Gender hysteria and celebrity culture

Gender hysteria and celebrity culture

Just when it seemed that the gender panic incited by the nonconformity of four-year-old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt had finally begun to lull, gossip rag Life & Style has launched yet another alarmist attack. “Shiloh manipulated by her mom,” declares the Sept 22 headline, its subtitle boasting “new evidence that Angelina is forcing Shiloh’s obsession with being a boy.”

The cover story, buoyed by an alleged Jolie-Pitt “insider,” insists not only that Shiloh’s gender performance is not her own (“Angelina makes Shiloh wear the hand-me-downs of eight-year-old brother Maddox! Including his boxer shorts!”), but that it’s a carefully constructed hipster-family ploy, premeditated and egocentric: “Angelina has an idea that each child should have a specific personality that she picked out for them practically at birth. [Shiloh’s] the tomboy.”

The article goes on to lambaste Jolie for naming her daughter Shiloh (“A boy’s name!”) and attempting “to defy a cultural norm at the expense of [her] child.”

The story, of course, is an attempt to discredit Jolie, who recently addressed the media’s relentless patrol of Shiloh’s gender performance.

Let’s backtrack for a minute.

The gender-policing hysteria began back in January, when editor Bonnie Fuller, appalled by Shiloh’s wardrobe (think fedoras, camouflage, neckties, combat boots and the like), slammed Jolie and Brad Pitt for “cross-gender dressing” their daughter: “Aren’t you worried that you’re going to confuse little Shiloh? Give her gender identity issues?”

Fuller goes on to cite a so-called psychologist who argues that — ahem — Jolie’s bisexuality is to blame: “[Shiloh] is being guided into a bisexual role. Her mother is projecting this onto [her].”

Fuller then summons the anecdote that Pitt offered Oprah Winfrey when he appeared on her show in November 2008: Shiloh, enamoured with the tale of Peter Pan, would answer only to the names Peter and John. Calamity!

It was in March, however — immediately after Shiloh was spotted in Paris, her long locks freshly shorn — that the frenzy fully launched.

“Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into a boy?” demanded the March 4 issue of Life & Style.

“Shiloh is pushing the boundaries of a tomboy look and crossing over to crossdresser territory,” chastened VH1 senior fashion stylist Alana Kelen.

“Hopefully we won’t be seeing Maddox in one of Shiloh’s dresses anytime soon,” scorns red-carpet stylist Gili Rashal Niv.

According to Focus on the Family rep Glenn Stanton, gender-conformity training is a necessity: “Little girls have never been women before. They need help; they need guidance of what that looks like.” (Clearly, Stanton is oblivious to the fact that his argument only solidifies that gender conformity is unnatural.)


Both GLAAD and the National Center for Transgender Equality were quick to rebuke Life & Style for its propagation of phobia.

Still, gossip blogs and major media outlets alike zealously engaged the anxiety-laden tale of gender mayhem, obsessively scrutinizing Shiloh’s every public appearance (Boy? Girl?) and began polling the general public regarding Shiloh’s sartorial sense (Harmful? Healthy?).

More disturbing than the out-and-out phobia elicited by this rash of gender panic, however, are the perimeters of acceptability that have emerged: Leave her alone! She’s only four! It’s just a phase! The logic here is restless and conditional: children are entitled to free will provided they grow out of it.

“I think [Shiloh] is fascinating, the choices she is making. And I would never be the kind of parent to force somebody to be something they are not. I think that is just bad parenting,” Jolie told Reuters in July. “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.”

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