There are many challenges presented to a young girl as she goes through adolescence. Throughout the 20th century, girlhood meant that young women should perform domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and preparing to eventually raise a family. As time has progressed, the term girlhood has developed. In the Keywords Essay Girlhood, it is described that today, girlhood “enompasse[s] tomboys as a youthful identity, not simply a phase to be passed through on the way to mature womanhood” (Renold 2008).
In Little Women, we watch Jo experience girlhood and embody this idea of a tomboy as a youthful identity. Her sisters and mother don’t always understand why she is interested in playing outside all the time, since they enjoy playing inside. I think that this was one of Louisa May Alcott’s ways of pushing women’s rights at that time. Women should be allowed to play outside just as much as boys do; this is part of girlhood, finding one’s identity. That was a major part of women’s rights, which we can see has definitely made strides as we now have women who can be educated, work, play sports, etc. But, the idea of tomboy brings up an interesting point. Why must a girl who enjoys playing outside and being active be compared to a boy? Why does one description of “girlhood” describe a young girls identity as that of a boy?
This made me think of the UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. As this article shows, when Ronda Rousey was at a soccer game, she was ridiculed for what she was wearing. Critics said that she looked “too big” and “too masculine.” I think that this article ties into the idea of the “youthful identity of a tomboy.” Rousey is arguably one of the strongest female athletes alive right now, yet she is being told that she looks too masculine. Why can’t women and girls be strong, fit, and athletic without being compared to a man? I think that now-a-days a strong theme of girlhood is empowering young women to be themselves and to be the best you can be. I believe that this a theme that Alcott tries to draw on in the 1800s with Jo’s character. Jo’s family doesn’t always understand why she wants to play outside and often urge her to go back inside to practice more “lady-like” activities. Clearly, this issue with girlhood is much better today. Young girls are encouraged to be active, to play sports, or to involve themselves in several different healthy activities. Unfortunately, we are still fighting the battle of the girls who want to be fit and athletic, possibly for a career, and are being attacked for appearing too much like a man. This therefore presents the question: are women allowed to be muscular, or is that solely for men?