07/07/2010 11:39 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Angelina Jolie And Her 'Little Dude': When Girls Want To Be Boys

Until Shiloh Jolie-Pitt appeared on the celebrity baby circuit, the mere mention of 'tomboys' conjured up images of George(ina) from the Famous Five or Blackadder's 'Bob'.

But with Angelina Jolie going on the record to say she dresses four-year-old Shiloh 'Like a little dude,' and indulges her tomboy ways, is it finally OK for girls to ditch the pink and embrace their boyish side? And indeed for little boys to play with dolls and take ballet classes? Should childhood be more about unrestrained self expression and less about gender specifics?

"Yes," says Sally, mum to resolute tomboy, Felicity, four.
"Felicity wears a dress and blazer to school but underneath there will always be boys' superhero underwear," says Sally, "And it's only recently she has answered to Felicity – for nine months she was actually Aiden – in fact, her cousins still call her Aiden and think it's her name!"

At home Felicity plays with boys' toys, and outside of school only wears boys' clothes; her role models are adventurers, pirates and monsters – something her mum thinks is instrumental in her desire to be a boy.

"Why wouldn't she want to be boyish when she's constantly being told that being a girl means she's supposed to like dolls and babies and princesses - none of which she has any interest in?"

Although Felicity has never been teased about her clothes or toys, children will sometimes question why she has boys things. "They will ask why she isn't riding a girls' bike," Sally says, "and because of that Felicity will sometimes say we can't invite so and so to tea because they will want to play with girls things, which we don't have.

"But it's all fine with me – why shouldn't kids wear whatever they want and pretend to be whatever they want? It's just about having a healthy imagination and being a free spirit."

Mum of four boys, Debbie, has the opposite situation – her eldest son Jack, 6, has always been what she describes as 'a girly type of boy.'

"He's sensitive, thoughtful and with a liking for all things pink and sparkly," she says, "His friends are girls and he frequently goes to High School Musical parties at houses festooned with pink balloons. He still loves boyish pursuits like computer games, and the odd bout of wrestling with his brothers, but in a house of all boys, I welcome his more feminine traits. And of course, if girls can wear trousers, play football and cut their hair short if they want to, why shouldn't boys be allowed to try on dresses, do ballet and paint their nails?"

Karen Sullivan, author of Pregnancy and Birth: The Essential Checklists (Dorling Kindersley) agrees:

"Under the age of three or four, most children do not associate clothing or even toys and games with a particular gender, and experiment simply because it's fun or exciting, or because they want to emulate a particular friend, TV hero or even parent.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging kids to express themselves and experiment a little with their 'look' and even their identities at this stage, in fact, it's healthy!

"There should be no social pressure - or parental pressure – to conform to 'norms' that will eventually exorcise themselves anyhow!"

Does your child like dressing up
? Have you ever had negative views from others?