When I was six, there was a hierarchy on the playground. It was not only a grade hierarchy, with the 5th graders at the top of the pyramid and the first graders at the bottom, but a gendered one as well. Boys would torment the girls who liked hop scotch, who liked jumping rope, who were girly and wore skirts. After it rained (and I live where it likes to rain), they would pick up the engorged worms and throw them at the girls who were considered too girly. The way to avoid that? Well, it was pretty simple. Show no fear, point out the girls who would screech and cry, and every once in a while 'attempt' to pick up a worm yourself. Truth is, the last thing I wanted was to get a worm in my hair, and so I did the cowardly thing. I colluded with the more powerful, the ones who were obviously better than those pink wearing, pig-tailed, girly girls - because no one was throwing anything at them, and no one sought to put them in the time out box for their trespasses. Because this was just what kids do. There were a couple of other girls in the group I hung out with in elementary school, but it was mostly a pack of boys. We'd beat on each other, play tag and a primitive version of war where two competing sides would fight minor skirmishes on the outskirts of what could be considered the playground and sometimes capture prisoners. It felt good to be in with the A-team, with the people who didn't get picked on simply because they were who they were. And so, there I stayed.
Part of this was because I was horribly bad at jump rope, but a lot of it was because I didn't want to get that worm - or whatever the worm equivalent was on a sunny day - on me. I hated girly things, and I wasn't overly fond of the girly people either. They were weak, as evidenced by their continued torment. And it was much easier to get cootie shots when I was touched by one than to actually admit that those girls and I had something in common; the second I stopped wanting to play war and picked up a jump rope, I would be just one of the masses who would be wormed. I don't remember boys having it all that bad, though they must have. There had to be a couple of boys who didn't want to throw worms, but felt like they had to. There had to be a couple of boys who would have preferred to play jump rope but couldn't, because not only was that something girls did, it was something those icky girls did, girls who you needed to be inoculated against to ensure you wouldn't develop some of those icky girly traits.
I imagine that this wasn't the case everywhere, that there were playgrounds where girly girls weren't tormented by the boys. The couple of playgrounds I've been in, though, both as a student and then as just a witness to the goings on, suggest otherwise. By the time I moved to a different town and a different playground, the game was no longer throwing worms but snapping bras. Nevertheless, the game pretty much remained the same. The girls who were girly had their bra straps snapped, and the girls who eschewed girly behavior were pretty much left alone. The fact remained, though, that girliness was something to avoid, to mock, and - as a girl - to fear. Which brings me to this point: girliness is in the eye of the beholder. I am, in certain respects, excessively girly. I like clothing, I like shoes, I like romantic-comedies, and as much as I like playing in the snow or waves, I'm also happiest curled up in a chair reading a book. But even with girliness being in the eye of the beholder, girliness is devalued more than girls are. Which is a problem, because I didn't start liking shoes until after I gave up my belief that a worm could come flying at my head at any second or that my bra was subject to snapping.
Marjorie Bell sums up this anti-girly bias best when she says,
I’ve noticed that lots of folks with only one daughter sound like, well, me, when I only had one daughter: “Golly, we have no idea how she got so girly! It’s crazy!” Alter-nately, parents of glitter-indifferent girls can sound self-righteous and self-congratulatory: “Oh, we consciously provided our daughter with toy cars and Legos to nurture her adventurous courageous spirit, thus providing the fertile soil in which a fearless gender warrior could grow! More lentil-quinoa loaf?”
The thing that strikes me about this quote - aside from the fact that my own mother told me that she would kill me if I became a cheerleader and then told me she would kill me if I joined a sorority - is how it fits in with the greater narrative of society. My father, who has three girls and wanted four girls, has received condolences many times for a lack of son. Professions that are coded as feminine generally pay less. And while we simultaneously deride the princess for doing nothing while her prince comes to rescue her, we also - as Amy Wilson demonstrates - expect girls to be that way, to be the princess who has a love of pink and ponies. We expect it so much that I think we do what Bell states; we see behavior through the prism we've already constructed. So, for Bell, Josie initially comes off as intrinsically feminine even though she - like her sister - is "in the middle of the bell curve of girliness". It is kind of like how we see cars. I recently bought a car, and I swear I now see it everywhere after seeing it nowhere before. I doubt everyone in the world ran out and bought a car simply to fuck with me (my self-centeredness doesn't extend that far), and so it is just a matter of being attuned to this whole new model of vehicle. The same applies to gender, and how we picture the 'tells' of each gender.
I'm pretty sure that there is no answer to the great nature-nurture debate; I'm pretty sure that, like most things in life, there's a healthy mix of both nature and nurture in how each person develops. Likewise, I don't think there's a definitive answer to the individual-society debate. My constantly quoted friend seems to think that I'm more on the side of nurture, and more on the side of society, but that's not really true. I don't think that society creates every impulse, but I do think it influences us in ways we oftentimes fail to recognize; part of that is probably due to us as a society believing that we are individuals and autonomous, and having that be the ideal. That being said, it doesn't matter much to me if Amy Wilson came to her conclusions that a daughter would love princesses and ponies and princess parties, and how princessy girls are bad, all by herself or in conjunction with society telling us all that princessy girls are bad.
The fact remains that regardless of how Wilson herself came up with the idea that girls are "whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate", it could still be published as a viable idea on a mainstream news organization's website. Frankly, I do think that Wilson has been at the very least influenced by society's belief about girls and girly behavior, just like I am and the boys who threw worms at the girly girls on my playground were. But even if she came to these ideas independently, I still think it tells us something about society that this work could be published where it was published, without someone saying, "Boys don't mope or whine? Boys are never manipulative?", without someone recognizing that disliking girliness and devaluing girly girls is socially acceptable and maybe that's a bad thing for all of the girly girls out there.
Further reading: Why 'Tomboy' Remains a Loaded Word. There are a couple of observations I really like in this article, primarily:
Feminism has done a great many things, and it has broken down the doorway for women into the field of what would have been traditionally men's work; but we as a society have a lot longer to go in order to recognize the value of what we see as traditional women's work and what we see as 'women's roles', and in allowing not only women to be valued while doing them but also allowing men access to those roles without being considered less of a man because of it.It's much better, contends Mullin, to be a tomboy than a sissy.
"We are more comfortable with girls exhibiting supposedly masculine traits than with boys exhibiting supposedly feminine traits. I suspect this is partly due to greater fear that a boy who transgresses gender norms will be homosexual, and to the idea that a girl is `trading up' when she is boyish, since masculinity tends to be more highly valued in our culture than femininity."