angelina and Brad have said many times how important their children are to them. You always see pictures of the whole family together. Yet when something “bad” is happening, like Shiloh being turned into a boy (god forbid!) it all falls on the mother somehow.

  10. MishaKitty
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I saw this magazine when I was in CVS the other day and the cover made me ill. So now I guess celebrities kids are fair game to these sleazy tabloids? Disgusting.
    Also I can’t help but notice that Shiloh looks just like my best friend at that age (except my best bud had brown hair). Her name was Betsy and she (yes she, amazing the short hair didn’t “turn her into a boy”) was awesome. I remember a lot of little kids, boys and girls, looking like that around that age. Long hair can be a pain in the butt when you’re little. Sometimes it’s just easier to have it short, and sometimes that’s how the kids like it! And yes sometimes little girls would rather look and act like little boys. Nothing wrong with that.
    Life & Style STFU.

  11. ElleStar
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Most child molesters are people who are known to the parents and the family of the child. It’s better to worry about people you know, who would obviously already know the sex of your child, than to worry about some unknown boogey man who might be ogling your child from afar.
    Basically, you should make sure you know the warning signs that occur when family members, friends, and acquaintances might be victimizing your child. And really, if the child is pre-pubescent, many offenders don’t differentiate between the sexes of the children they abuse.

  12. Honeybee
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Are girls the biggest victims of pedophilia? I’ve never heard that before. To be honest most victims I’ve encountered or seen on TV have been boys. An awful lot of bad priests out there for example.

  13. Mollie
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Too young to be gendered as in, too young for society to be forming its ideas of what Shiloh’s gender should be. Shiloh is not, however, too young to know what gender is or to know what gender ze identifies as. I believe Shiloh is at the age when children really begin to articulate what gender they believe themselves to be.

  14. JPlum
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    That’s not always true. My nephew at the age of two was very interested in disscovering the differences between boys and girls. Sample conversations:
    Mummy, you has a willy?
    No, I don’t have a willy.
    Mummy, you has NO willy? (said with surprise, and loudly, in a public bathroom)
    Or he would announce: Daddy has a willy, [brother] has a willy, Mummy has no willy.
    He was absolutely aware of gender.

  15. Sigmund
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    “Long hair can be a pain in the butt when you’re little. Sometimes it’s just easier to have it short, and sometimes that’s how the kids like it!”
    You said it. Having grown up as the child with long hair (who was often dressed in skirts and dresses), I can definitely attest to the fact that shorter hair is far more practical, both for the children and for the parents. I remember having some extreme tangles in my hair as a very young child, and actually refusing to brush my hair because it hurt so much.

  16. Kim C.
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    “A child of 3 is too young to be gendered…but the child at the same time could be exploring its gender.”
    I think the point being made is that a child at the age of three should not be forced into a gender role (“gendered” in this context) but should be free to explore their own tendencies as they play into gender roles (“exploring [their] gender”).
    Basically, the idea is that policing gender from such a young age instead of allowing children to explore for themselves is a bad thing. The point is that children should be given free reign of their gender identities without policing practically from birth.

  17. baddesignhurts
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    gendering kids by what they wear always cracks me up.
    the one and only time i ever got asked if my daughter was a boy or a girl was one of the very few times she was dressed in a pink flowery dress. whenever she wore jeans and t-shirts with her hair short or tied back, there was never a problem.
    people aren’t too bright.

  18. leeraloo
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    This story was actually all over the place a week or so ago, and I think I heard the argument at least once that Angelina was trying to turn Shiloh into a lesbian because Angelina is bisexual. It’s basically the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard, but not entirely surprising considering that an alarming amount of people actually believe in a “homosexual recruitment agenda” of some sort.
    The real story is that Shiloh loves “Peter Pan,” especially the character of John, and prefers to be called “John.” But lord knows that whoever we are at age 3 is the person we will always be. One day Shiloh will be ecstatic that her parents were so understanding and open-minded; in fact, she probably already is, and that’s all that matters. I just hope that pride in her upbringing will outweigh the embarrassment or awkwardness she’s probably going to feel when she’s older and eventually stumbles upon these nasty cover stories.

  19. Edgy1004
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    We need to look at this as if Life and Style are acting out for attention. I personally don’t read these magazine or traffic their websites (Miriam, I really hope you didn’t buy this magazine). People like trash so we shouldn’t be surprised when trash sells.

  20. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into Stuart Smalley?

  21. Gular
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    At the risk of sounding bitchy, I would be more outrage about this here had this not been the complete (literal) last place I’d seen it. It’s been out for 2 weeks and making the gay blogs since then.
    Life&Style is a tabloid. They do everything for attention. Not giving them attention or buying their magazine makes them go out of business.
    Ignoring them and moving on seems a good option to me.

  22. Lydia
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Yeah, but that’s largely because a male pedophile abusing a boy is viewed as even more deviant because it’s “gay”, especially by the Catholic Church. Often female victims are taken even less seriously than male ones by Church officials, with the priests less likely to be disciplined in any way. “Deliver Us From Evil” an excellent but utterly wrenching documentary about sexual abuse in the Church goes into this issue more.

  23. Emperor Zarkov
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Not to nitpick, but being aware of body/sex differences is not necessarily the same as being aware of gender difference.

  24. gypsy
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    *looks down. sees polo shirt. notices sweater on the back of the chair… * lol all those years of my mom loving frilly dresses and skirts…
    People are rediculous. And it’s sad that so many people actually feel this way… I was a nanny for a few years and *shudders* usually it’s the nice “good” parents who are ramming the stereotypes down a kids throat…
    exe – one little girl gave up playing with Thomas the Train because it was a “boys toy” (ok, so I was relieved that I didn’t have to sit through that horrible movie anymore, but still!) what got me was that it was her FATHER that told her she was acting like a boy and that this was somehow wrong….
    Lol. Besides, I HAD hair to my butt at shiloh’s age. My mom only had 2 kids and has admitted it was a royal pain to take care of THAT much hair. Once it was my responsiblity to take care of, I cut it off to my shoulders and it hasn’t been longer since then! :p

  25. Lauren Bernstein
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    The best part of this article (I read it in the airport with my partner because we were sooo confused by how this thing could exist while we were trying to buy snacks) is that the “expert” they quote for saying that this is dangerous is someone from, guess where, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY.

  26. Nicole
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    The most victims of pedophilia are girls, by a wide, wide margin. However, little boys being molested by priests makes for a great news story, so I think we hear about those kinds of cases in a very disproportionate level, and it all roots back to homophobic ideas about gays – that gay men are all sexual deviants who want to turn little boys gay, etc. So homosexual pedophiles have a certain newsworthiness because of the double gross-out factor: not only are they pedophiles, but they’re gay pedophiles. Yuck!*
    However, in actual numbers of sexual abuse cases against children (at least, in reported cases of sexual abuse against children), female victims are a strong majority. This is a great example of how the media has a tendency to misinform people by overreporting certain stories while ignoring others.
    *Not my opinion at all. Just calling it like I see it.

  27. Nicole
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Gender does not equal sex though; being aware of penises and vaginas does not make a kid aware of performing gender and the concepts of masculinity and femininity.
    I knew a 3-year-old boy (as in, a kid with a penis) who said he was a girl, when my mom and I asked him. But then, when we asked if he was a boy, he said yes to that too. So who knows? Maybe he hadn’t made up his mind yet. Maybe he didn’t understand the question. Maybe he considers himself a girl, but is also acutely aware that he’s “supposed” to be a boy. I don’t think it’s fair for us to assume such things about toddlers.

  28. Kate
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I wonder how that is “more harmful”. It seems to me that forcing a child into a persona that is not her/his own is just in general harmful. Some little girls actually do like dresses and princesses, and others, like myself at that age, are more into camouflage overalls and GI Joes. Especially at that age, kids should be allowed to explore many different interests, whether it’s toys, clothes, hair, etc. It may not even indicate anything about her gender identity or sexuality in the long term.

  29. Toongrrl
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Tabloid magazines are very classy and intelligent, ha ha ha ha!!!!!! Not.

  30. ShyFoxie
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me or does Focus on the Family have an anti-kids-having-fun agenda?
    First Spongebob was harmful, and now having a cute, practical hairstyle or a nice shirt on a kid will scar them for life. Guess we should all dress our female offspring in frilly pink dresses and make them watch nothing but Veggie Tales.

  31. Destra
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Yes, yes, yes and yes. I can’t tell you how much this article infuriated me. I was traveling two weekends ago when the tabloid came out. I saw this magazine on a news stand while buying chocolate. So many things wrong with it, and most of all I was disgusted by the “Is it harming the 3 year old?”
    As a feminist, I have a very strong belief that gender is a construct and that it doesn’t matter. But rags like this one only enforce the belief that we must be held to our gender or something is terribly off. Pisses me off.
    Well, I can tell you that I hid every single one of this magazine that I saw behind other magazines. Some went behind “O” magazine, some behind “Car and Mechanics.” Some just got flipped over. And I saw a lot of them at the 5 airports I was in. It was my little way of protesting against bigotry. Of course, I’m sure this particular issue was a best seller- joy.

  32. Brittany
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Both are harmful, yes. But even if your child WANTS to be a princess, there’s a line. You can’t raise her to believe that she is a princess outside of make-believe, because you’re just asking for a spoiled little girl. And they grow up into women who see their looks as their only value to get what they want, or women with culture shock when they find out that the world doesn’t work that way.

  33. Brittany
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I remember a photo posted on Feministing of two sisters, one dressed as some sort of warrior or knight…they were the daughters of celebrities. I can’t quite remember who they were, though. Anyone have the photo?

  34. EndersGames
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Approximately 11% of boys and 19% of girls experience childhood sexual abuse by age 18.
    Those are middle of the road estimates based on national probability samples. The estimates vary wildly (from 6%-50%) depending on how strictly or liberally you define sexual abuse. For example, the numbers above include behaviors that are socially considered abuses (e.g., a 14 year old boy/girl having sex with someone 5+ years older than them) but aren’t always experienced as abuse.

  35. IAmGopherrr
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    lol smart!

  36. IAmGopherrr
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I think that was also angelinas and brads kid

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