Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Category: gender

BRAVE: ‘a failure of female empowerment?’ No!

imgresWe watched the Disney Pixar movie Brave over the holidays and I really enjoyed it. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED it, as it’s exactly what I was starving for… A tomboy princess rebels against her over’bear’ing mom (if you haven’t seen it, bears figure into the story), a mom who reminds me of my own and how she was with me, both the good and irritating. A tomboy princess identifies strongly with her dad, a dad enjoys and encourages that; again, a dad who reminds me of my own, and how he was with me (but showing only the good side of that). Sure, I would’ve wished Princess Merida could have worn something other than the long dresses she wore, but even as a kid, I would’ve realized she was a product of her times.

Before watching Brave, I’d read several reviews with titles like, “Just Another Princess Movie,” and “Why Pixar’s Brave Is a Failure of Female Empowerment”… ( http://ideas.time.com/2012/06/22/why-pixars-brave-isa-failure-of-female-empowerment/) These reviews piqued my interest.

“Just Another Princess Movie”-http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/just-another-princess-movie/is a long essay/post with a thorough analysis of the movie and its motives and messages, and while it’s got interesting points and I actually agree with much of it, it’s confusing. The title of the post and the beginning of it are quite negative, yet  it goes on to appreciate the movie and all that can be found in it if you look deeper than many of its critics have (or if you don’t try to overanalyze things?). A point it makes that summarizes my feelings on the story is, “It’s in its exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter that the film really shines.”

Although many of the criticisms I read in reviews wouldn’t have occurred to me, it’s always interesting to see how others see things, and I get some of the complaints, especially this one; we need more girl main characters that fall between the extremes we’ve been presented with by movie makers. Historically we’ve been shown girl leads who are valued for their crowns and/or beauty, and we’ve recently had a few girl protagonists who are amazing with the bow-and-arrow or who can fight with the boys like Mulan or ‘bend it like Beckham,’ but we need to show more ‘normal,’ average types of girls and their stories, girls who are celebrated neither for being extremely feminine nor for their masculine prowess, girls who are not princesses or orphans. But Brave was a refreshing, non-stereotypical tomboy movie (although hardy, Merida was physically feminine) and another step in the right direction. Just maybe not as big a step as some were hoping for.


Back On Board ‘The Girl Ship’

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. Read the rest of this entry »

How I got to be Such a Tomboy

I went from this in 5th grade…

…to this in 6th. So much happier because I was finally allowed to get my hair cut and wear boys’ clothes.

A couple of posts back, I wrote about the word ‘tomboy’ and how I’ve come to see it differently. I’ve thought a lot about the whole notion of being a tomboy and have a lot to say about it, at least about the kind of tomboy I was.

Why? Well, I’ve spent much of my life wondering why I was such a tomboy. As a kid I’d look around at the other girls–my sister, cousins, the girls in school, girls at church–and think How can they be happy? How can they be OK with it? How can they stand it? Am I the only one who hates being a girl? Why? Why don’t they feel like I do? 

My question was never, “Why was I a tomboy?” (I got that; I had two older brothers and wanted to do what they did and be just like them, I was born with a strong and capable body and delighted in seeing all that it could do, I had a natural affinity for the out-of-doors and nature, and I spent much of my childhood in a rural area. Exploring in the woods, weeds, dirt, and water, catching critters, running and jumping around, throwing things and climbing, riding bikes–those things were fun!) My question was, “Why did I become such an extreme, anti-anything-feminine tomboy?”

It’s taken many years, but I think I finally have it figured out  (and I share it here because I’ve never read anything on this, and I would’ve liked to. I would’ve liked to know I was not alone in this and that someone else understood. I know I can’t be the only one to have ever felt this way. There must be others out there. I’ve talked to people who can relate to a point, but never to anyone who can totally relate. So here it is, for those of you who were like  me–or still are–and would be glad to know you’re not alone, or for those of you who might better understand such a tomboy by reading this): Read the rest of this entry »

The Word TOMBOY; Can We Come Up With Something Better?


“Tomboy. Alright, call me a tomboy. Tomboys get gold medals, tomboys can fly, and oh yeah, tomboys aren’t boys.” Julie Foudy

I’m not sure I would’ve liked this quote as a kid, particularly the “…and oh yeah, tomboys aren’t boys” part. I wanted people thought to think I was a boy then.

But I like the quote now. Because now I see that a large part of what made me so anti-girl, well, that’s exactly what’s wrong with the word tomboy. Why do we have to define a strong, independent-minded girl in terms of ‘boy?’ Boys don’t own the qualities that make a girl a tomboy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the word tomboy. As I wrote on my ‘About’ page, there’s a certain nostaglia in it for me. I took pride in being called a tomboy, having people recognize that I was different than most other girls, typical girls, normal girls. Whatever that is. But in my mind I thought I knew. I had a definite idea of what a normal girl was. She was weak, a sissy, she occupied herself with frivolous things. She was touchy, giddy… But I see now, as an adult finally, the error in my thinking, the twisted conceit. There’s a paradox in thinking that you’re better than all other girls, when your whole reason for feeling that way is because you think your gender is so inherently inferior that you want to dis-identify with being a girl altogether. I mean it’s like you feel so inferior as that, that you pretend you’re not that, and that you’re better than those who are (and are at least honest enough to own up to and accept who they are, what they were born as!). You’re feeling superior because deep down inside you feel inferior. You turn your back on your own kind and say, Yeah, you’re right, Guys, girls (other girls, not me, I’m different) they aren’t anywhere near as good as you, …or me, because I’m like you. Anyway, I see now that part of the whole problem, part of what got me hating being a girl way back when, was that I felt I had to deny that I was a girl, that I had to define myself in terms of a boy. And the word ‘tomboy’ perpetuates that. So I see what’s wrong with it. And it would be great to find another term to replace it.

Words are important. And the origin of the word tomboy makes little sense. The meaning of the word is not at all clear. Well, the boy part is pretty clear, but Tom, tom+boy? Seems some combination of girl and boy  would be more appropriate– like suzyboy or sallyboy.

Steve suggests Strong Girl, but that doesn’t sit right with me because it brings up the image of a tough Amazon-woman type girl flexing her biceps for the camera. Not all tomboys are physically strong or tough. There are frail nature-girls who aren’t afraid to get dirty and muck around in nature looking for frogs and toads and snakes and crayfish, tender-hearted critter-loving tomboys who tend to birds with broken wings and orphaned baby mice. Girls who aren’t afraid to touch a worm but can’t stand to put the hook through the worm or the minnow’s back when fishing. There are athletic tomboys who are great at sports and enjoy them and are aggressive on the field or court, but who also love painting their nails and dressing up and looking feminine when they’re not competing. There are wee little girl explorers, and, yes, there are tomboys who wouldn’t be caught dead in pink and want to look as boyish as they can. And there’s everything in between. There are as many different kind of tomboys as there are anything else.

A tomboy could be aggressive, or simply assertive, or shy but determined. She might be hyper, fiesty, dramatic, calm and stoic, meek and mild, seemingly confident, cocky or insecure. Temperament varies widely. The only way that all tomboys are the same is that, in some way, they consistently exhibit  behavior(s) that are more the cultural norm for boys. Given the great variance in these girls, and this one general way that all tomboys are the same, it’s perhaps understandable  that the only term we’ve come up with to describe them includes the word boy! But can we not at least put some girl word in there? Girlboy? Boygirl?

I also think most tomboys are rather independent, because in order to be tomboys, they have to rebel a bit against the cultural norms. Rebelgirl? Wildgirl? There are many rebellious girls who are not at all tomboyish, though…

And terms such as Tree-climber, Nature-girl, and Sporty-girl, they’re too specific. We need a blanket term to replace tomboy, something girl-power-ish, but the whole notion of Girl Power always kind of turned me off, too, sounded too much like we were being cheerleaders for ourselves. It sounds puffed-up and braggy to me, makes me think girls-against-the-boys, girls-are-better-than-boys, and that isn’t true either.

I kind of like Wildgirl but it has the same problem as Rebelgirl… How about Wildergirl? Wondergirl. Freespirit, Freespirette. Freefilly. Indylass. SheKid…

Any ideas, anyone?

Tomboy, the Movie

This is a beautiful film about a 10-year-old girl who finds herself in a position where she can pretend she’s a boy so she decides to enjoy that and get away with it for as long as she can. It’s quiet, yes, simple, spare, in French with subtitles…but if you are/were a tomboy, or if you know one and want to understand her better, you’ll want to watch this. I loved it. Can’t say I could relate to all of the main character’s experiences in the movie, her motivations, the things she did–there are as many different types of tomboys as there are anything else–but the basic essence of being a tomboy that it portrays, yes, and this does that better than maybe anything I’ve ever watched or read. It was so true, so Read the rest of this entry »

Once a Puer Always a Puer?

Do you know where this is?

[…continued from the last post’s topic…]

Puer, yes, that was me. I never wanted to grow up. I dreaded it. I convinced myself I wouldn’t, couldn’t. It wasn’t that I wanted to cling to the safety of home and parents, it wasn’t so much that I was afraid of change (I am); it was that I truly believed my body was physically incapable of the transformation from a straight-lined boyish build to what I saw as the disgusting curves of a woman. I saw them as something that would make me weak and vulnerable, something that would make men treat me as a doormat, look at me as a piece of meat, and forget I was a person who was just as important and had just as much to me as they did. I thought it would kill me and clung to the belief that I would never ever develop like all the other girls did and were. The fact that I was a latebloomer reinforced that. I clung Read the rest of this entry »

When I Was a Boy

I found these two YouTube videos of pictures people have put to music and happily discovered the song When I Was a Boy, by Dar Williams. I love this ‘sensitive tomboy’ song! (the pictures are good, too) The ending is especially nice, so, guys, don’t think this song isn’t for you, too.

Both of these have the same exact song but the first one has more of a feminist theme to the pictures.