Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Girls Will be Boys and Boys Will be Girls

By Michelle

boy-of-the-future When my son was 9-years-old, we borrowed a children’s book from the local library. It was one of a series of books written by an internationally known author of best selling children’s stories.

When I was a similar age, I remember avidly reading all the books in this series that I could. I was particularly interested in one of the main characters; here is what Wikipedia says about that character.

“George is an effeminate boy and insists that people call him Georgina. With his long hair and girl's clothes he is often mistaken for a girl, which pleases him enormously. Like his mother, Georgina has a mild temperament. He is gentle and obedient, but very loyal to those he loves. He is compliant to the needs of others and causes no trouble for his mother, nor for his cousins.”

This author has been criticized for being sexist and even using racist language (both of which I think are unfair as she was writing in a different age and therefore, for a different audience). However, as far as I am aware, the character of George was never the cause of similar controversy.

The author in question is Enid Blyton, who wrote many children’s book series after World War 2 and this character was a major one in The Famous Five series based on an idyllic lifestyle of four children (and their dog) in Southern England in the 1940s.

If you know these stories and I don’t know how popular they were in the USA, you will realize that I have not been entirely honest with you. In the above Wikipedia entry, I changed George/Georgina’s gender 180 degrees and rather than being an “effeminate boy,” she was a “tomboy.” The entry from Wikipedia as it originally appeared is below with the words I changed underlined.

Georgina is a tomboy and insists that people call her George. With her short hair and boy's clothes she is often mistaken for a boy, which pleases her enormously. Like her father, George has a fiery temper. She is fierce and headstrong, but very loyal to those she loves. She is sometimes extremely stubborn and causes trouble for her mother as well as her cousins.”

Incidentally, I looked up the antonym of tomboy and suggestions included “girly boy” on one website site where “girly girl” was suggested as an alternative. This is not a phrase I have ever heard relating to boys, although I have for young girls.

“Nancy boy” was also a suggested opposite, which I’ve only heard used as a form of insult - much different than tomboy, which is more often than not used as a compliment, implying independence and strong mindedness.

Had George been the character as described in the second paragraph of this article, I am convinced The Famous Five books would not have been the top sellers that they became. Indeed, I would guess that it would have been the subject of attempts to withdraw it from children’s literature circles.

The desire to become more feminine is always embarrassing (is emasculating an appropriate word here?), whilst wanting to indulge in more traditionally boys’ things (play sport, climb trees) is seen as a positive thing.

To include this character may be seen as a courageous move by Blyton, at a time when few women wore trousers and any man seen pushing a pram may well have been ridiculed. Despite these facts, and I know there have been books written for children on similar themes (e.g., UK author/comedian David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress), I’m not sure in some areas we’ve come much further over 70 years since The Famous Five books were first published.



Actor Clay Wilcox femulating in the 1984 film The Philadelphia Experiment.





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  1. I've read The Boy In The Dress and found it very entertaining as well as supportive of Dennis (the Boy of the title) and his wardrobe choices.

  2. Gotta admit that I've never heard of the book/series. Funny that the character drew little criticism then. Sad thing is, the character might well draw MORE fire today then it did then.

    The only antonym of tomboy that I can think of that is not kind of derogatory would be the word that was used to describe the character you mentioned: "effeminate".
    It's all I got . . .

  3. over the last several years in the gender experiment I call my life, I've come to wonder, are many like us just Janegirls, (my antonym for Tomboys)?

    Your placing Georgina in the contrasts you have, points this out perfectly.