Sometimes when we put up hyperfeminine clothes and toys for girls, people argue that no one has to buy those clothes, so there is no point in critiquing their existence. The implication is that all conformity to gendered expectations is voluntary (on the part of both mothers and their daughters).
However, the recent furor over Shiloh Jolie-Pitts haircut and boyish outfit, sent in by Tara C., Cailin H., and Lindsay F., shows us that having a gender-consistent appearance isn’t simply voluntary; when you don’t perform gender, other people will police your choices. In this case, people are questioning whether she is harming her child by turning her “into A BOY?”
In this case, of course, it’s mass media doing the policing (or inviting readers to do the policing). In the lives of non-celebrities, this same sort of policing is often done by family members, friends, and even strangers. For the non-conformist (parent), then, gender non-conformity can be a real drag.
Image borrowed from DListed.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.