Monday, September 21, 2009

Cleanliness Is Next To Grubbiness

Consider the tomboy; independent, adventurous, outdoors, free - pertaining to elements of social surprise. The acts of climbing trees or cutting up worms might be the sort’s of stuff a girl, who wouldn’t be seen dead playing with dolls gets up to, but does this render her a tomboy? Further, what clues contribute to our impression of a girl who is a tomboy, when not observed outdoors roughing it up and behaving akin to a ‘rambunctious boy’ – a hoyden?

An alternative view of the tomboy is a girl who, [and we can’t quite put our finger on it] demonstrates a way of being that is different, or not the same as the general girl/boy templates. It is this, the essence of the girl who calls herself ‘tomboy,’ that I am interested in exploring and the bathroom the space I have chosen to intrude upon.

A private and intimate space, the bathroom, amongst other things, can be viewed as a place of transformation and cleanliness. Cleanliness contradicts grubbiness; a usual state in which the tomboy’s scuffing around would bring about, which highlights the cliché of the tomboy who can’t stand having a bath.

So, if it is not the bath that draws the tomboy to the bathroom, perhaps it is the privacy? Here she can lock the door, occupy the space, explore her reflection, emulate current heroes, apply bubble bath to her chin and say, ‘ho ho ho.’ Here she has no costume and here she can simply be.


  1. Maybe the idea of the bathroom also reflects issues around our 'clean cut' stereotyping in the whole clean-grubby metaphor? The muddying or confusing of identity. (pardon my lack of vocabulary at this late hour. or any hour for that matter.)

  2. yeah the murkiness of of identity is interesting....absolutely...thank you x

  3. 081279

    I think you've illustrated this in a really interesting way, for so many reasons. The topic itself is fascinating and one that I have never really seen explored in any other way than derogatory/fun-reminiscent conversations.

    I like the uniformity in the light and clothing, and location. Dida's comment also made me think about your other post on the 'banning' of tomboys in Malaysia, which reflects larger social perceptions of Tomboys. As if it is a dirty phase which needs to be scrubbed off before reaching puberty. Perhaps that is only my perception because of my own experience.

    I was a huge Tomboy. I thought it was because it allowed me to have a closer bond with my father, who wanted a boy but got me and two younger (much girlier) daughters. I loved it, my life, hanging out with my dad doing 'boy' things. I had a great family who never had me question my identity. It wasn't until I overheard conversations about my neighbour, who was also a tomboy about the idea of her becoming a lesbian (=other =bad), and looking back at photos with extended family, who made fun of me and my appearance and behaviour, then comparing myself with my uber-girly sister, that I began to feel ambiguous about myself and my sexuality and my image. It took a long time, but I finally 'grew out of' the Tomboy 'phase' in late highschool, or probably even after, and begun to embrace (or become comfortable with) my femininity (mainly in clothing). Initially it felt a bit false, because it was unfamiliar, or because I was trying to draw less attention to myself (which had the opposite effect initially), but in some way, the more comfortable I became with being a 'feminine' woman, the more comfortable I became with the idea that I probably was gay and there was only so much longer that I could not have to confront that truth, to myself and everyone else. Although the having been such a huge tomboy thing made it difficult when I began to come out, because I got the 'yeah, i always knew it' reaction, even though I had tried so hard to bury that past and hide that truth for so long. And I hated that my childhood innocence was something that people were able to use for themselves, to get one-up on me. It's kind of stupid anyway, because I'm sure there would be plenty of straight women out there that were tomboys, and vice-versa.

    So for me, the Tomboy issue is one that I have had a tumoltous history with. Childhood - the bliss of ignorance. Later - fear, shame and embarrasement. Later still, reasoning about my relationship with the members of my family and the roles that we all filled. Did I want to give my Dad the son he never got? Perhaps. I couldn't compete with my sisters' femininity anyway, so there wasn't much point trying. And the whole nature/nurture debate. Now - reconciliation? That is what I think your project has allowed me to explore.

    It is beautiful and you have handled it with such grace and sensitivity. It is just beautiful. You have done what it is that I hope to find in art. Granted me permission to explore ideas that I find interesting personally and socially, without bias, but with passion. I love that you are the one to have done it. I trust how well-informed you are. I trust your portrayal of these potentially vulnerable girls. Something that can so easily be exploited. We need more people like you in the world. Kudos. Great work. I only wish I had a better grasp of the English language to better communicate how in awe I am of this series and your treatment of it.

  4. fuck....we need to debrief Jean and we fir sure!! X X X X