The history of the shifting image of the tomboy in popular culture
A Literary and Cultural History
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Michelle Ann Abate
Starting with the figure of a bold, boisterous girl in the mid-nineteenth century and ending with the “girl power” movement of the 1990s, Tomboys is the first full-length critical study of this gender-bending code of female conduct. Michelle Abate uncovers the origins, charts the trajectory, and traces the literary and cultural transformations that the concept of “tomboy” has undergone in the United States. Abate focuses on literature including Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding and films such as Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon. She also draws on lesser-known texts like E.D.E.N. Southworth’s once wildly popular 1859 novel The Hidden Hand, Cold War lesbian pulp fiction, and New Queer Cinema from the 1990s.
Tomboys also explores the gender and sexual dynamics of tomboyism, and offers intriguing discussions of race and ethnicity’s role in the construction of the enduring cultural archetype. Abate’s insightful analysis provides useful, thought-provoking connections between different literary works and eras. The result demystifies this cultural phenomenon and challenges readers to consider tomboys in a whole new light.
"Tomboys is well-written, grounded in detail from a broad range of texts, and engaging. This is a smart and insightful analysis of American literature, history and culture. Abate juxtaposes texts creatively and convincingly and provides useful, thought-provoking connections between different literary texts and eras. I expect it to inspire important, continuing conversations about history, race, and culture."
"The author provides a detailed look at the dynamic trajectory of the tomboy 'code of conduct' in popular literature, pulp fiction, and Hollywood film....Abate suggests that the dynamic evolution of the tomboy represents wider social and cultural debates within the US."
"Michelle Ann Abate’s new work on tomboys across US history and culture is a thoughtful and broadly applicable contribution to the field of children’s literature…. [She] creates a useful history on which to hang further analyses of girls’ culture…. One of the most elegant exercises in this book full of elegant writing is Abate’s dovetailing of the subversive and complicit aspects of tomboyism…. Tomboys is a bracingly honest look at the successes and failures of one aspect of girls’ culture over the bulk of US history."