If there’s one thing that’ll get the mom-shamers — particularly the conservative / religious types — to come out in droves, it’s gender-bending kids. Heaven forbid a mother let her boy have long hair / let her daughter wear a suit / the list goes on. Just last year, even Instagram was deleting photos of boys with long hair — because they were swimming shirtless, and were assumed to be shirtless little girls. (To which we have to say, in the spot-on words of writer Jenn Mattern: “Why are online platforms like Facebook and Instagram sexualizing shirtless, boobless little girls anyway? Does it really matter if it’s a girl or a boy if the child is a toddler at the beach?”).
Anyway. We know celebrity parents are far from immune from the shamers who are hell-bent on enforcing all gender stereotypes until the end of time. And Jada Pinkett Smith is only the latest to come forward, saying that trolls came after her for both her daughter Willow’s shaved head and for her son Jaden’s skirt-wearing. Both of which were, honestly, badass fashion choices that looked great!
“I got shamed a lot for Willow,” Pinkett Smith said on Tuesday’s episode of Red Table Talk, of her daughter’s choice to shave her head. She explained that the criticisms about Jaden, however, were far worse. “That was hardcore,” Pinkett Smith continued. “I think as Jaden got older, you know, when he did the Louis Vuitton thing, when he was wearing a skirt. And then he isn’t what people consider your typical Black man, which is like, what is that supposed to be?”
“Even in the community we create stereotypes around ourselves,” Pinkett Smith continued on the episode. “And it’s something that we as a community, really have to learn how to let go of. I know that people felt like it’s dangerous. ‘No, you cannot afford to raise your children this way, because it’s dangerous. You know what it’s like to be a Black or Brown person in this world. You are doing your kids a disservice.'”
Pinkett Smith explained that while she “understood where that fear came from,” she “also understood — from having been on the street and having had been not your ‘conventional Black girl’ in the streets of Baltimore — I knew that self-confidence is what helped me survive.”
She’s absolutely right. Although my own skirt-loving son is white and thus experiences much less inherent risk in his fashion choices (also, he’s four), I’ve absolutely been mom-shamed for “allowing” him to wear his dresses — by family members and strangers on the internet alike. And when my son hears his most-hated question on the street — “Are you a boy or a girl?” — I’ve been able to show my male-identifying, dress-loving kid the photos of Jaden (and Bowie, and Eddie Vedder, and Kanye West, and Jared Leto, and Marc Jacobs, and more) in a skirt, and they’ve made him smile.
Because, like Pinkett Smith taught her son and like I’m teaching mine, confidence means everything — and predetermined gender stereotypes mean nothing.
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