My one-year-old son loves to wear his sister’s red, polka dot Christmas dress. For a few weeks, he would sneak into her bedroom, pull it off of the hanger, and drag it around the house until someone with more dexterity would put it on his body. We never told him he couldn’t wear it because it was “girl clothes.” And, while his older sister and brother initially expressed confusion as to why he was “allowed” to wear the dress, they quickly let it go when they saw how my partner and I de-emphasized gender rules and their entanglement with popular fashion. I imagine that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith take much the same approach with their children, Willow and Jaden Smith. So, why can’t the rest of the world come to terms with the fact that Jaden’s clothing choices are his to make?
Jaden Smith’s presentation in dresses and skirts, floral prints and headbands, and tights has been causing some media outlets and Twitter users to lose their scruples for the past few months. They continue to express confusion over his wearing of “female clothes” despite the fact that clothes, as far as I know, have never had a gender. In fact, they never will.
Kat Blaque, artist and dope Black girl, made an informative video about the differences between sex and gender and how often those terms are mixed up with gender norms like clothing.
Her core message is simply that our conceptions of “masculinity” and “femininity” are based on societal norms not actual biology. Our mental commitments to labeling and categorizing some bodies as “female” and others as “male” stems from our inability to move away from restrictive gender binaries which exclude many people in society.
While Jaden identifies as male, his choice to wear clothes commonly worn by folks who identify as female shouldn’t be misconstrued to mean that he has a new gender identity. Because, again, clothing does not determine, validate, or articulate gender.Given that we are living in the year 2015, it seems odd that many people still struggle with these simple concepts.
At this point in history, where we have seen the legalizing of same-sex marriage and challenges to historic symbols of racism in America, this uproar over Jaden Smith’s evening wear is almost baffling. Perhaps the puzzlement stems from an overall discomfort with allowing others to be free.
What we choose for ourselves by way of clothing, sexual partners, or anything else, is our choice. Yet, the same freedom we seek and protect for ourselves, we deny in others.
For most people, self-expression is not a privilege but a right. When Jaden walks out of his front door dressed as a caped hero or in an outfit typically found in the petite young women’s section of the department store, he, too, should have the right do so freely. Like my children, who were able to understand that fact within a matter of moments, I’m certain that us adults can let Jaden Smith live in whatever clothing he pleases.
Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.