Why should a woman who wears a shirt, who is outspoken and sporty be differentiated as a “tomboy”? What makes her a less woman than the others? Patriarchy would answer to these questions through the stereotypical and pervasive idea of traditional femininity that has been followed since ages. A woman is enclosed in the regressive patriarchal stereotypes like fair and well-groomed who is more cautious of her dupatta, rosy cheeks and red lips rather than the suppressive society that does not let her speak.
But what if a woman does not identify with these characterisations and feels differently? She is separated as the ‘other’ to an extent that she is called out as a boy.
It is then that femininity that is perceived to be the definition of womanhood, becomes narrow, restrictive and toxic. It is because of these boundaries of femininity that tomboy is a term and standards of traditional womanly looks and behaviour are set high.
Femininity or traditional femininity is a deeply hypocritical idea as it seeks to both define and divide womanhood on the basis of patriarchal visions about a perfect woman. It narrows down the definition of a woman on qualities like demure, sensual, care-taker, curvy or slim body image, sweet voice, emotional, irrational and dependent. Simultaneously, it also legitimises the patriarchal perceptions of a woman and what duties it expects her to fulfil.
Traditional femininity deems motherhood, marriage, flawless beauty, cooking skills, silence on suppression and submission to male counterparts necessary for a woman to be socially accepted. These ideologies are so deeply engraved in the society that it becomes the yardsticks of measuring who is a good or a bad woman.
Every woman is expected to meet these standards of femininity to be fully accepted as a woman.
If a woman fails to meet the standards of the femininity, she is criticized by society so much that at some point she starts blaming herself for not being good enough. The standards of femininity then become toxic femininity that affects women mentally and physically by giving them guilt and shame for not being the perfect and sanskari woman, for trying to be different. It divests women of their sense of self and the control on their life choices. Problems like mother’s guilt, body-shaming, slut-shaming, self-doubt among others continue to denigrate women even today.
Often women themselves criticize other women for not being feminine enough, failing all the efforts to develop an empowering unity through sisterhood. A woman is excluded as a tomboy just because she dresses differently, thinks and speaks loudly, has a sporty look that reflects confidence and fearlessness. But the question that we need to ask is why can’t the society afford to see a woman as confident, fearless and outspoken? Why should these attributes that are the basis of an independent and successful individual be seen as masculine or boyish?
Men and women have been brought up with different conditioning and gender performances. While men have been taught about valour and supremacy, women have been nurtured as dependent and submissive. But how long are we going to let these regressive, patriarchal and shallow ideas of gender to govern our present? It is high time for us to recognise that a woman has equal rights to live her life the way she wants. Stop labelling and policing women on how they should look, talk or behave.
A woman who wants to take charge of her life and its decisions does not need to be called out as manly or “tomboy”. We need to understand that “tomboy” is not an aberration but just a different way of life. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that “tomboy” is a myth because it reeks of the sexist ideas of what is appropriate for a woman and we all know there is nothing that a woman cannot do. We need to stop co-relating sex with appearance, behaviour and regressive social roles. Womanhood implies both salwar and jeans, innocence and power and silence and roar. It is important to embrace this diversity in womanhood so that the pacing woman empowerment does not seem hypocritical as it excludes women who aren’t feminine enough.
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