Megan Fox’s 6-year-old son Noah has been getting bullied at school for wearing dresses.
In a recent episode of The Talk, Fox opened up about what it’s been like for her son to deal with teasing and gendered jabs from his peers over his clothing preferences. “Sometimes he’ll dress himself, and he likes to wear dresses sometimes,” she said in the interview. “And I send him to a really liberal, hippy school, but even there, here in California, he still has little boys going ‘boys don’t wear dresses’ or ‘boys don’t wear pink.’”
Noah is the eldest of Fox’s three sons, who she shares with her husband Brian Austin Green. Fox shared that Noah is “really into fashion” and sometimes designs and draws outfits himself. “He’s very talented,” she told the show’s co-hosts.
“We’re going through that now where I’m trying to teach him to be confident no matter what anyone else says,” Fox said.
What we’re teaching our kids about gender.
How can kids as young as six already know to make fun of a boy for wearing dresses? “Children quickly pick up on visuals, behaviours, and attitudes around them,” explains Lydia M. Bowers, an early childhood educator and O.school Pleasure Professional, tells O.school. “They are hearing and seeing adult responses, and it becomes their internal understanding of gender roles.”
Research tells us children learn cues and norms about gender from their earliest years. One study published in the journal Sex Roles found parents encourage more physical activity and exploration in their sons than their daughters, while another study from the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found they’re more quick to respond to their daughters crying than their sons. Parents language itself can even be gendered: Child psychologist Dr. Marc Brackett’s research in his book Permission To Feel found parents tend to use more words about emotions with their daughters, which supports more emotional intelligence. Meanwhile, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science, parents tend to use more words about spatial objects with their sons, which supports better STEM skills.
Kids are malleable and easily influenced. When they see only girls and women in dresses, it’s easy to see why they’d make a connection about certain genders and certain types of clothes. The good news is, parental figures can help them grow up to be more open-minded about gender. “We can make an effort to question stereotypical roles,” Bowers says. “When we’re out shopping, for example, we can say, ‘I wonder why the pink shirts are only in this area? Do you think pink only belongs to some people?’ Helping children to question helps them understand there’s more than out there, and whether they’re a gender expansive child, or a peer, they are better prepared to be accepting of all.”
How to support your kids’ authentic gender identities.
Being able to express your gender and have it acknowledged and validated by everyone around you is both a human right and critical to a person’s well-being. So if you’re like Megan Fox and have a child whose gender expression doesn’t neatly align with social norms, or who is trans or non-binary, it’s important you make your home a safe space for your kid to be themselves.
“The reality of the world we live in is that there will always be bullies and people who don’t understand,” Bowers says. “Providing a safe space at home to regroup and to talk about it is vital. You can practice responses with your child. ‘What can you say when they tease you?’ “
Bowers also recommends explaining to kids why peers might make fun of them over certain habits. “You can discuss that some people haven’t understood that colors and clothing are for everyone,” she says. “A great resource is Gender Justice in Early Childhood. They recommend the phrasing, ‘Some people still think there is only one way to be a boy or a girl’ and then continue the conversation from there. Ask your child how it makes them feel, and validate those feelings.”
When we give kids full support as they explore their identities—and equip them to be able to question norms around gender—hopefully it’ll become easier and easier for them to live in full authenticity.
“He had stopped wearing dresses for a while,” Fox said of Noah. “He just wore one two days ago to school, and he came home, and I was like, how was it? Did any of the friends at school have anything to say? And he was like, ‘Well, all the boys laughed when I came in.’ But he was like, ‘But I don’t care. I love dresses too much.’”
Good for you, Noah!