Facebook is so helpful sometimes! Via a somewhat random friend’s profile, I found this article from the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago. It’s very brief, commenting only a little on the recent spate of books “for girls” and how they present different visions of girlhood. I have a little trouble with calling these visions different strains of feminism, as the article does, but I also haven’t read any of the books so maybe I shouldn’t talk. Anyway, I find this line particularly telling:
Whether girlie or girlist, girls, because they’re allowed more latitude in their identities, can still be girls: Boys, on the other hand, must be boys — unless no one is watching.
This really rings true to me. Perhaps this is a function of growing up in the 80’s instead of the 50’s or 60’s, or perhaps it’s a result of growing up on a farm with an older brother and a mother who almost exclusively wore overalls, but I enjoyed an immense amount of flexibility in my girlhood. I wore hand-me-downs from my brother, loved sports and action figures, and wouldn’t be caught dead (or at least extremely grumpy) in a dress. I did have dolls, but I was much more interested in buying clothes for my Kens than doing just about anything with the Barbies.
There’s a really interesting bit in Forever Barbie about how housewives hoped that the dolls could “cure” their tomboy daughters. I have trouble coming up with the right analog for boys–how do you cure a “girly” boy? Sports? Hunting? G.I. Joes?
I would argue, though, with the question Orenstein raises at the end of her article–“whether any more expansive vision of girlhood can survive without a similar overhaul of boyhood.” It seems to me that the ever expanding bounds of girlhood are, in part, what have allowed girls to achieve on into womanhood–causing a lot of panic over the boys. More women than men are graduating from college! Something is terribly wrong with boys! Why is this always a zero-sum game? Why can’t greater success among girls and women mean there’s something right with them, and not necessarily something wrong with boys and men?