Gender Roles, Tomgirls, and Acceptance
I was alone quite a bit as a child and gravitated towards being a tomboy. No one taught me girly things, and being a girl in the 1960/1970 Deep South meant I stuck out. It was painful at times. Really painful.
My parents were divorced, which was unheard of in my tiny North Louisiana hometown. To my classmates and their families, it meant my mother hadn’t tried hard enough to be a wife and woman, never mind the fact my dad was a serial groom. It was if I were illegitimate, which was another cultural taboo at the time.
It was made pretty clear to me at an early age that I was unwanted by just about everyone in my William Faulkner-like family. One family member never hid the fact she despised and resented me, my mother’s sister and her children treated me with impatience and dislike. My dad’s family treated me with resentment. I knew I was unwanted but had no idea what I’d done. Kids are like that. They seek blame within themselves when grown ups don’t behave like adults. They think no one loves them, so they must be unlovable.
I went to school with unbrushed teeth and pajama bottoms, because I took care of myself, and those things were pretty minor. My hair was dirty and unbrushed because it wasn’t like a big deal; I just wanted to get to school without being bullied over tardiness again. From there it was easier just to become a tomboy, insulate myself with books and playing outside building tiny forts and villages with found things far away from my mother’s house. Hate looking at me? Make myself invisible.
As I grew up, extended female family members threw up their hands in disgust. Why didn’t I care about how I looked? Why did I act so masculine (wearing filthy pants, dirty sneakers, with grimy hair, filthy fingernails)? I both wanted to fit in and be fussed over in a nice way, and yet knew it wasn’t going to happen. As in a lot of dysfunctional homes, everyone was trying to take care of themselves, kind of, and ignore the obvious.
I used to spend a lot of time crying, wondering if somehow I’d gone home from the hospital with the wrong family, that my real caring, happy, loving family was nurturing someone else. In the meantime, I embraced being a tomgirl, because it made me happy in an otherwise miserable world. No clean socks? No problem. No clean pants? No problem. Shoelaces broken? No problem. Hot water all used up, and no privacy? No problem.
People being judgemental? Screw them.
Young women now can be frank about choosing to be a Tomgirl. It’s wonderful, and they can be justifiably candid when people criticize them.
Being able to paint a fingernail or use a flatiron shouldn’t define a woman. We Tomgirls don’t neatly color inside the lines, but chart galaxies and supernovas beyond gender defined barriers. No one gets to define us, trash talk our appearances, our choices. If we don’t look feminine or act so, then it’s our choice, not society’s, not a narrow view of what’s acceptable and what’s not. We get to decide.