Thursday, September 20, 2007


All my life, I've been envious of tomboys. Or rather, of the term 'tomboy'. It strikes me as deeply unfair that women who like hanging out with men and shun 'girly' things should get such a nice, precise, decent, respectable word to describe themselves, while people like me have to struggle to find a phrase the expresses the male equivalent. For as long as I can remember, my female friends have outnumbered my male friends, and I've always shunned any activity that involved the faintest aura of testosterone [1] (I would never dream, for example, of cutting ants in two - I'm much more likely to sit for hours watching them and then write a poem about it). And yet to even try to express this in words (as I'm doing here) is to open myself up to a litany of misrepresentation and insult. I realize this is probably because in the deep-rooted patriarchal order of things a woman wanting to be more like a man is perfectly understandable but a man wanting to be more like a woman has to be a sign of weakness - but that doesn't help much, does it? It's discriminatory, that's what it is. So I hereby demand that we coin a term that is the mirror image of tomboy and make it part of everyday use.

Except that - and this is the real point of the post - I can't come up with a word that seems appropriate (I refuse to go around describing myself as a 'vivgirl'). Any suggestions?

[1] My idea of a savage, heart-pounding blood rush is listening to Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps - as I did this evening in the opening concert of the new Philadelphia Orchestra season.


Cheshire Cat said...


:) I think Tom was a vivgirl himself... (vivboy?)

And there's too much cross-dressing going on in Shakespeare for me to believe he was a red-blooded heterosexual male. (Do straight men write sonnets?)

Space Bar said...

vivgirl sounds like what neena gupta's daughter might be called behind her back.

some greek god's name, you know... perfect propotions and androgynous. where's my bullfinch's mythology?

Anonymous said...

The perfect term exists. Falsie. Lets try it out:

"My son is such a Falsie, he loves to write poetry and talk to his girlfriends. Ah well, I suppose its nicer to have a falsie than a tomboy. They're sooo much more manageable"

...Well, that doesn't sound quite right. but it'll do for now, I suppose. i'm sure when the word 'tomboy' was invented, it had connotations of cosmetically enhanced body parts.


Anonymous said...

Btw, I have more of those tickets coming in (the movie ones, not orchestra ones, sadly, unless Professors in my Dept start composing random distributions or orchestra dynamics or something in consultation with the Philly Orch). Have bowed and scraped to Movie-Prof who has promised me scads of tickets.

Be nice to me, Falseness, be nice.


Aishwarya said...

I'm writing a paper about the tomboy figure in girls' school stories as we speak (Not that we are actually speaking, but. you know) and seeing this was a bit of a shock.

Tabula Rasa said...

i was all set for a riot in the commentspace but n! has again struck pre-emptively.

n!: i think we need to talk about movieprof and his/her motivations.

Space Bar said...

n!: what a fantastic idea. the only thing is, you know...i keep getting an image in my head of women who've gone in for breast enhancement. kind of spoils the 'falsie loves to write poetry' line.

(ok, i won't even say the several things that automatically turn up in my head. no really, i won't.)

Anonymous said...

n! enthralls!.. we really are hooked to his/her views now.

the mighty falsie-ness cud stoop down to reviewing Chak De or it's too palid a movie for thy falseness i suppose :(

Falstaff said...

cat: See, but this has nothing to do with being / not being heterosexual - vivgirls aren't gay anymore than tomboys are lesbian.

With you on Tom, though. That first book has vivgirl written all over it. And don't even get me started on the whole I, Tiresias bit.

space bar: See, this is exactly what I'm talking about - you hear viv and you think cricket, I hear viv and I think poetry.

I like the greek god idea in theory, though most of the greek gods I can think of were more adept at seducing women then hanging out with them.

n!: I'm torn between objecting to the term itself and the temptation of having a whole pattern of behavior named after me.

As for the movie tickets, I remain, as ever, your humble slave. (banish not him thy Harry's company)

Aishwarya: Why a shock? A surprise I can understand, but shock?

Aishwarya said...

Well if you had had no sleep and had been reading dry essays about tomboys and school stories and transgenderedness for hours and you thought you'd take a break and found yourself reading this post, mere 'surprise' would not begin to describe your feelings. I thought I was hallucinating. Or I'd fallen asleep at the desk or something.

??! said...

'falsie' could also be put to so many other uses...
'to do a falsie' (sit quietly for hours contemplating some esoteric idea, then suddenly churn out 16 poems in 9 minutes); 'throw a falsie' (sneer at someone who suggests going for a pop concert, and then launch into a 2-hour lecture about the wonders of classical music); and so on.

had no sleep and had been reading dry essays
no CL matches mixed up in there then?

Alpha said...

it takes guts to admit realy far as i am concerned i love gays.:)

Neha said...

i've always hated it when men say stop behaving like a (little) girl. it annoys the crap out of me. but i guess it's the same thought process. when i read the post, i thought this space would be full of moronic comments. have ppl really grown up or are we just having a good day?

km said...

And what is wrong with Arnie's "girly man"?

//kidding, kidding.

Falstaff said...

Aishwarya: Now that you put it that way I sympathize. I would hate to take a break from yet another tedious regression and find you'd been blogging about corporate mergers.

??!: I would not lecture someone who suggests going for a pop concert for two hours on the virtue of classical music. I would stare at them in shocked contempt for a minute, then wander off to listen to Bach, leaving them to their fate.

alpha: See reply to cat above. this has nothing to do with sexual preference. It has nothing to do with sex at all.

neha: Good day, I think. Though we can always hope.

km: Now 'girly' is going too far. Most of my women friends would strongly object to being described as 'girly'. Still, I might have considered it, if Arnie weren't Republican.

blackmamba said...

Emo boy.

All wrong, just like girly man.


n! I bow before your intellectual supremacy! (as always).

Falstaff said...

BM: methinks you've been reading too much QC. Though actually, Marten is a good example of what we're after - other than Steve all the other people he hangs out with are women. So, of course, emo boy is all wrong.

Anonymous said...

??! (you have stolen my heart with the punctuation nom-de-plume, you realize, the exclamation mark just gives me the shivers!!): I suggest you and I start work immediately on a "falsie" dictionary introduction. We should of course do it the French way (is there any other?). Every Thursday morning we meet, over wine, and debate endlessly (in French) the nuances of the word and the possible repercussions of including the term.

BM: thank you, Your Pinkness!

And btw, I rather like the term "girly man". It suggests a sixpack gent wearing a pink (magenta?) thong and listening to Baroque (and anyone who even thinks "Air on a G String", I say, fie on you sir). Hot. Falsie, think - that could be you.


Anonymous said...

n! / F:

"It suggests a sixpack gent wearing a pink (magenta?) thong and listening to Baroque (and anyone who even thinks "Air on a G String", I say, fie on you sir). Hot. Falsie, think - that could be you."

Eeeks!!! Surely n!, "thinking" would ensure that he would not be so! But if there be even an iota of possibility of what you say being true, then desist Fal! Don't you dare think another thought! At least not until you're far enough away from a thong-store!


Anonymous said...

Getting back to the post, I agree with what you're getting at. But can one word really describe who you are?

For example, reptiles creep me out. I can cook fairly decently. I can't leave the house without sun screen, perfume or lip balm. I enjoy mushy romantic movies. Sad stories make me cry. But I am not into ribbons and laces, my room is not all pink (not even partially so, for that matter). I live in jeans. I love to drive. Very fast. And some day I'm going to fly a jet, ride an ostrich and jump off a plane.

So nope, I'm not a girly girl. But I ain't even a tomboy.


Falstaff said...

n!: Wait, let me get this straight - you're actually encouraging me to cavort about in a pink thong to the music of Bach? How much of a masochist are you? And since when has the descriptor 'sixpack' ever applied to me?

N: True, but it's not so much about finding a term that describes you as an individual - it's more about finding a term that serves as a convenient shorthand for a particular approach to social interaction. That shorthand isn't meant for people you're close to, or who you want to really understand you, it's useful for everyone else - people you meet casually, folks you interact with at office, etc. It's for the people who look surprised / bewildered when I tell them that I was out drinking with a group of women or that I went on a road trip with a couple of my women friends. If there was a term for male tomboys it would automatically legitimize this kind of interaction, place it in a frame where everyone could comprehend it and make it seem a lot less strange.

Alok said...

there are a lot of words but none which are not derogatory (not surprisingly)... pansy, sissy, effeminnte, effete, epicene,fruity, faggy.. and I havent even looked up the thesaurus or the slang dictionary yet.

Alok said...

I guess epicene sounds pretty respectable to me with interesting literary lineage too.

blackmamba said...

Falstaff: Yes ODing on QC. Proudly so.

Marten is exactly what you are looking for. But Emo boy has a lot of non-QC connotations which just perpetuate silly stereotypes - the skinny-jeans, the eyeliner, the long fringe look - and you wouldn't want that. would you?

And n!, may I recommend that fancy non-comedogenic purple eye makeup(that I am sure Veena will gladly donate) to complete the girly man look.

~N: I feel your pain. When you are looking to hang out with people who have a good balance of right and left brain activity - they always end up falling out of societal stereotypes... oh well.

And, take it from me, jumping out of planes is overrated.

Cheshire Cat said...

Forgive me for conflating sex and gender :) But indeed, I was guilty of some lazy associative thinking.

Off-topic, I was pleasantly surprised to find that you are such a big fan of Amit Chaudhuri's fiction. He's criminally under-appreciated, probably because his work is as far from the fashionable pseudo-magic-realist genre as it's possible to be. It's sad that Chaudhuri seems more invested in criticism than in fiction nowadays.

Space Bar said...

TR: all predictions of maturity and unriotingness were premature. Beware what you're gleeful about.

Hooray for QC.

??! said...

n!: ahhh...finally someone who actually likes one's nick, let alone not crib about it.
also, a 'falsie' dictionary sounds like a wonderful idea - may one also suggest a side helping of pain au chocolat, and some fresh cream?

Tabula Rasa said...

space bar:
riot? falsie loads the table with stravinsky and people start talking bach - that's no riot.
and amit chaudhuri. where's khushwant singh?

Cheshire Cat said...

TR, ah, how could we forget Khushwant? It's worthwhile mentioning him here if only for the possibility that it will invite one of those priceless Falstaff rants. There was a time at which I thought "Train to Pakistan" was the best book ever written, but of course Khushwant's most seminal contributions are in the pornographic joke-book genre...

Anonymous said...

When you do find them, it hardly matters whether they fit any stereotype or not. About jumping off the plane, I still have to do that once.

I understand what you mean. There isn't a parallel alternative. Though if it's any help, even the women have to face similar bewilderment often enough, in spite of the existence of the term "tomboy".

As for a suitable term to use with casual acquaintances regarding holidaying with women friends, until we can think up something better, may be one could use a latest best seller as a temporary guide, in which the male protagonist goes on a months long camping trip with his female friend.
So how about "Harry Potter holiday"? :)


Anonymous said...

This discussion brought to mind someone I know. She's got a wild adventurous streak (she went for a ride on an ostrich when she was 7 months pregnant!) whereas her husband is just the opposite.

During their honeymoon, she decided to try the free-fall tower at an amusement park. As she sat high up in her seat, ready to be dropped, she saw a crowd gather below and point up towards the ride. Thrilled, she was basking in the thought that she'd attracted a group of admirers, when she realized that the real cause for all the attention was her husband - who had actually fainted seeing his wife so high up above the ground!

Another time on a beach vacation, she decided to go para-sailing. After being carefully instructed about the safety guidelines and emergency signal to use to end the ride, she found herself strapped and floating up in the air. But once up, she realized she wasn't quite enjoying it and wanted to be brought down. So she used the emergency hand signal. No response. She looked down and found a crowd gathered on the beach. Her husband had fainted seeing her up there and so for the next half hour she was flying around in circles, while her husband was being revived.

So go figure! :)


schizo said...

i just call me a schizo