Too Masculine?

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?

5 thoughts on “Too Masculine?”

  1. I think this is such an interesting comparison, as I’ve also been shocked at the general public’s treatment of Ronda Rousey recently. Just before reading your post, I also read the keywords essay for this week on “Tomboy” and noticed something that reminded me of Zitkala Sa’s “American Indian Stories” and how maybe we conceptualize “tomboys” and “masculinity” differently in different cultures. Michelle Ann Abate defines a tomboy in her keywords essay as “a wild romping girl.” (p. 220), which reminded me of when Sa wrote, ” I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer. These were my mother’s pride, — my wild freedom and overflowing spirit.” (p. 68) So, as you write, girls should be praised for being active and curious, not shamed. And maybe, our culture could learn something from Sa’s in that way.

  2. I think it’s so sad nowadays that women are criticized for being in great physical and athletic shape. I hear boys all the time say that they don’t want to be with a girl who is really muscular and strong. This discourages women from being in peak physical shape which is what is required for athletes to succeed in whatever sport they may be playing. This also brings up the problem with society encouraging women to obtain a body figure that is almost impossible to achieve.

  3. Great topic! I also think it’s disappointing that women, like Rhona Rousey, are being ridiculed and criticized for being “too strong” when in fact they are in great physical shape and are only improving their health by exercising regularly. This idea that women cannot be muscular, but men can makes me think about people’s post on social media and slut-shaming. If a guy posts a shirtless picture of himself on Instagram, no one thinks twice about it. However, if a girl posts a picture of herself after working out or of herself in a swimsuit, it is considered slutty and inappropriate.

  4. Being an athlete here on the UW softball team, I strongly relate to this post. We go through an intense weight training program to gain muscle to help us excel in our sport. At first I often felt self conscious wearing tank tops and other things that would reveal my newly huge arms, muscular back, and thick legs. But then, reading articles like this one you have shared, I have learned to embrace my new muscular body and feel confident wearing whatever I want. I think that as women we are always going to be in a battle for wanting to appear fit and athletic without being ridiculed. But like you said, I think that society is slowly becoming more accepting of girls wanting to play outside, or wanting to be involved in sports. This is a great topic!

  5. I wish it was socially acceptable for women to be fit and athletic, just as men are. Growing up, it seemed to be appropriate to play sports and be active, but as I’m rowing up, I find that its less and less acceptable to do so. Women are expected to take barre, spin, and yoga classes- not kick boxing, Cross-fit or endurance running. Women who participate in these sports are deemed “fitness fanatics”, and are often criticized for not maintaining their feminine bodies. However, I think women of all different fitness levels should be celebrated- not shamed.

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