Tomboy Exceptionalism: “I’m Not Like The Other Girls”
I grew up a tomboy. That meant no dresses, no dolls, and even biting my kindergarten boyfriend who dared to give me a party favour bag at his birthday that was princess themed. It meant playing in the mud, wearing clothes from the boy’s section at Old Navy, and (most importantly) being tough, rough, and powerful. I wasn’t “like the other girls" -- I wanted the boys to value and play with me, rather than try and look up my skirt when I jumped from the monkey bars as they did with my friend Lauren.
So I got to play in their reindeer games because, as a tomboy, I was free from gender expectations that devalued me as a women. I wasn't a threat because I wasn't “ like the other girls.” But the problem was that this mentality made “the other girls” my enemies. They represented all that I wasn't, all that classified me outside of both “boy” and “girl” as a “tomboy.”
But kids “grow up” and “grow out” of things. Soon, my fellow tomboy friends renounced their ways and told me to do so, too. I couldn’t understand how my peers could trade in that freedom for itchy training bras, and I worried that I was next.
Apparently being a tomboy wouldn’t save me from growing into a woman forever...and being a woman, according to all the cues surrounding me, was a Bad Thing. Women were never heroes or adventurers, but wives, mothers, and caretakers. If I was going to be valued, I wanted to be valued for who I was, not for my looks (which I was often urged to improve) or who came from/went into my vagina. I wasn’t ready to trade running free for crippling high-heels.
So I said I was a boy because I didn’t feel like a girl. Feeling like a girl meant liking “girl’s things” and “girl’s things” were trivial and weak. I was anything but trivial and weak. Being a “tomboy” [which is just shorthand for: Not Girl; Girl=Bad] cheated me out of years and years of wearing dresses (I late found that the crotch breeze is phenomenal) because I wanted to be independent. Just by reclaiming their status as “girls,” my friends who “grew up” are currently suppressing their ageless love of tree-climbing in order to be considered “womanly” (whatever that is).
How many women today still don’t know themselves because they’ve spent so much time either trying to live up to or trying to avoid that which is “womanly”? Why are trucks and “girliness” incompatible? What about “womanliness” and self-strength? Maybe it all starts when you find out your fetus has/does not have a penis and somehow that determines the appropriateness of various decoration. (It’s a boy? Let’s buy him a blue blanket with airplanes on it because apparently you need a penis to enjoy either of those things). Why can’t we climb trees in dresses and just throw pinecones down at boys who wish to look up our skirts?
But, most importantly, why is it that the grown-up tomboys are the ones who further degrade women for being “too much drama” or “shallow”? Why will we, in the same way as men, continue to use other women as a point of comparison, as a way to elevate ourselves—“I’m not like them”? Because in the end, it seems that's what being a "tomboy" (as opposed to an individual woman with interests and expressions that differ from traditional notions of femininity) is all about: setting women apart, allowing us to taste independence without actually being independent. The idea of "tomboy" pits us against each other, so we're distracted from the bigger picture -- from the bigger forces who do that to us, anyway, and from achieving true independence -- the ability to be free as our authentic selves.
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