Sissies, Tomboys and Toys
From Gifts and Dec
We will explore that today but first let me remind you that in my last article, "Gender and Toys; the middle space," I wrote about society's reaction to girls and boys who inhabit the middle space between the genders. These are anywhere from children who strongly feel they are the opposite gender or just feel at times that they want to do things that the opposite gender likes to do.
Society typically calls girls in this middle space "Tomboys" and the boys "Sissies." The former has a positive connotation while the latter creates strong uncomfortable feelings in many people. To illustrate the point, here is how Dictionary.com defines Sissy: "An effeminate boy or man, a timid or cowardly person." And here is how it defines Tomboy: "An energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls."
Doesn't it seem that the pivotal notion in the two definitions is that society sees courage is a manly trait? That its absence is to be expected in girls but deemed unacceptable in males? After all, based upon these definitions, when girls act like boys society sees them as courageous, a positive trait. (Think Princess Merida in Pixar's Brave).
What is interesting is that while boys who act like girls continue to struggle with society's reaction to them, there are more Tomboys than ever. That, according to a New York Times Magazine article "What's So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?" Here is how The New York Times article puts it:
A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.
Let's stop and think about that last statement for a minute. There was a steady progression (from 46% to 77%) in the percentage of girls seeing themselves as Tomboys from the 1950's through the 1990's.
Yet, over the same period, we saw a steady trend towards toys being developed, merchandised and marketed that had become more polarized into the "Girly Girl" and "Hyper Male."
Did the toy industry miss the boat? Why has the toy industry not responded to girls who desire(d) to play like males; in fact just to play whatever way they wish? Is this one of the reasons that we lose girls at earlier and earlier ages?
What do you think?