17 April, 2009

The Friday Babble: Tomboys I have loved

I don't know about you, but usually by then end of the working week I'm fairly exhausted. Fridays at work tend to be especially crazy - I work in a college library, and at the end of the week we're full of students rushing to get their assignments done, none of whom I have any sympathy for (not even when I've spent most of the previous evening doing exactly the same thing, heh.) The other librarians start to get this slightly manic look in their eyes, and despite the fact we're all frantically trying to get through as much work as possible before the weekend nothing actually seems to get done.

I tend to do one of two things when I'm tired. The first is to become irrationally angry over trivial matters ("What do you mean you borrowed those socks? They're my socks! You could at least have asked first!") and the second is to fixate on any random subject and ramble about it at length. The first is obviously not conducive to blogging, but the second kind of is. And so I give you: The Friday Babble, wherein I rant about some book- or story-related topic while trying desperately not to fall asleep over my keyboard. Don't worry, this will be more of an irregular feature than a regular one.

The inaugural Friday Babble is on a subject I've been thinking about for a little while: tomboys. In a lot of books I remember reading as a kid, tomboys were seen as being superior to girly-girls - I guess authors were still trying to teach girls that it was OK not to be into dolls and tea-parties and princesses and cooking and the colour pink. Unfortunately, all this has meant is that a lot of women my age seem to think there is something inherently weak or stupid about liking traditionally feminine things, which to my mind is completely wrong. What girls really need to learn is that they have the right to do what they want to do, regardless of gender stereotyping, and that they deserve to be respected whatever choices they make.

But I digress! My point is that, from an early age and well into my teens, most of my literary heroines were tomboys, and I learned some pretty important lessons from them - not only about gender, but about life as a whole. And so I've made a list of all the tomboys who taught me something worth learning.

Haruka Tenoh / Sailor Uranus
from Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi
I decided when I started this blog that for the most part I wouldn't cover any comics or manga, but surely no mention of influential tomboys could be complete without mentioning Haruka Tenoh, the cross-dressing fighter for love and justice in Sailor Moon, one of the best known manga and anime. Haruka and her girlfriend Michiru in many ways represent the perfect female couple - Michiru being the "feminine" side, and Haruka embodying the "masculine". As her alter ego, Sailor Uranus, Haruka kicked some serious ass, and was prepared to make any sacrifice necessary to save the world, even if it meant betraying her own friends, and her own beliefs. Famously, when Sailor Moon was first taken to America, the Powers That Be decided that Haruka and Michiru should be cousins, not lovers. Hilariously, many of the scenes of the two flirting were left in - perhaps the Powers That Be decided that while lesbianism was not allowed, incest was just fine. Haruka's creator, Naoko Takeuchi, has called her, "the female best friend and the fairy tale prince in one." Haruka taught me that there's some things (like saving the world) which are worth making any sacrifice for.

George Kirrin
from The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
George dresses as a boy, calls herself by a boy's name, does everything she can to be 'as good as a boy' and is generally recognised by the people she meets as a boy, not a girl, which is exactly what George wants. And who could blame her, really - her cousin Anne, who is perfectly happy being a girl, is also scared of pretty much everything and would rather be doing domestic chores than off having adventures. Still, as a young reader I always preferred Anne to George - Anne may be rather submissive and easily frightened, but she's also sweet-tempered, kind and good-natured, and when needs be she can be just as brave as either of her brothers and her cousin. George, on the other hand, can be moody, sulky and self-centred - and when she comes across another tomboy, which she does with surprising frequency, she generally treats them as a rival, not a sister-in-arms (brother-in-arms?).

All this shows, really, is that George has fought hard to be accepted by her male cousins as an equal, and when other tomboys are accepted by them without any struggle she worries that she's still not really good enough - especially when she still gets told by the ever-oppressive Julian that she can't do things, because she's really a girl, however much she wants to be a boy. George taught me that men won't accept women like Anne as equals because they aren't masculine enough, and will scorn women like George because they're too masculine, and that readers will always accuse girls who aren't wedded to their domestic duties of being lesbians.

Hilary Clinton knows what I'm talking about.

Tom Gay
from The Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
If your real name was Lucinda Muriel, you'd probably call yourself Tom, too. Tom is brought up by her elderly father, who decides that she should grow up to be a 'gentleman' - unlike other girls, who, he believes, are rather soft and silly, given to caring too much about their looks and too little about honourable behaviour. It's rather a shock for Tom when she's sent to a girls' boarding school and discovers that, actually, most girls hold the same ideals that she does. She never loses her preference for carpentry over sewing, her boyishly short haircut, and her gentlemanly mannerisms, but in an all-female environment she still manages to be one of the most popular students in school. Tom taught me that you shouldn't have to change yourself to be accepted by your peers - and that you shouldn't believe everything your parents tell you.

Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan
from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein

Eowyn grows up in her uncle's court in Rohan, a country whose warriors are held in high esteem. Eowyn is a talented fighter herself and feels trapped by court life and her duties there - what she really wants is to be accepted as a woman warrior. Eventually, Eowyn comes to understand that a life of slaying is not a fulfilling one, and decides to become a healer instead - but not until she has ridden away to war as a man and killed the Witch-King of Angmar. Eowyn taught me that any dream needs to be tempered with pragmatism.

Some people don't think that Eowyn is made from 100% Pure Awesome, but those people are wrong.

Nancy Blackett
from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Nancy is mischief personified; a live wire of a girl who, along with her sister Peggy, spends her summer holidays sailing the Amazon and pretending to be a pirate (during the winter they're usually Arctic explorers instead). No challenge is too great for Nancy, whether its helping her bird-loving friends escape the clutches of an egg-collector, or evading her own Great Aunt who wants Nancy to wear pretty dresses and practice the piano. Her oversized imagination frequently lands her and her friends in trouble; ordinarily sensible people like the local doctor and postman find themselves so charmed by her that quite against their will they become involved in her intricate schemes. Nancy is a leader, a tactician, and an amazingly generous and kind-hearted person. Nancy taught me that a little imagination and a strong will can get you by, no matter how terrible the circumstances (and even when Great Aunts are involved.)

Alanna of Trebond
from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
When we first meet Alanna, she's refusing to go to the convent and become a Lady, instead deciding to dress as a boy and start training to become a knight. For eight years most of her friends never even suspect that she's of the female persuasion, yet Alanna finds that being a boy is not enough for her. She wants to be able to do all the things that men can do - but she also wants to be able to do the things that women do. She upsets a lot of people by essentially being uncategorisable, but Alanna's really only being herself - she may be the greatest fencer in the kingdom, but to her mind that's no reason why she shouldn't be able to weave cloth or look after babies. Alanna taught me that girls really can do anything.

So, what's your opinion on the tomboy archetype? How do you feel about the tomboys I've mentioned here - and have I left out any of your favourites?


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right about all those tomboys making us feel like girly-girls were a weaker species. I felt that way for a long time and tried to be the biggest tomboy I could be.

Sadako said...

I agree, too. I liked reading about girls like this but I wasn't really the adventurous tomboyish type. To this day, I always feel like there's something wrong with me that I can't...for example, walk into an intense biker type bar and do a million rounds of pool with some trucker named Bubba. Or play darts, or jump off a cliff, or go live in Australia like Nicole Kidman in that movie...yeah.

HelenB said...

I would totally read a book in which a girly-girl plays a million rounds of pool with a trucker named Bubba. That would just be freaking amazing.

gr said...

Alanna was without doubt my hero(ine) when I was of age to read YA books (as opposed to reading them in my mid-twenties.

I must admit, though, I always preferred Jon to George. Even though he was a complete douchebag.

HelenB said...

No way! I was always all about Alanna/George. Jon was so egotistical I wanted to slap him!

gr said...

So did I, but even at that young age I preferred slapworthy idiocy.

I seem to remember having a bit of a crush on Alex of Tirragen. Although thinking about it now he was clearly gay for Roger.

Riya Das said...

immensely enjoyed reading this post. and i completely agree about the unfair nature of such stereotypes. incidentally, one of my best friends is a total tomboy, but we get along just fine, because we respect our choices like you said.