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Surprising theory behind ‘girls-can-be-boys’ plot

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Tomboy’s novel has been featured in books, performance art and digital culture. Its author, Bethanie Blanchard, is a gender nonconforming artist whose techniques include lying down in a bathtub in front of a green screen, gathering fairy dust and weaving yarn into paper chains of stories.

Tomboy takes as its starting point Shakespeare’s William Tell, which becomes a historical fiction telling of “the greatest male fighter” of all time. Created by Shakespeare, Theseus, or Dionysus, tells the story of a boy who, with his youngest sister, became the “powerful aristocrat they were doomed to become” — a property-rich warrior who fought in Rome’s wars. In Tomboy, the boy turns into a girl — who is now the protagonist. Damour describes the lanky, blond teen as a tomboy with a mullet, ponytail and leather jacket.

Damour says the story grew out of a conversation she had with a male friend, once friends-with-benefits. He was dying of cancer, and Damour lamented the apparent loss of young men as equals in society. “How have we so completely turned our back on boys?” she asked. He shared that, in his experiences with boys, “I had to be a gentle, tolerant man. My powers of persuasion were no match for them.”

Damour became obsessed with the idea of boys who had sworn themselves off romantic relationships. Such boys could become “gifted, excellent readers and readers of books, brilliant,” she says.

Damour found that modern women had very few options in the realm of love and romance. For men, this is less of a problem because “guys have fewer structures against being emotionally available to other guys. We get trolled, we get Twitter wars.” There were only two real romantic options for boys, she said: “playboy” and “bro.”

Damour says that now is the moment for a lot of pop culture and gaming to recast the classic “hero” role: the romantic hero for girls and women, who could become strong and honorable, but who is also willing to bro down for certain chivalrous pursuits. The hero role is now one for both sexes, Damour says, but for both genders to “get back into the relationship game.”

Tomboy is currently playing in the Angelika Film Center in New York and is scheduled to open in Berkeley in January.

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