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Are Tomboys Obsolete?

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The tomboy is not gone. She's simply not called a tomboy anymore.

Teen girls

Jodi Bryson: A few decades ago, the label "tomboy" was a badge of honor. Not a girlie-girl? You were a tomboy. Now we can reflect that the phrase was always pejorative. There was only one way for girls to be, and it didn't involve playing anything besides dolls or house while in knee socks and a dress. If you liked to climb trees or build a cool hideout, you weren't a girl; you were a variation of a boy.

A double edge when it comes to a female gender role? Surprise, surprise.

This story about the concept of today's real girls and yesterday's label out of St. Paul's Star Tribune has earned our nod of approval. As we all know, the muscle behind Dora the Explorer is launching a new version of the character, and she's trading her adventures in the wilderness for discovering the best deal on skinny jeans at the mall.

The new Dora comes out in Fall '09, and grooming and fashion are replacing her inquisitiveness and gumption. What a shame.

The beloved original Dora is a great example of the today's girl. Our unanimated daughters daily navigate through a concrete jungle of school buildings and playgrounds, and they are every minute as busy as the boys. This doesn't make them tomboys; this makes them active girls. Being physical, strong, even fearless is girl turf as much as it's boy turf. Note to everyone: Don't call them tomboys. Call them girls.

Growing up, we always considered ourselves tomboys and, very often, bragged about it. Now we see that what we were bragging about was not our status as girl-boys; we were bragging about our interests, strengths, and courage to do what we wanted to do.

We'd love to know if you were a "tomboy" once upon a time, and what you think of the label today.


next: Susan Boyle's Got Talent
15 comments so far | Post a comment now
mollysmom April 16, 2009, 6:59 PM

i’m hoping my 4 year old daughter grows into a tomboy (i still like the term)on some levels. her father is very athletic and she is already showing some of her own. she likes playing with dolls just as much as the next kid but she also loves to play soccer, play in mud, build forts and chase after the family of lizards that live in our front bush. i wasn’t a tomboy at all and now though i loved my childhood and high school years i wish i was a little more involved in sports and not just the boys who played sports.

Joyce April 16, 2009, 10:09 PM

I was a tom-boy. I was the girl who climbed the tallest trees, way past the boys. I could out throw boys with a baseball and footballs. This continued until the boys natural muscles developed. I was always more consistent than most of the boys even after their muscles came in. I can tell you what almost any cars are. I have changed tires, clutches, brakes. I had more boy friends than girl friends. To this day, I admire girly girls. I just don’t understand them.

DOPINK April 16, 2009, 10:10 PM

I LOVED BEING A TOMBOY, PLAYING HOCKEY
BASEBALL AND JUST HANGING OUT WITH THE
BOYS, IT WAS A LOT OF FUN, AND I REALLY
LIKED HANGING OUT WITH THEM WHEN I WAS
A TEENAGER

Jodi April 16, 2009, 10:10 PM

I was the essential “Tomboy” growing up. I played sports- with the boys- as often as policies would let me until High school when I switched to dramatics and theatre. My husband and I have one child, a girl, who loves to play with cars just as much as she does dolls. She’ll take martial arts classes and dance classes until she’s old enough to decide what activities she enjoys most. My husband is the cook and will teach our daughter how, I will teach her to throw and hit a ball. I want my daughter to be well rounded not just the ideal image of a “female” but rather a person with many interests.

Glossolaliac April 16, 2009, 10:10 PM

I still like the label - and find it no more derogatory than “girlie girl” or “princess” or other things that we call other personality types. I saw it as a strength growing up, which does admit some acceptance of gender roles, but also gave me whatever permission I felt was needed to be different from girlie-girls at a young age.

What it comes down to is raising your kids to be comfortable with who they are, no matter what people want to label them.

DDog April 16, 2009, 10:45 PM

I was a tomboy when I was a kid, but I grew up to be trans/genderqueer so I might be an unusual case.

And while today I understand the unfortunate gender politics of the term, I still have a nostalgic affection for it.

Julianna  April 16, 2009, 10:57 PM

As DDog said growing up “tomboy” and becoming trans/genderqueer identified is impacting the “tomboy” girls of today.

My 7 yo daughter has two moms, trans is part of the vocabulary used in our house.

There are two forces at work removing the “tomboys” from the school yard. One is active girls are just that, active girls, not compared or contrasted to boys. Go feminism!

The other is that boy identified girls are better able to find a way to strut their ID that doesn’t presume they are just girls who like to be active, but are gendered differently.

We know many a girl who feels they should have been born boys and get to bask in that in a safe way. Go trans acceptance!

Naniam April 17, 2009, 9:31 AM

I was a tomboy-Iplayed footbal,baseball,frisbee,climbed trees,caught pollywogs,crickets,nightcrawlers,had a treefort,etc. Always had alot of guy friends-still do! I am still feminine-have kids,love to cook,clean,smell good!haha but still like to hang w/the guys shooting pool very competitively!Rarely on the dance floor-always on the pool table!!I think its good-i feel strong able equal…

MarMar April 17, 2009, 10:43 AM

I was the complete opposite of a tomboy most of the time when I was a child. I was always dressed in something coordinated, sometimes frilly, always had freshly-polished shoes. I was never allowed to get dirty or rough-house, and I abhorred sports of any kind. I played only with Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake and the like. But a lot of that was pressure from my parents for me to conform into what they felt a girl should be. Now, my kindergarten-age daughter loves Barbie and The Incredible Hulk. She likes wearing dresses and tights one day and sweats with her old Spiderman shirt the next. Last night she was running around with her friends outside in only her socks; two weekends ago, she was prim n’ proper in a dress at a wedding. Basically, I just let her be herself, and if that’s a little “tomboy” sometimes, and a little “girlie” others, then so be it. I hate labels anyway. She’s not one or the other, she’s just HER.

Samantha April 17, 2009, 3:49 PM

My daughter who is now 22 has always been a tomboy and she absolutely rocks!! As far as I’m concerned she is enjoying the best of both worlds! She can jump out of bed, throw on some clothes (looking really cute) and go do all kinds of fun things formally reserved for boys. Her best friends have always been boys (though she has plenty of girlfriends) and yet she can come home shower, do her hair and makeup and look like a million bucks! I think when people complain or try to label people they are simply jealous because they are unwilling to step outside the pretty box! My daughter is really enjoying life to the fullest and I couldn’t be prouder!

Erica June 9, 2009, 9:49 AM

Being a tomboy growing up I didn’t have a lot of people that understood me. I wan’t one of those snotty girls growing up ridiculing me because I could outhrow a boy. I never really hit a boy with a baseball bat, sometimes I slapped them being sarcastic but right now although my group of girls is larger I still feel a stronger relation to boys.
They just understand me.
My sister on the other hand was a girly girl (she’s 21, married for 11 months and with her first child 5 months)
but we’re all girls in the same

lindsey04s@aol.com July 6, 2009, 4:59 AM

Hi,
When i was a kid i was not a tomboy as i was bad at sports, but i was still active and liked to be outside in the mud a lot. I collected everything from creatures to stones. As a little girl i wore what my mother put me in, this was sometimes dresses, skirts and other times jeans or shorts. I would take my dolls to bits and put them back together again, i liked toys i could do this with. I had a pram, but i prefered to have a bear in it. I did not think about gender too much. I had a sense that most girls were more girly then me but i had girl friends. I got on with boys too but my mother would rather i played with girls at home so i only played with boys at school and in the park, i was not allowed them home even as a 5 year old. It was only when i was 11 after puberty and at high school that i realised i was different. Girls seemed into all the make up stuff, and boys into being tougth and also into the make up girls. I had very few friends in high school as i could not fully identify with either. I have always been against gender binary ways, from 11 i would argue with my mother if she refered to gender roles and call her sexist. I was born a feminist and i had no feminist role models, i did ot learn it, i did not know what it was until i was about 15. As an adult i do not conform to masculine or feminine, i am bisexual and gender fluid. I think some aspects of gender may be inborn, but most are constructed and every one could be free from. “The worst prison you can be in is the one you do not know you are in” i cannot remember who said this, but i believe it sums up gender roles.

Anonymous September 4, 2009, 7:16 PM

i am a bit of a tomboy…i think im getting a bit more feminine then i used to be. When i was younger i would play with worms and snails…now i find it disgusting. I loved to climb fences and play with boys outside, i’m now not opposed to wearing girlier clothes and i like shopping although i only do it twice a year. I’m a jean wearer and i don’t know the first thing about makeup.i have no problems with getting dirty or walking long distances.So i suppose i’m a in between.

Jerry November 20, 2009, 1:50 PM

I was a tomboy - my twin sister was inside playing with dolls. In adolescents, I played basketball, she was in the cheerleader click. I wanted a boyfriend, she had boyfriends. We both went to college, got degrees. I have divorced twice and love being single, she has been married for 35 years. I did not want children, she has two great boys. I travel alone in a fifth wheel I tow myself with my truck. She stays home. I am a 61 year old tomboy, she is a grandmother. WE are BOTH Happy!

Anonymous October 7, 2010, 2:30 PM

I’m 16 and I consider myself to be a tomboy. I never played with dolls, I hated playing “house” or “pretend,” and I used to have the boys chase me around the playground for recess. I’ve grown out of it a little, but I still don’t wear make-up, do anything with my hair other than a ponytail, and sort of loose jeans with band t-shirts is just my style. While I really do enjoy wrestling guy friends (and usually winning), there’s definitely negatives to being a tomboy. I get called ugly a lot and my mom and grandmother definitely seem to prefer my super girly little sister over me. There’s such a crazy difference between us that my dad has taken to calling me “Katherina” and my little sister “Bianca” every now and again, but it’s okay. I’d rather be outside playing Smear the Queer with my brothers and dad than trying on my grandma’s old clothes and shoes any day.


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