On tomboys

‘Tomboy’ is a term I haven’t heard a lot recently. Saturday’s Guardian had an article about tomboys that left me puzzled. Its author, a tomboy herself, began with the thought that tomboys had been something good in her childhood, with lots of the the stars of fiction for girls being tomboys. Yet today they seem much rarer these days, both in real life and in fiction. She postulated that the strength of current pink princess pressure was stamping them out, and she decided to go in search of today’s tomboys, wondering if they had a tougher time. Thus far, I was nodding along. Then it started to emerge that her understanding of ‘tomboy’ was different from mine. The tomboys she was interested in were ones who insisted that they were really boys and not girls, or who rejected both gender identities. My understanding of ‘tomboy’ was much weaker than this. I thought a tomboy was simply a girl who wanted to do stereotypical ‘boy’ things– which would include her tomboys, but also lots of other girls (including the fictional tomboys mentioned earlier).

The author was surprised to find how uncomfortable parents of today are about the tomboy girls, and how unwilling to be interviewed for a newspaper. But I found myself wondering if some of that is due to a change in thinking about these issues that the author completely ignored. If I had a girl who insisted she was really a boy, I would be wondering if this meant that she would wind up wanting to transition– worrying about major surgeries, hormone treatments, etc. And I’d be very hesitant to let a newspaper do a story on my child while that child was still trying to figure out their gender identity.

So what if anything has changed? Have we progressed by now having greater awareness of trans issues? Have we actually moved toward a more rigid duality? Was ‘tomboy’ an accepted additional gender 30 years ago in a way that it isn’t today?

The article totally ignored trans issues, though it was very careful to discuss sexuality issues, insisting that there’s no definite connection between being a tomboy and being a lesbian.

So… lots to mull over here. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “On tomboys

  1. I was a tomboy, proudly, in the 50s and early 60s. I could play ball as well as any of the boys; I knew what the tools were in my dad’s barn and I could use them; I could play and win at chess and I could tune up my own car. I didn’t have much patience for girlie things, like pink fluff, gossiping, etc. But I was a girl and I didn’t want to actually be a boy. I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do, even if usually only boys did whatever it was – like be smart and strong and competent.

    I think tomboy means something different today now that we have sports for girls and women, law and medical schools and philosophy departments admit women, and women have our own power tools and do building, plumbing, electrical and rock walls. It seems to me that the category I remember has been moved into part of what it can mean to be a girl today. Thank goodness. This is not to say that girlie girls don’t exist; they always have. It’s just that it’s not the only option.

    I wonder if there is a category called tomwomen. If so, I’m one of those too.

  2. I had a woman in a class recently explain to other students trans people are not homosexual, I thought it was hilarious and I enjoy watching her learn and grow in our masters program. She also has selective racism that’s pretty entertaining as well.

  3. Girls who act like boys and fear acting like girls (less common) and boys who act like girls and fear acting like boys (more common) may be a result of nurture rather than nature.

    Many girls have slightly more male brains. And the same can be said for boys. But they get pulled into social roles as life moves on. However, it is much easier for a girl to show male characteristics than a boy to show effeminacy. The girl may revel in “girl power” and be welcome by society but the boy will suffer from depression, bullying, low self esteem, perhaps a distant father, a controlling mother, etc…and be rejected by society.

    I think tomboys are given greater leadership opportunities, and chances to climb the workplace ladder than effiminate males. This is due to political correctness and the sissy-bashing (“thats so ghey”) that is prevalent in our culture.


    I took this test, and I think Im a manly enough man, but I got a 50/50 female/male brain as my result…even though it wasnt measuring that exactly. I sometimes feared rough-housing, but I never did girly things. I watch UFC and plenty of sports :P. I was more the playmaker than the grinder type. If you find the stats on another page you will see that many girls (20%) lean to the man side of the scale and vice versa (20%)ish. Clearly, men need to be encouraged to display their feminine side in society…perhaps like how it was before the industrial revolution. And women need not fear it.

    Many mothers say things like “My husband doesnt take care of the kids the right way”. Men have a different but EQUAL parenting style that teaches children different values. If male CEO’s were saying this towards a woman in the boardroom then they would be fired.

    Short men are also hated in the workplace, but that has nothing to do with this….

  4. It is not easy for Tom Boys today – particulary young girls. Society wants every girl to be a princess. My daughter begged me to let her shop in the boys department. I agreed because you can not walk into a girls department and find a piece of clothing that does not have pink, rhinestones, glitter, ribbons, flowers or all of the above.

    As far as athletic teams – so many girls play sports today who are not really interested. (particularly primary school age) It is not unusual for half the team to be practicing cheerleading moves in the middle of the game.

    Last year in a softball game my daughter threw the ball to the girl on 3rd base who was dancing and singing. The ball hit the girl (did not even cause a red mark). The girl cried. The game was stopped. The parents ran on the field. The girl was carried off. Other parents chastised my daughter for throwing too hard. One parent put it into persepective. He said “Now if this was a boys game the only one who would have yelled is the kids father who would say ‘If you were paying attention like you were suppose to you would never have gotten hit by the ball'”
    After the game my daughter asked if she could play in the boys league from now on. I said “yes”.

  5. I’m a 20 year old woman and I’m a tomboy. I’ve been a tomboy ever since I was a kid. I remember when I was at primary school I always wear black or navy blue track pants and t-shirts while other girls wore dresses and footless tights. I was a keen sports girl so I was into baseball, football and basketball. I was only girl in all of the sports. Most girls are into netball, cheerleading and dancing. I remember the toys I had are mostly boys toys. I had about 50 action figures, 20 toy cars, 20 toy dinosours and only 2 barbie dolls. I’ve had a couple of teddy bears as well. I used to play with lego with my brother. I remember my mum was upset when she found out I don’t want to wear dresses, skirts and all girls clothing. She couldn’t take me into a boys department and buy clothes from there because she was too embarssed about what people will say if they see her little girl turning into a little boy. I don’t blame her of course. I’ve been wearing my brother’s clothes for a few years. It suited my mum fine because she’s been buying more clothes for him then me but I get to keep all of his old clothes he doesn’t wear anymore even if his jeans are ripped, I’d still wear them. When I got older (Mid teens) I started buying clothes from the menswear shops and become a real sports woman. Now that I’m older I go the pubs and have a few beers with the men. I’m not a lady like person but there’s nothing wrong with been a tomboy, it’s natural.

  6. i was born a tomboy and suffered because of it, but i could not change. then in my 50’s i heard neurologists discussing how tomboys are different from girls and not all tomboys are alike. but basically we think like men, like rough play but not bloody sports(on the whole. i did not mind having to wear a dress) and l was sexually attracted to men, i mean a lot. but i tend to think more like a man, my only female friends are tomboys-2. i cannot think of a female who i could sit up all night talking about ideas but have always had lots of boyfriends. though i do scare a lot of men away with my strong personality, but they would be a bore anyway. i only had one doll and i threw it away the same day. dolls do not make you think. i feel sorry for effeminite men because they get a raw deal but reality they are just part of the
    rainbow spectrum. we are all bio- chemical individuals.
    i certainly was teased a great deal when i was under 20 and some after. it did hurt but i could not change. so i was soooo happy to hear the reasons why i was different. i hated the equal rights crap because i succeeded on my own. i lile wearing dresses sometimes, however southern california was the perfect place for me, there i was at home! yours sincerely, pauline russell

  7. I think that today we mistake the name tomboy for being not female. Some girl’s have no one else to hang out in their neighborhoods so they play with the guy’s. They do guy things. This does not make them masculine though. They are just having fun and playing. We adults add to much to it.

  8. My condolences for those women who are no longer allowed to express their femininity because of society. However, I must also emphasise that this case DOES NOT APPLY across all cultures.

    I say this as a tomboy who’d naturally developed traditionally masculine inclinations in childhood, which have lasted into adulthood. While it was true that my younger days of cross-dressing, bug-catching and watching boy’s cartoons drew no flak (it was supposed to be “a phase”), the situation changed in my teenage years. Suddenly I wasn’t allowed to learn breakdancing, the electric guitar or boxing; and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fought with my mother over my clothing choices or decision to cultivate musculature.

    Even to this day, I am still often told that I’m a “late bloomer”, that I’m just being “silly” and will “grow up” to love make-up, dream of marrying and want children someday. Doesn’t sound like much, but after a zillion repeats it’s now BEYOND irritating. Not to mention how far too many immediately assume that I’m aggressive/ ashamed of my biological sex -and how some make use of these misconceptions to screw me and my social life over.

    Thankfully, I’m slowly beginning to accept myself again, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some wonderfully positive and supportive people. But for the most part, the narrow-mindedness of the general public in this Southeast Asian country remains aggravating.

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