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A Feminist Reading of Tomboy by Céline Sciamma

Updated on May 7, 2020

Simone de Beauvoir’s famous statement “one is not born, but becomes, a woman” did not only inspire theorists and thinkers but it resulted in the emergence of schools of criticism and interdisciplinary field of study such as queer and gender studies. The statement that opens the second volume of The Second Sex means that there is no pre-established female nature or essence (Tidd, 51)[1]. The binary opposition of male and female exists only because of society’s construction of gender identity through gender roles since infancy. Moreover, Beauvoir’s statement highlights the difference between sex and gender. Sex denotes the biological and material body while gender is equated with Deuleuze concept of becoming. In other words, sex is natural whereas gender is cultural. Therefore, Beauvoir takes the side of Virginia Woolf when she wonders in her long essay A Room of One’s Own[2] about the state of mind of novelists and poets such as Flaubert, Keats and Shakespeare while writing their literary works suggesting that even male writers have a feminine side.

Céline Schiamma’s 2011 film Tomboy is an inversed image of Simone De Beauvoir’s statement “one is not born, but becomes, a woman”. In other words, we can, replace the word woman by man. Issues such as gender identity, femininity, transgender and becoming stands at the heart of the film. Above all, the title of the movie is inescapable. The word of tomboy itself is a metaphor of a crisis at the level of identity and the failure of the pursuit for a lost self. Laure is a tomboy. She was born with a female body but there is nothing feminine about her. This stance of Laure is quite reminiscent of Bhabha’s concept of “third space”, “in between” or the “beyond” which is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past” (p1/2) Bhabha continues, the beyond is where “we find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion” (p2).[3] The hybrid body of Laure becomes like a prison, which she tries to escape from. The body is a key concept in gender studies. It is predicated on three categories “the body as nature, the body as socially constructed and embodiment” (Piltcher and Whelehan, p6)[4]. In this film, we are concerned with the constructionist approach to the body, which lays so much focus on culture and representation in terms of language and discourse (ibid). The ambivalent body of Laure represents to put in Judith Bulter’s words a gender trouble. Both Simone De Beauvoir and Judith Butler think, “gender is something we do rather than are … Butler declares that all gender is, by definition, unnatural … so that there is no necessary relationship between one’s body and one’s gender” (Salih, p46)[5]. Tomboy is a very calm film but deep down it is very loud and heavy. It is the space where the pursuit for gender identity meet the innocence of childhood. It is indeed one of the most disturbing French movies in the category of gender cinema. Laure’s final statement “My name is Laure” leaves us with a long meditating stare at the black screen thinking about the unsuccessful journey of what Laure really wants to become, simply a boy.

[1] Tidd, Ursula. Simone de Beauvoir. Routledge. 2004

[2] Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. FeedBooks. 1929

[3] Bhabha, Homi. The Location of culture. Routledge. 1994

[4] Piltcher and Whelehan. Fifty key concepts in Gender Studies. SAGE pub. 2004

[5] Salih, Sara. Judith Butler. Routledge. 2002

© 2020 Issam El Masmodi


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