Defining Gender from Childhood

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women-149577_640By Bethany Hogg

Gender is assigned to us at a young age, usually based on what sex we are at birth. When these gender norms are defied, especially where children are concerned, it is often a topic of debate. Take Angelina Jolie’s 8-year-old daughter, for example, who has been making headlines recently with her choice to dress like a boy, and be called ‘John’.

Okay, Fox News, I have a few points I want to raise with your report (prepare for the rant. Brace yourselves!). Right. Firstly, the title of your article –

“Jolie, Pitt Allow Daughter to Dress Like a Boy, Call Her ‘John’”

“Allows”. By definition, the word entails the need for permission. By using the word allows, you insinuate that the way Jolie’s daughter dresses requires permission, as if it is something ‘out of the ordinary’ or it is something that needs to be considered by her parents.

No. Absolutely not! A child is a child. There should be no reason they should be subject to any gender norms or sexualisation – for what point or purpose is this? We live in a society that has to place everything in categories. We only define girls’ clothes as for girls because we have created the social norm that it does. It’s an unwritten rule of society, and we consider them set in stone. Clinical psychologist Linda Blair told The Telegraph:

“Usually with a child, especially children with older siblings of the opposite gender, it’s normal to want to copy them and be like them. That’s quite a normal phase for a lot of kids.”

Social Constructions

Some people have expressed their opinions on the issue, with one article stating:

“You don’t get to decide or “self-identify” your gender.”

I just want to point out one thing. Gender is a social construct. Sex is biological. Correlation does not imply causation. Being born female does not automatically mean you will follow gender norms associated with women.

It seems many news organisations have no limits as to how they report about children, particularly those of celebrities.

Sexualising Children

In an article from The Guardian, it was found that the Mail Online (do not even get me started on the Daily Mail… the words ‘boiling blood’ come to mind) that:

“Images of Heidi Klum’s eight-year-old daughter being picked up from a gym class, with captions describing the child as “a leggy beauty” and saying she “showed off her best model walk through the parking lot”.”

I beg your pardon, ‘Mail Online’, but what?! “A leggy beauty”? She’s eight years old! When did it become acceptable for the media to sexualise young children, particularly young girls? There’s already an assumption that the female form belongs to the male gaze in the media anyway – that’s bad enough. But to then take this hyper-sexualisation and apply it to young, prepubescent girls? There’s something excruciatingly wrong there.

In short, sexualising young girls is never justifiable. Ever.

The media also have a huge impact on the fashion industry. As the industry blurs the lines between adulthood and childhood in its reporting, fashion also reflects the change.

Here are some photos I took in Primark, Manchester, of clothing for girls aged 7-11 (pictures taken 16th January 2015):

It is increasingly evident that the style of children’s clothes is based upon the fashion of older women, rather than the practicality children need.

Bethany is in her first year studying Multimedia Journalism. You can find more of her work here.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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