Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reflections On Tomboys & Girly Girls

At this moment, the incident that prompted my telling myself to look up the definition of "tomboy" on the best site on earth escapes my memory. Here it is, from Wikipedia:

A tomboy is typically described as a girl who behaves according to the gender role of a boy. This social phenomenon typically manifests itself in certain individuals through one or more of the examples stated below:
The wearing of typically
masculine-oriented types of clothes.
The practice of
games and activities (often physical in nature), that are typically considered to be the domain of boys.
The preference of school subjects typically considered to be the domain of boys.
The preference to befriend boys rather than other girls.

There's more that stood out to me:

Historically, tomboys have been defined, as suggested in the examples mentioned above, by "boyish" behavior (like more physically active, technological, and scientific interests) and wearing boys' clothing. In recent times, as the use of traditionally female clothing such as dresses, blouses and skirts steadily declines among Western females, the distinction has become more and more one of behavior. A general increase in the popularity of woman's sporting events...and other activities that were traditionally male-dominated, is today broadening tolerance and lessening the impact of "tomboy" as a pejorative.
Childhood gender roles are handled somewhat differently for tomboys and girlish boys. Gender scholar Judith 'Jack' Halberstam has noted that while the defying of gender roles is often tolerated in young girls, older girls and adolescents who display masculine traits are often repressed and punished.

There is little study of the causality of the phenomenon, since it has been considered, first and foremost, to be a phase one might go through in early years of life. In recent times, however, due to a perceived correlation between tomboys and lesbianism, there have been attempts to find a causality for what is perceived as a deviant behavior in some cultures. One theory of a possible cause is that a girl who spends her childhood and/or adolescence in an environment where the male presence predominates, she simply lacks any feminine role models. However, this hypothesis has been widely challenged by research that suggests that the state is heavily influenced by genetic and prenatal factors.

And then when I scrolled down, I saw a link to "girly girl" and decided to click on that:

Girly girl is a slang term for a girl or woman who chooses to dress and behave in a traditionally feminine style, such as wearing pink or floral dresses, blouses and skirts, wearing make-up, talking about relationships and other activities which are associated with the traditional gender role of a girl. It is an informal term, and in most contexts, it is at least mildly derogatory. The term is sometimes seen as a term of disdain or abuse, particularly among tomboys and some feminists, since the "second wave" of feminism in the 1960s and '70s, after which gender-blind clothing and/or behaviour started to become more prevalent among females. Whether "traditionally feminine" traits are inherently repressive or harmful to women is a matter of some debate.

This caused me to mosey on over to and see what they had to say about these terms and/or similar terms.

Once again, "tomboy":

an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, esp. in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls.

A girl considered boyish or masculine in behavior or manner.

And "girly":

Featuring minimally clothed or naked women, typically in pornography: girlie magazines.
Weak, timid, or effeminate. Used of men.

Let me tell you how I think of these terms and where I fall in these descriptions:

I think I mentioned in another post that I was never quite a tomboy, but I was never "girly." I didn't consider myself a tomboy growing up because I wasn't good at "boy" things, which is how I tend to think of tomboys--girls who can hang with guys, beat them at their stuff. For example, I used to try to play basketball and soccer with boys, but it never quite worked out. I would barely get playing time, because I would stand there while all the guys repeatedly got the ball. A real tomboy, to me, would take playing time. Sure enough, the definition on Wikipedia includes this element.

But it's the other elements that fascinate me. I remember writing in that post that I used to dress kind of like a boy. And I still prefer male clothes, even though I don't shop 100% in the male section of stores like I used to--I now basically tend to buy either from female sections or gender neutral sections. Indeed, most clothes I wear are for both males and females. So, as far as wearing "masculine-oriented" clothes, I guess that's not exactly true, at least not today.

The preference for "boy" subjects...hmmm. I suppose I'm androgynous here, too, or perhaps even lean a bit more towards the feminine side. I'm basically equally right- and left-brained--I have the test results to prove it. When I was growing up, teachers told my parents that I excelled in English and math, and I loved both English and math. For a while there, it seemed I was doing better in math than in English. I didn't initially like science, but that changed. When I was considering medical school, I definitely wanted to go into neurology. Sometimes I think about applying to a Ph.D program in Neuroscience--doing research and writing about my findings in that area would be amazing!

When I was studying psychology in undergrad, my concentration was on the more scientific part. I was excited when my professor for one class would mention mental or brain disorders that are still mysterious, that no one knows the causes for or how to cure/reverse, such as alzheimers and Parkinsons. I would write down everything he taught us about those issues and vow to be the one to come up with the answers. I had theories right away sometimes, too. I also absolutely love technology--computers/lap tops, mp3 players, dvd players, DVRs, cell phones, music software/gear, etc. I named some of my technology and call them my kids, you know--it's that serious! I would hurt someone over my lap top.

At the same time, I love literature and languages. If you can't speak "standard English," you don't want to be caught around me--you will get laughed at. Don't believe me, ask my parents--they are chronic victims of my dissecting, mocking and teasing when it comes to language and speech. I have this weird love of grammar, even though I am definitely not perfect with it on my blog. But I probably know and can recite just about every grammar rule (I feel like this should be more of a "boy" thing, though...grammar feels so logical to me). I've studied Spanish and French, and learning an Asian language such as Japanese and/or Chinese is still on my list. I remember when I was younger, I used to burst out randomly reciting Shakespeare, and I still remember my most favorite parts of my most favorite poems by Shakespeare and Frost. And this all goes without mentioning my multiple talents for the arts--there is probably not one artistic endeavor I haven't dreamed of doing professionally at some point in my life, save maybe photography. So, kind of like with the clothes, I'm split on "boy subjects."

"The preference to befriend boys rather than other girls"--YES! Even though this has changed as I've aged, too., no it hasn't. The thing is all the guys around me now are total dorks. I mean, the choice for them was between becoming a lawyer and becoming a serial killer. Males who attend law school, especially white ones, tend to not be the coolest. Maybe that just correlates with the kind of law school they attend--who knows. I'm just telling you my experience. On the flip side, it seems as if women who attend law school are the absolute best, most tolerable women I've ever met. I wouldn't be surprised if the woman I ended up with, if I ever end up with one, is a lawyer. They are the only women I seem to be able to get along with, mainly because they are less sensitive/emotional than the average woman...which means I can get away with saying more "offensive" or "you hurt my feelings" things to these kinds of women.

Prior to law school, I definitely preferred males as friends. In several of the stories I've read by lesbians or transgendered individuals, they've described the confusion and/or the inner resistance they felt whenever situations arose when they were among groups of people who were separated into groups based on sex. I have so been there! There's one time I remember. I was a senior in high school, in AP English class, and for some reason the girls decided one day that we should all sit on one side of the classroom away from the boys. I remember just being like--at least in my mind, anyway--"Uh, NO!" I actually don't think I moved, either--I think I stayed with the boys. In college, my best friend was a guy. Prior to high school, I basically followed boys around and made space for myself in groups of boys that would accept me, i.e. the two white boys from junior high with whom I discussed music, and the three boys I ended up friends with at the junior high school to which I transferred the next year.

I don't think being a tomboy is exactly related to being a lesbian. Do I want to be a man? Well...truthfully, there's at least one week of every month in which I seriously would. ;) Plus, I just think life is so much easier for men. But more on this question in a second, when I talk about girly girls. You'd be surprised how many girls grew up as tomboys, and I remember in one of my psychology classes we read this article that suggested that being a tomboy is correlated with intelligence and future success. Given that, our professor asked all the girls in the class who had been tomboys growing up to raise their hands. Only one girl didn't. To give you an idea, we had approximately 30 students in the class, only about two of whom were male. And this was at a college that is essentially a southern Ivy League school.

The second part of the Wikipedia definition of "tomboy" supports what we all know and what I've written before on my blog, as well as other blogs, i.e. girls acting like boys is more acceptable than boys acting like girls. Older girls being repressed and punished is interesting...I've never thought about it, except in the sense that I think it makes girls less attractive to males and less able to make female friends. That said, when I was in high school...I don't think anyone thought of me as a tomboy or unfeminine. I did somehow end up with more female friends than I used to have--I'm not sure why. I don't ever remember feeling pressure to be girly or hang out with girls. I just know that during high school and college, I was probably at my girliest, which still wasn't very girly.

I did not spend my time in predominantly male environments, though! My family is ridiculously female and feminine, and I have just never related to it.

As far as and "tomboy," I have never been "boisterous" or "energetic," and I don't really think I am masculine in behavior or manner. I am rather quiet unless you're the right person--all my friends are required to be outgoing--and I am very laid-back. I have a personality that is more associated with males, but I don't "act" male.

Now for you girly girls...I want to make something clear: I...LOVE...YOU! The more feminine, the better! The femininity of a woman really turns me on, so, yes, I love you! I just don't understand you. I know I say "girly girl" and look upon the way you dress, the things you like, the time you spend on how you look, etc, as shallow and ridiculous. I know I say it with a negative connotation and it seems like it is said with "disdain" or "abuse." But when I say it like that, I don't mean it in relation to you, because I think you're gorgeous! I wouldn't like you any other way. But for me?! YUCK! That's where the derogation comes in.

So, going back to what I was saying before about wanting to be a me, I'm not a man or a woman. There's this tweenie spot that a lot of people fit. That doesn't make me androgynous. I think, to most people, I would actually be considered a femme. The thing about that is I cringe at the thought of someone actually calling me that. I think I'd actually rather be called butch. But I wouldn't rather look butch. Looking butch doesn't fit in with how I think of myself, and being labeled femme doesn't fit in with how I really am. And I don't want beautiful femme women discounting me because they think I'm femme, too, or that I'm not butch enough, nor do I want butch women hitting on me because they think I'm femme.

I do have a bit of a problem with submissive, traditional women, though. I don't like straight women like that, and I don't like lesbians like that. I'm not looking to take care of anyone or to "be the man" in a relationship. In fact, I bet I end up with this incredibly feminine woman who almost completely runs our relationship and can totally take care of herself. I don't know why, but the thought of a femme fatale or a "dominatrix" is just hot to me. In other words, I guess I want a girl who looks femme but isn't quite just like I seem tough and controlling but am not quite. We would switch roles, in a sense.

What has to say about "girly," which is actually "girlie," is interesting. I think it's very related to the reduction of women in society, even the definition as it relates to males. And for males, I kind of do mean it in a reductionist way, with "disdain," since I love femininity in women but hate it in men. But I think even the definition for men tells us a lot about what it means for feminine women.