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Of Tomboys and Girlie Men

by Julia Sneden

Was anyone else out there enraged by the “girlie man” label that California Governor Schwartzenegger slapped onto Senator John Kerry? In this day and age, that kind of sexist, stupid, jeering insult represents a new low.

It was said during the Republican National Convention, and was delivered with the famous, wide, toothy grin which often seems more shark-like than friendly.

Certainly the Republicans have no corner on being insulting to opponents, and any party convention lends itself to no-holds-barred excess. But “girlie man?” Oh, Arnold, shame on you!

It’s time for politicians to stop attacking people in such simplistic terms. They are insulting the American public, which is pretty savvy when it comes to hyperbole like “girlie man.”

It’s a horrid thing to apply a negative label to a person. When children do it, we tell them that it’s not nice to call names. It’s certainly not an attractive activity in a grown up man. Labels are by nature one-dimensional; they ignore all the multiple permutations of individual personality, and anything that does that is has got to be suspect.

When I was a kid, “tomboy” was the label put on any little girl who exhibited what were considered to be unladylike interests. Those of us who were feisty and athletic, who loved to climb trees or swim well or do daredevil dives, were called tomboys. I certainly qualified on those scores, and yet I also loved to wear pretty dresses for proper occasions, have my hair curled, cuddle with my parents, help with the baking, play the piano, read, sing, and make little bouquets from our flower gardens, all of which were, at that time, considered girlie stuff.

My brother, on the other hand, loved books, hated climbing trees, and always backed away from controversy, let alone physical violence. But he was a superb swimmer, had a throwing arm that could knock a rock off a stump from 30 feet away, and was fascinated by the natural world, especially water insects of a squirmy nature that I found disgusting, all of which, in those days, counted as masculine traits.

In other words, we were individuals, with our own interests and strengths and intelligences, just like everyone else in this wide world.

It seems to me that – thank God - we are long past labels like “tomboy” and “girlie man,” and anyone who uses them diminishes only him/herself. It is sad to think that there are still people in this country who fall into the trap of that kind of block thinking, but pandering to them as Schwartzenegger did is reprehensible.

Human beings are entirely too complex to slot into such narrow categories, and anyone who doesn’t understand that probably shouldn’t be trying to govern anything as diverse as California. Mr. Schwartzenegger received high marks for his first weeks in office, but he has since run into some dicey moments. One hopes his despicable labeling of Senator Kerry won’t interfere with his governmental effectiveness, but he has probably angered a large portion of his electorate, starting with any persons who possess a modicum of sensitivity.

Mr. Schwartzenegger is a self-made man. He took what nature gave him and worked hard to parlay it into a career as a body builder and later movie star. I suspect that he has suffered from people’s perception of him as a brainless hunk, which God knows he can’t be (brainless, that is – the hunkiness is a matter of the viewer’s taste). You don’t get as far as he has without having a talent for recognizing the opportune moment, and good intelligence along with a sense of humor. Give him credit for understanding the power of a negative label. Give him disdain for stooping to use it.

 

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