Crossing the Gender Divide
In exploring the spectrum of children's gender relations, one must grapple not only with images of dualism, but also of deviance. "The tomboy" and "the sissy" stand at and help define the symbolic margins of dichotomous and asymmetric gender difference; the label "sissy" suggests that a boy has ventured too far into the contaminating "feminine," while "tomboys" are girls who claim some of the positive qualities associated with the "masculine." The images condense many cultural messages about gender, in part through their striking asymmetry: "tomboy" holds mixed, and often quite positive meanings, while "sissy" is an unmitigated word of contempt.
"Tomboys" and "sissies" are enduring figures in popular culture, inscribed in everyday talk, children's fiction, and adult recollections of childhood. The imagery of "sissies" and "tomboys" returns us to issues of boundary that were raised in Chapter 5, and to questions about the internal life of same-gender groups, the focus of Chapter 6. The topic here concerns passage: When gender boundaries are in force, how, and with what consequences, do individuals seek to cross the "gender divide" and gain access to groups and activities of the other gender? After critically examining cultural representations. I recenter the analysis within the social relations and collective practices of the kids I got to know in the Oceanside and Ashton schools. I argue that although