I was flicking through the Daily Mail—pinnacle of news journalism—the other day, when I came across a photo of Megan Fox. Naturally, I clicked on it because, well, it’s Megan Fox. But, once again, I was deceived (curse you Daily Mail) because the article wasn’t about the Transformers star at all. It was about her son, Noah, who was pictured wearing an Elsa costume while running errands with his mother at the local mall. Strange, you might think. But, the four year old is often photographed in public donning a dress and the occasional wig, which is equally refreshing and adorable. Take a look for yourself:
The foxy mama (sorry, couldn’t resist) fully supports her son’s clothing choices, telling Jimmy Kimmel last year that “You can be whatever you want to be in my house.” But this hasn’t always been well received. Both Fox and her husband, Brian Austin Green, have copped a lot of flak for this decision amid claims that they’re “promoting gay perversion.” Sounds bogus, right? Green certainly thinks so.
People tend to get pretty worked up when it comes to gender politics, especially when kids are involved. But, isn’t it time that we stop dictating our children’s clothing choices through gender stereotypes and allow them to express themselves however they please? After all, gender is nothing but a social construct created and maintained by men and women. It’s not something that we’re born with. Believe it or not, femininity and masculinity are not gender-specific.
In order for a child’s garment to be gendered “there must be a lexicon of visual cues or patterns of use that are widely understood to be unambiguously masculine or feminine.” Basically, blue equals boy, pink equals girl. Boys wear shorts and pants, girls wear skirts and dresses. But, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, before children’s garments were gendered in the 1880s, it was common for boys and girls to wear dresses and similar clothing styles for much of their formative years. Clothing was predominantly gender neutral. Today, it remains very much a part of identity management, reinforcing pre-conceived gender roles.
According to conventional wisdom, children learn “appropriate” gender classifications through pre-conceived cognitive structures or schema. This schematic processing allows individuals to assign meaning to incoming stimuli based on prevailing social conditions and classify certain attributes and features as belonging to a particular sex. Children then learn to apply this same schematic selectivity to themselves and evaluate their adequacy accordingly. Generally, if there is an inconsistency, they will be motivated to adapt their behaviour to fit society’s definitions of maleness or femaleness.
This is why people are losing their shit over little Noah and his kick-ass Elsa outfit. Neither he nor his parents were prepared to accept the gender stereotypes that dictate “appropriate” dress. In fact, they down right rejected it. And they’re not alone.
Last month, John Lewis made headlines for becoming the first major UK store to remove boy’s and girl’s labels from its line of children’s clothing. The range, which will cater for newborns through to 14 year olds, is aimed at reducing gender stereotypes by embracing free choice. Caroline Bettis, head of John Lewis’ childrenswear department, defended the decision stating that “We want to… provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear.”
Naturally, the choice was met with great controversy as bigots and fear mongers continue to wave their finger in the face of gender neutrality. Cue Chris McGovern, chairman of the UK’s conservative Campaign for Real Education: “By following this fashion to go genderless, I fear they are supporting a wider movement which risks confusing children and foists adult worries on to young people. There is a dangerous social phenomenon occurring of gender identity theft, which says there is no difference between boys and girls when of course there is.”
That’s right folks, this just in: boys and girls are different. Spread the word.
Like it or not, things are a changin’. And there’s nothing the naysayers can do about it (take that McGovern). Girls don’t have to wear dresses and boys certainly don’t have to wear pants. If you’ve got a problem with that then I suggest you take a leaf out of Elsa’s book and “let it go.” Because you’re probably being a jerk.