Are urbane tomboys truer feminists?

They are, after all, casually shrugging off "the strictures of femininity."

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published March 19, 2008 11:00PM (EDT)

Broadsheeters, prepare to have your minds blown by this revelation reported by the New York Observer: Some young women go makeup-less, wear fashionable hoodies, steer clear of foot-deforming high-heels, play basketball ... and they aren't lesbians! What-wha-what?! There are hetero girls out there who want to dress comfortably? There are women who don't tailor their lifestyle or wardrobe to impress men?

OK, I can forgive the piece for being irrelevant non-news, but only because the article's tone is the bigger disaster. Meredith Bryan writes that this alleged tomboy trend "is absent political message, or anger: it's more of a casual shrug toward the strictures of femininity." The mantra: Female freedom, liberty and empowerment without politics -- hell yes! These tomboys are simply too confident, too together to care what anyone thinks.

Except that they do. They recast "femininity as something you can take off and put on again: an optional, mildly silly act that certainly seems to excite everyone but that one needn’t always make time for." (If this concept of femininity as performance seems shiny and new, try Googling "Judith Butler.") In other words, they only occasionally give in and throw on a dress to impress a boy. But when they do cave, they recognize it as a silly act (unlike most women), and don't need to constantly perform for men (unlike most women).

It comes down to the fact that they are "hot enough to succeed" -- read: snag a man -- "without the embellishment, and [they know] this":

Many fellas, as girly girls can attest, are all too enchanted with the novelty of the urbane tomboy. "If you go to a club and you pick someone up and they're all dressed up and they have a lot of makeup on, you take them home and you roll around in bed and they wake up and take a shower, who knows what they'll look like?" said Adam Parker Smith, 29, a sculptor from Brooklyn.

"Reducing that element of gamble or risk and sort of knowing what you're getting is appealing," Mr. Parker Smith continued.

So ... it all comes down to taking another tack to attract a dude, then? Don't get me wrong, I think it's great for women to feel comfortable dressing down -- I do it myself all the time. But the subjects of this article -- or at least as they're portrayed in the piece -- seem like they're simply swapping the "strictures of femininity" for the constraints of hipster coolness. That's all good and great, but let's not paint them as confident cultural outsiders who just don't give a fuck -- remember, they wear J. Crew, $200 jeans and designer sneakers. Their freedom from froufrou femininity appears very fashionably calculated: They "order Scotch at bars, rather than fruity drinks like cosmos; roll their own cigarettes." This is exactly the brand of suffocating hipster bar coolness that makes me want to scratch my face off.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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