Art Exhibition,  English

Viva the Tomboy!

Whilst Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is perhaps one of the most famous tomboys of her generation, and in no way likely to become BFF’s with Suri Cruise (if I am mistaken, I will sincerely apologise to everyone involved), it’s very likely that she’ll one day embrace a girlier side of herself. Brad and Angelina, watch out, she’s going to be a handful!

Whilst I was no great girly-girl as a child, I was certainly no tomboy either… I left that to my sister. But, I had a certain fascination with tomboys in stories – I envied their ‘go get em’ attitude, and self-sufficiency. I mean, Jo was everybody’s favourite in Little Women, right? Enid Blyton’s George in The Famous Five was far more interesting than Anne! As much as I love Cinderella and Aurora, Mulan gets an A+ in the ‘go get em’ department! One more quick example to prove my point: In George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Arya Stark is the clear favourite. She’s brave, she’s feisty, and she is certainly no doormat.

John Singer Sargent
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-1886,
Oil on canvas, 174 x 153.7 cm,
Tate Gallery, London

This is proof, if ever there was need, that tomboys have been in vogue ever since the 1940’s, when The Famous Five was first published, if not before. It is this idea of childhood, and especially girlhood, which the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is preparing to explore. The 19th century was a time when society and cultural expectations were changing… girls were beginning to be heard as well as seen, and the idea of what a girl should be and the expectations her parents had for her was also undergoing a process of change. The exhibition of these different artistic depictions of girlhood harks back to a more innocent time of life and, in fact, perhaps even a more innocent age.

John Singer Sargent
Portraits of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron, 1881,
Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 175.3 cm,
Edith M. Usry Bequest Fund, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines

Be that as it may be, I for one am very glad that I grew up when and where I did. To have the luxury of the freedom of choice of tomboy-hood or not, to have much wider choices upon leaving childhood, and to be able to appreciate the novelty of a world far-removed from that of my own – in book form of course! I can say for certain that I am very glad that I was not actually in Mulan’s position of having to defeat the Huns; I am also glad that Spam was not part of my childhood – as it was so often for Enid Blyton’s characters!

To see for yourselves the difference in lifestyles between the young girls of yesteryear and those of modern-day children head over to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art between the 16th February and the 12th May. Decide for yourself whether the child in question is an Angel or a Tomboy! If Tennessee is a little too far out of the way, go ahead and get yourself a copy of Clara Erskine Clement Waters’ Angels.

-Fiona Torsch

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