What do tomboys become when they grow up?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry about feistiness and feminist ethics. I mentioned a film I found through Women Making Movies called Tomboys! Feisty Girls and Spirited Women. I was finally able to watch it last night. When I first read about the film, I was intrigued by its opening question: Are tomboys tamed once they grow up? The film answers this question by offering up four stories by and about women (various ages–a teenager, an artist in her 20s/30s, a firefighter in her 30s/40s, and an activist in her 80s) who have refused to be tamed and who have managed to keep their feistiness despite societal pressures to become “proper” (more ladylike, more feminine in dress and manner, less playing with boys) women.

In addition to footage of these girls/women, the filmmakers (Julie Akaret and Christian McEwen) interview Carol Gilligan about girls, tomboys, adolescence, and resisting pressure to lose one’s feistiness. I like their inclusion of Gilligan. Her theories on women’s moral development and women-as-caregivers, which were first articulated in the groundbreaking book In a Different Voice, have been highly influential within feminist theory/feminist ethics. In fact, when scholars talk about a feminist ethic of care, her name is one of the first to come up (along with Nel Noddings). Gilligan has one of my favorite lines in the film when she suggests that these girls not be called tomboys but resistors–people who resist oppressive and restrictive rules/codes of behavior.

I really appreciate the concept of this film–creating links between girls, young women, middle-age women, old women. I also like the idea of valuing feistiness–this resonates with my own promotion of troublemaking. I want to show this film to my kids when they get a little older. I think it could generate some interesting discussions about what it means to be a girl (and a boy). For these reasons, I am happy to see such films being made. We need more of them.

I have some problems with the film (surprise surprise), but I will get to those in a later blog entry. Right now I want to focus on why I like this short movie: It values troublemaking as a form of spirited feistiness and resistance. And, it uses a feminist ethicist (Gilligan) to do it.

One thought on “What do tomboys become when they grow up?”

  1. I am a true tomboy. I love sports, I highly dislike pink, and I can’t stand 2 minutes wearing a dress. I never even really liked playing with dolls or liked pink even as a young girl, and I don’t plan on liking that stuff now. Anyways I still love being a girl no matter how ‘tomboyish’ I am. Btw I’m thinking of being a missionary when I grow up. See ya’ 🙂

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