Friday, January 20, 2012


Kierra by Michael Shapcott

"I was such a tomboy," said with pride.

"Oh, I was a total tomboy," said with a laugh, underneath it a sense of accomplishment.

"She's a real tomboy," said with affection.

Everyone wants to claim tomboy as a childhood mantle.  Buy why?

Because society views boyishness as good, while the feminine is lesser.  Not bad.  But less-than.  A girl who likes model horses is a girl; a girl who likes building treehouses, a tomboy (yes, I did both as a kid).  But we elevate that tomboy status, we make it good.  Oh, you were a tomboy?  How awesome!  Good for you!  The underlying message of course being, good for being boyish.

If I ever have a daughter, I will not tell her to be a tomboy.  I will tell her to build treehouses and play with mom's saved model horses, and skateboard if she wants to, and she doesn't have to define herself by how boyish or not-boyish she is.  A girl shouldn't be praised for boyishness, and neither should a boy be pummeled for girlishness.  The male shouldn't be the yardstick of approval.

But I know it will be.  I can plan to avoid praising boyishness, but it will happen.  I will make it  happen, and society will keep making it happen.  I am part of society.  I can try.  I will perhaps succeed sometimes.  And sometimes I will fail.  After all, I have a crush on menswear.  Do I like it because I think it makes me look more professional?  Yes.  But why does menswear make me look more professional, except to exaggerate the fact that I feel more professional dressing like my male counterparts because I feel I am more respected.  Because men are more respected.

When I cut my hip-length flowy auburn Eowyn hair into a short Emma Watson pixie cut, students at the library stopped calling me "Sweetheart."  Immediately.  One day I wore a skirt and long hair and I was sweetheart, the next day I had a boyish cut and a short smoking jacket, and I was nobody's sweetheart.  And it was wonderful.  Because I got a little droplet of respect because I looked the part of someone who, in society, deserves respect.  Dress like a girl, you deserve less respect.  Man up?  Respect.  It was a calculated professional change, and it worked.

Was I a "total tomboy"?  Yes and no.  I like to think I was just...a person.  A person who liked building treehouses and forts and playing with model horses and reading American Girl books (back when there were a literal handful of them), skateboarding and biking and running through the woods with my friends.  And the funny thing is, when I was a little girl, I loved dresses and all girly things.  I got two younger brothers, and my girlyness faded into a staunch refusal to wear dresses.  I was a tomboy because I wanted whatever it was I thought it conferred, perhaps.  (Also, I distinctly remember wanting, more than anything in the world, to be a colonial boy who could wear a tri-corn hat.  Clearly, I had style.)  Because society does confer a certain level of praise and pride in tomboyishness.  It is something good.  It is perhaps a backlash to the Victorian era of women being prim and proper ladies.  But look back -- women who pretended to be men?  Praised.  Awesome.  Good!  Of course, they did these things often to do the things they wanted to do but were denied, which means it should be looked at in a different light.

So anyway...tomboy.  Always such a positive thing...?

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