This article critically explores the seduction of contemporary tomboyism for young tweenage girls within neo-liberal postfeminist times and an increasingly commodified (hetero)sexualised girlhood culture. A central aim of the article is to contextualize the persistence of the tomboy discourse and girls' appropriation of tomboyism within competing schizoid discourses of presumed innocence and compulsory normative (hetero)sexuality. Drawing on past and current predominantly UK based ethnographic research mapping girls' relationship to tomboyism, the first half of the article considers how to theorise girls' fluid appropriation of 'being a bit tomboy' within a discursive terrain of multiple femininities and fashion feminism. The second half of the article revisits a case study of one eleven-year-old self-identified tomboy, Eric/a, to re-think conceptualisations of girls' sustained appropriation of 'tomboy' as more than some licensed mimicry of masculinity when it is taken-up as a performative politics of subverting emphasized (hetero)sexualized femininities. The article concludes with a call for future theorizations of girlhood (for example, tomboyism) that foreground the intersection of gender, sex, sexuality, age and time and their socio-cultural and contextual contingency.
Re-Theorising Contemporary Tomboyism in the Schizoid Space of Innocent/Heterosexualized Young Femininities
What Comes After Girl Power?
Marnina Gonick, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, and Lisa Weems
With the current proliferation of images and narratives of girls and girlhood in popular culture, many ‘truths’ about girls circulate with certainty. Amongst the aims of this Special Issue is to examine critically these ‘confi dent characterizations’ (Trinh 1989), to trace the social conditions which produce these ‘truths’ along with the public fascination with girls and to analyze critically the eff ects of these ‘truths’ in the lives of young girls. Th e concepts of resistance and agency have been critical to the field of youth studies, sociology of education and school ethnographies (Hall and Jeff erson 1976; McRobbie 1978; Willis 1978) for conceptualizing the relationships between young people and their social worlds. Ground breaking scholarship by McRobbie (2000) challenges the gendered assumptions of political agency articulated in previous theories of subcultures developed in the 1970s and 80s. While feminist poststructuralist work in the 1990s has re-conceptualized agency in ways that are markedly diff erent to humanist notions of rational actors with free-will (Butler 2006; Davies 2000), feminist researchers have also shown the importance of a classed, raced and sexed analysis of agency. For example, scholarship by feminists of color have shown how girls of color challenge and defy dominant stereotypes of girlhood in culturally specifi c ways such as participating in spokenword contests, rap and hip hop, and ‘beauty contests’ (Hernandez and Rehman 2002; Gaunt 2006). In the changing social, economic, political and globalizing context of the new millennium, where ‘girl power’ has become a marketing tool and a branding (Klein 2000) of girlhood, it is important to look anew at the relations between girlhood, power, agency and resistance.