Shiloh Jolie-Pitt's new haircut: A tale of creepy gender politics and a whole lot of fear

This week's Life & Style magazine devotes its cover (and multi-page inside story) to a true question for the ages: "Why Is Angelina Turning Shiloh Into A Boy?"

Mind you, this is not a new topic-bloggers, gossip mags, and entertainment "news" shows have all been obsessing over the 3-year-old's "tomboy-ishness" for months. However, last week the issue reached a fever pitch of true ridiculousness and creepy, outdated gender politics when Brad Pitt took his daughters shopping in Paris and Shiloh picked out a whole lot of boy's clothes ($10,000 worth of boy clothes, according to some reports). The next day, when the little girl debuted a new short haircut to pair with her masculine French outfits, the media world went completely insane.

The Life & Style story calls the new 'do "shockingly short" and says it ignited a "firestorm of controversy." The writer gathers a slew of pointless commentary on Shi-gate from such children's experts as Perez Hilton, some stylist from VH1, and-wait for it-Jennifer Aniston's former hairdresser. But our favorite quote comes from Glenn Stanton, Director of Family Formation Studies at the Focus On The Family group who explains: "Little girls have never been women before," he explains, "They need help. They need guidance of what that looks like. It's important to teach our children that gender distinction is very healthy. Parents need to be the parents and guide their children. You don't want people asking, 'Are you a little boy or a little girl?' That will start to sink in."

In the '70s, Olympian Dorothy Hamill rocked a trend-inspiring short 'doIn the '70s, Olympian Dorothy Hamill rocked a trend-inspiring short 'do Putting aside the obvious "Who cares?" question for a moment, the larger concern becomes: Are we really, truly suggesting that this child's entire gender identity comes down to whether she wears a pair of jeans instead of a dress? Or that girls cannot learn to be women unless they have long hair and love pink? For the record: Though none of us has any idea what goes on inside the Jolie-Pitt house (maybe they're raising a bunch of gender-neutral wildebeests! Muhaha!), little Shiloh's haircut is nothing shocking and certainly nothing new. In the late '70s, a large number of folks-boys, girls, and moms alike-donned a very similar look. It was called the "Dorothy Hamill" and many of us who wore the style have (shockingly?) gone on to live satisfying lives without any gender confusion at all. In fact, I sported the Hamill from 1977 through 1981 (along with cords, "boyish" sneakers and non-frilly t-shirts) and not only lived to tell about it, but, as an adult, became a fairly girly fashion and beauty editor.

Back in my Hamill days, the main concern for my mother was that I was comfortable, that I could run and play and climb trees with ease. She fought against the convention of putting me in constricting dresses and impractical shoes not because she was trying to "turn me into a boy," but because she wanted me to be uninhibited and free to be a kid. My mom, and those like her in the '70s, refused to believe that wardrobe freedom should be solely awarded to those kids with a penis. It's 30 years later and I honestly can't fathom the fact that we're still having this conversation.

But we most certainly are. The way Shiloh Jolie-Pitt dresses clearly strikes a nerve in a great many American psyches. And, if you really dig around, if you hunt under all the dumb headlines and the false accusations, what you have is a strange, yet familiar condition, caused by inappropriate and entirely projected fear. Of what you ask? How could a little girl in a collared shirt make people so scared? Well, let's just spell out the subtext: What no one is saying is that they're worried that this 3-year-old is cross-dressing, that she's not adhering to some societal definition of what gender is supposed to be and they're worried about this because it scares them to think that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's little blonde cherub could turn out to be...GAY. And that her parents, by not forcing her to wear tutus and pigtails, are complicit in turning their daughter into a manly-dressing lesbian. And this thinking is not only homophobic, but just plain wrong. And that is the end of the story.