“A lot of the recruits who come here don’t wear makeup; they’re tomboyish or athletic. A lot of them have the preconceived idea that going into the military means they can still be a tomboy. They don’t realize that you are a woman marine.”

This statement from a twenty-five-year-old woman drill instructor, as quoted in Judith Lorber’s piece, “Night to his Day” : The Social Construction of Gender, is a perfect example of the rigidity (and absurdity) of gender expectations [1].

The drill instructor assumes that somehow being tomboyish or athletic unqualifies you as a woman. That somehow you can only have one without the other. But a woman who has qualities that society attributes to “women” is just as much a woman as a woman who has qualities that society attributes to a “man.” So how does this misunderstanding come about? Because a woman is defined within society’s gender structures as having certain qualities, and is apparently limited by how their gender is defined.

As mentioned in my blog post, the very concept of a “tomboy” pushes women who exhibit “manly” qualities out of their gender. You can only be a woman if you have womanly qualities, so having the characteristics defined for another gender makes you misrepresentative of your gender.

The drill instructor sees being a “tomboy” as a choice that a woman has to abandon when joining the Marines. But it’s not a choice, it’s just who people are. A “tomboy” is not a tomboy, she’s a woman. A “girly girl” is not a “girly girl,” she’s a woman. They are both women, just with different qualities.

[1] Lorber, Judith. “Night to his Day”: The Social Construction of Gender. Yale University Press, 1994.