The Feminine Boy

The idea of femininity, gender roles, and gender expectations is often debated in modern society specifically pertaining to women. However, as gender-fluidity, transgender, and the gender queer community progressively enter the mainstream it has become increasingly more apparent that femininity does not only apply to the biological female.

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The Keywords essay Girlhood defines girlhood as being “the state of being a girl; the time of life during which one is a girl” (92). This definition seemingly fits closely with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. However, there is one discrepancy. The character of Laurie is frequently seen interacting with the four girls and participating in their, often “womanly”, activities. He is shown to be a bit of an outcast with other boys his age and is not represented as being particularly masculine. Do these characteristics and actions perhaps qualify Laurie as a participant in “girlhood”?

This gender bending in men, as stated above, is becoming more and more popular. Take, for example, the highly acclaimed musical Kinky Boots. This show follows the life of a shoe maker who becomes friends with a transvestite and subsequently begins to make shoes specifically for men who dress in traditionally feminine apparel. Lola, or Simon depending on the gender they are representing themselves as, often discusses her childhood as a feminine boy. Her father wanted her to grow up and be a boxer, to exhibit the stereotypical masculine traits, but Lola found that she preferred trying on dresses and participating in feminine activities.

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Though Lola is a much more extreme example, both her and Laurie exhibit deviations from the standard experience of “boyhood”. So if the two of them are not experiencing boyhood does that mean they are experiencing girlhood? My question is, what is it that defines a person’s experience as being girlhood? Is it biological sex? If not, is it possible that girlhood is being experienced by those who don’t identify as female?

8 thoughts on “The Feminine Boy”

  1. Your post was very interesting to me as I too feel gender fluidity is becoming more prominent in recent decades. When I went to freshman orientation here at UW the tour guide let us introduce ourselves with our name and say which gender pronouns we identified with. Some people thought it was silly but I understand that it allowed people to identify the way they want to identify and not just based on their biological sex. As far as Laurie in Little Women, I do think Alcott tries to show that a male character can have feminists traits and enjoy the friendship of girls and have that be okay. This was probably a newer thought in literature at the time which has become more popular in literature since.

  2. I enjoyed the way you intertwined these ideas. I wanted to raise the question we did in lecture. Why did the author use the name Laurie? This question fits perfect with your blog post. As you mentioned above, Laurie is a boy but is kind of an outcast for the things he does. Does the author use the name Laurie because not many boys are named that? Did the author do that to fit how the character acts? Im sure you thought about these questions when creating your blog post but they are interesting questions to ask and think about.

  3. You ask very interesting questions in your post; it’s a really tough concept to think about because, nowadays, there really doesn’t seem to be a correct answer. I also really like your examples. Mentioning “Kinky Boots” reminded me of “Billy Elliot,” another musical and also movie where gender norms are questioned, not only because Billy wants to practice ballet instead of boxing, but also because his best friend, Michael, enjoys dressing in girls’ clothes, which is a confusing activity to partake in at the age of 11 in a rough mining community in the ’80s.

    I think your questions can be answered by the specific individuals that experience “abnormal” childhoods, gender-wise, and they, probably, won’t be able to answer them until later in life. If a young boy romps around in dresses, he is most likely still going to be labeled and addressed by his biological sex. An eight year-old will not be able to understand that, perhaps, they want to identify as a girl because they like girlish things (and there is the chance that they don’t even want that). But, as they mature and learn about gender and whatnot, they will begin to comprehend and realize “Hey, maybe I had a girlhood instead of a boyhood.” But while they are actually experiencing it, I think it is based on biological gender whether a child is experiencing boy/girlhood.

  4. I think girlhood/boyhood should be defined by the activities and actions involved in it, not by who is involved. Girlhood would include girl-like activities such as playing with dolls and dancing. Boyhood would include boy-like activities such as rough play and getting dirty. Either boys or girls can experience boyhood or girlhood, for example, tomboys would experience boyhood more often than girlhood.

  5. I believe that biological sex is clearly determined at birth. However, gender is determined by the character of one’s self. If a person functions in a way that would be described as feminine they are in fact experiencing girlhood or identifying as a female and vice versa. This being said those who are not identifying or functioning as a “girl” aren’t experiencing girlhood simply by being biologically female.

  6. Hi Olivia,

    I think you bring up a good point about gender as a performance – that is, Laurie may be assumed to be biologically male, yet he can also participate in activities deemed feminine. And of course, the opposite is true for Jo. Yet, I would argue that girlhood(s) is more than the activities we pursue, but is also about the disadvantages, privileges and expectations conferred upon an individual based on their perceived gender. So, although Laurie may join in on the games with the March girls, his privileges of education, travel and business are decidedly “male” and the expectations from both his grandfather and the March family reinforce this. I think although Laurie may not participate in a stereotypically masculine childhood, there is more than one definition of boyhood (or girlhood) and we can see this reflected in the March girls and Laurie throughout the story.

  7. I believe the question of girlhood depends on who you are asking. Is it the person themselves or an onlooker? I absolutely think that one can experience girlhood if they are not biologically female. Girlhood might just be experienced in a different way. Others may not see the person as being female so do not believe they went thorough girlhood. A person who is biologically male but identifies as female may go through similar experiences as that of a biologically female person such as doll play. This post reminds me of the controversy over the Michigan Womyn’s festival with their womyn-born-womyn policy. They attempted to not allow trans-women to participate and believed that they had not experienced the same life experiences. This is not necessarily true though as a trans-women may go through the same struggles and more just to fit in to this category.

  8. I think it’s interesting that we have a common term for girls who act like boys, but no word really exists for boys who act like girls. I agree, that gender norms dictate that its somewhat of a taboo for boys to act like girls, which I find to be ridiculous. Its almost like implicitly saying that females are the lesser sex, and to aspire to be like one is to “waste masculinity”.

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