Back On Board ‘The Girl Ship’

by julie swanson

In two recent posts (November 16 and November 11, below) I wrote about being a tomboy and how, although I used to be proud of that and had a false sense of superiority over other girls/females, I now see the error in my old way of thinking. I wanted to expand on that a little bit today, on my mid-life epiphany.

I consider myself a recovering Tomboy. Not that being a tomboy is an addiction or a sickness, certainly not in everyone’s case anyway, but in my situation, I’ve come to see how I was a tomboy to such an extreme that I was actually a traitor to my kind, to my gender. I didn’t like the ship we girls got to sail in, so I jumped ship. Or at least I tried to. I mean rather than speak up and work to change things, change attitudes, rather than stick up for being a girl and say, “No, that’s not what I am” or, “Hey, this isn’t fair,” I just thought, “Well, if that’s what a girl is, then I don’t want to be one.” I even went so far as to go into denial and think, “I’m not a girl. I’m not all those things you think and say about girls.” Certainly as a little child it wasn’t conscious, and I don’t beat myself up for being a traitor (well, I did a little when I first discovered what I’d done and seen it in this light!), but that’s what I was, in effect. I tried to jump ship, from the girl ship to the boy ship. I suppose that’s why I had a hard time naming my blog ‘tomboy’ anything; whereas I used to be proud of being a tomboy, now I’m a little ashamed of it and can see how non-tomboys or recovering tomboys such as myself, they hear or see the term as a puffed-up term of false pride, false bravodo or superiority. It was false pride. I thought I was better than all those weak girls. But really, how could I have been proud of the fact that I felt so inferior as a girl that I was trying to act as if I wasn’t one?! That’s only something I could realize as adult though; that realization took 45 years!

Now don’t get me wrong, my loving to swim and play outside and climb trees and build forts, my love of sports…, not one bit of that was an act or fake. I did love those things. But the way I dressed and spurned all things pink or floral or feminine, the way I wouldn’t wear one bit of jewelry, that was an unconscious rejection of the feminine rather than a love of plain clothes. Who in their right mind, men included, wouldn’t think a flower was beautiful, or a gem stone? I actually liked pink and thought it looked great on me given my eye-hair-and-skin coloring, I could see that some jewelry was really beautiful (but not on me, no way!), I could appreciate beautiful lines and curves and soft textures and sweet smells. My feelings were easily hurt and I often felt like crying. I was moved to tears watching movies or reading books or hearing beautiful singing. But those things I hid.

Not all tomboys are tomboys to the extreme I was. I realize that. I realized it then. Or I realized that all so-called tomboys weren’t like I was; I would look at a girl who claimed to be a tomboy and love sports and climbing trees, but then I’d see her painting her nails or hear her talk about liking a boy, or I’d know that she’d done some other equally disgusting girly thing, and I’d think, “She’s not a real tomboy.” I was a connoisseur of tomboys, the judge, the supreme tomboy herself. (But I can see now that those girls were tomboys as well, just perhaps healthier, better-adjusted tomboys, happier in their own skin.) As for girly-girls, yes, I was truly disgusted by them. The thought of myself doing the things they did gave me “the willies” as my mom would say of some squirm-inducing thing.

I’ve come to see that I was a misogynist (one who hates or dislikes females). And that’s nothing to be proud of; that is actually rather sad. I hated what I was, or what I was born as, but because I had myself so firmly convinced that I was not that, or not fully that, not a normal girl anyway, I didn’t ever see it as hating myself. So when I finally came to understand the psychology behind my extreme tomboyism, it blew my mind—this thing I’d always been so proud of, it was really pretty pathetic and sad, a form of cockiness covering up an insecurity. I’d seen behind my own façade for the first time. How could I not have seen it earlier? How did I let the men of the world, society, our patriarchal culture, how did I let everybody convince me that girls/women/females were such a weak and inferior gender? How did I buy into that instead of doubting it, instead of showing them otherwise?

I guess I did try to show them otherwise—in terms of myself as an individual, but never as a girl, as a representative of my gender. It was never like, “Hey, look what a girl can do.” It was always, “Look what I can do. See, I’m not a normal girl. In fact, does this not prove to you that I’m not really a girl after all? I’ve been telling you, I’ve been trying to show you. Do you believe me now? Do you see why I don’t think I’m going to grow up and become what those other girls do? Because I’m not really one of them.”

Instead of being an ambassador for girlhood, for females, I betrayed my kind and pretended I was one of the guys instead. I identified with the aggressor. I wish I’d been strong enough to put my hands on my hips and speak my mind and not cave and conform to the chauvinistic way of thinking. Of course I could’ve caved in an even weaker way; I could’ve curled in on myself and become a wallflower, invisible, submissive. I could’ve thought, “You’re right, I’m weak, I’m too sensitive and touchy and everything I care about is trivial. I’m nothing. I’m unimportant. I’ll just stay quiet and calm and out of your way.” At least I didn’t do that.

But now it’s time to reclaim those parts of me I rejected, all those warm, fuzzy, soft, happy girl parts, and those healthy positive masculine parts. And as I do that, I suspect I will come to see my extreme tomboy-ism at yet deeper and deeper levels. I never wanted to call myself a feminist because of the man-hater feminists I witnessed and their harsh take on feminism, but I think I owe it to my gender and myself to be a feminist, and I do consider myself one now. And I begin by telling the stories I wished I could have read when I was a kid, stories for all the sensitive tomboy jocks out there. (Jock-ette, that’s what my brother’s friend once call me—“I hear your sister’s quite the little jockette.” I hated how he feminized and cutsied-up even the word jock when applying to me, still ‘just a girl ‘evidently in his eyes.) In telling my stories, in telling the stories I would’ve died to read as a kid, I will be giving voice to the shy good-girl that I was. I was a good-girl to a sickening extreme as well. Drove me crazy how I would betray my own heart’s desire rather than disappoint my mom. But hopefully in my stories, and in this blog, I will be giving voice to things that other ‘strong but silent’ types have kept inside, things that matter to all girls and women everywhere, and maybe even to some boys and men.