Tomboy Girls

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Fly-By-Night
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Internets, a Thing is bugging me.

Growing up as a tomboy, people were always surprised when, past the age of about ten, I expressed any interest in girly persuits. Aided by the fact that a large number of my friends were boys who had little or no interest in such things to begin with, this lead to mockery, confusion, jokes and/or raised eyebrows whenever I did something like wear a dress or talk about ponies. My reaction was to try and detatch myself from girliness altogether, with varying degrees of success. Even when talking to other girls, I felt I had to be careful. They knew me as a tomboy, and the comforting everydayness of our friendships involved their acknolwdgement of this fact, such that I was counted on, if not expected, to make sarcastic remarks about pretty dresses and my unwillingness to wear them if the others brought it up. In hindsight, I can recognise that this was often a case of the lady protesting too much. I didn’t know how to reconcile my tomboyishness with my femininity, and so attempted – unsuccessfully – to choose between them. It’s taken me years to figure out that I never had to; that there was never a contradiction to begin with. Some days I wear boots and leather and listen to Audioslave, and some days I wear skirts and necklaces and listen to Taylor Swift. It’s all equally me, and I’m cool with that.

The other side of being a tomboy was – is – having more male friends than female, and spending more time with them. This has never meant, however, that I’m always the only girl in a given group of guys, nor that I’m automatically sceptical/resentful of any other girls who might  join in, feminine, tomboy or otherwise, or even that I have no female friends. I do. Girls and guys come in all different flavours. That’s just life.

Which leads me to the Annoying Thing of Annoyance, viz: the sudden preponderence of tough-girl, tomboy urban fantasy heroines who whinge about feminine things like dresses and high heels even as the story forces them to wear both, and always – crucially – under duress. And the villains they face? Are female villains identified as such by their love of pretty clothes, who want to be the only women in their respective roomfuls of men but Who Are Not Real Tomboys Because They Wear Pink And Are Therefore Evil Jezebels,  juxtaposed against the Noble Heroine Who Just Happens To Always Be The Lone Woman Surrounded By Men But Who Wears Pants And Jackets And Is Therefore Trustworthy. What makes me angriest about this trope is the fact that I’ve unconsciously perpetuated it in my own writing – and all because it’s based on a viewpoint that, once upon a time, I shared, and which is still a part of me, despite my efforts towards mental reprogramming.

Listen: I don’t find high heels practical or comfortable, but I still wear them on special occasions out of a desire to dress up. Nobody, not even my mother and not even in childhood, has ever waved a wand, held a gun to my head or otherwise strongarmed me into wearing so much as a scrap of damn clothing that I didn’t want to wear, and I say this as someone who once owned a fluro orange t-shirt and hot magenta overalls that were only ever worn together. I might still feel self-conscious in heels and dresses from time to time, but I also think I look nice like that, and if I ever had guilt about getting dolled up as a teenager, it was because deep down, I was afraid I couldn’t admit to enjoying myself without being laughed at or accused of social apostasy.

So when I read about tough-girl heroines being forced by circumstance to dress up for a party or wear a dress or somesuch and whinging about it non-stop, I get angry. I love me some badass chicks in literature, but I do not want the template for badass chicks to be deeply invested in the Pretty Dresses Are Wrong mindset. And I sure as hell don’t want the most defining characteristic of any and all female villains fought by said badass chicks to be that They Unapologetically Wear Pretty Dresses And Lipstick And Are Basically Evil Hollywood Cheerleaders With Magic.

GAH.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change my own manuscript so as to appear less like a total hypocrite and more…something less hypocritical.

Damn social programming.

Comments
  1. Amie Kaufman says:

    I bet the t-shirt and overalls were smoking.

    I had a similar experience, growing up as a sailor. There seemed at first to be two choices: either be a princess, asking the guys to lift things and help you rig (admittedly cocasionally a necessity, as some of them were a lot bigger or a lot stronger), or denying all femininity and pretending to be one of them. After a couple of years I worked out my own third road, which involved hanging out with my guy friends and telling everybody to deal when I wore a dress. They turned out to care a lot less than expected.

    It seems as though a lot of tomboy protagonists do kind of entrench this attitude–that it’s one way or the other. I think writing that third way offers richer, more original opportunities.

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