Let’s first start by saying that the word Tomboy has been around for a long time. We have all heard someone call a girl a Tomboy on more then one occasion. But why is that?
First we need to understand the term Tomboy. What is a Tomboy by definition?
The Dictionary describes a Tomboy as: “an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys’ than of girls.”
Now that description seems in my mind to be a bit vague. The description only describes the physical side of what the word means. I think the word Tomboy has always been more identified by the clothes and look of girls considered Tomboys.
Then we need to think is that a word that today still gets used and is that OK?
Words that we have used for decades we are finding out now, many of them are inappropriate even discriminatory. We realize that the words that we use and how they get used makes a difference.
Understanding what a word means and what happens when we use it is important. Words are powerful and using them in a way that makes a person feel singled out or made fun of is hurtful.
Tomboy goes as far back in history to the mid-16th century. At that time the word Tomboy was used to describe male kids that were considered to be rude and rambunctious.
The word shifted in usage by the 1590s to describe a girl that acts like a spirited boy. Even going on to say that girls deemed wild or romping girls were Tomboys!
By the 1800s Tomboyism was considered to be a girl that frolics given to boyish ways and sports. In the next 40-60 years, as the abolishment of slavery was beginning it changed again. Socialite women who concerned about white women who were in restricted clothing and not getting much exercise became concerned with their health.
There was also the issue that immigrants were coming in and not wanting to become a minority white women, needed to change. Becoming more active and outdoorsy was the way they decided to do it.
Things by the early 20th century exploded. They were everywhere from first-wave feminism to women suffrage. But the popularity was limited to the middle and upper-class white women.
In the 1970s various fictional character were very popular in literature and in movies. Even advertisers joined in by displaying Tomboy’s in ads for Stayfree pads showing a girl dressed in the typical plaid shirt, hiking boots and khaki shorts. The commercial’s motto was “This is how active girls stay active”.
By the 1980s Lego joined in with an ad featuring a young girl dressed like a Tomboy. She was displaying a completely Lego creation while the ad says “What it is, is beautiful”. Many businesses followed suit.
Flash forward to the past 20 years, Tomboy’s today are more often used to identity girls in the queer community. This can be linked to the fact that many lesbians have said that in their youth they were Tomboys. It is reported that lesbians that were Tomboys in their youth far out ways that of straight girls growing up. This is thought to be related to their sexuality identity.
Gender terms now in 2020 are by far the most fluid than they have ever been. Using words like Tomboy are used far less today than in the past. This century old word and meaning of that word is almost obsolete.
My personal journey growing up as a “Tomboy” started back as far as I can remember. I was born in 1971 and by the time I was 4 or 5, it was clear that I wasn’t the same as my sister.
When I look back at photos and all the memories from that time, it was clear that I found comfort in identifying as a Tomboy. My hair, fashion and of course my style of play was far more boy than girl. The thing I do remember is that I could actually do both. What I mean by that is I could play outside with the boys’, but could also sit down and play barbies with my sister.
My style and fashion was a different story. From the 1st time I could remember, I always preferred to wear boy style clothes far more than girly clothes. Getting me to dress up like a girl was always a bit of a struggle.
Yes there are plenty of pictures that my mom has of me and my sister dressed like cute little girls. Parents back than of course didn’t really listen to what you wanted to wear, it was this is what you are going to wear, no questions asked. There was really no debate.
As I got a bit older, I was able to fight and win some battles with my appearance. If you see my 1st day of school photo, you will see that I clearly have a boy’ haircut and I am wearing boys’ jeans with a boy’ snap up shirt. Honestly if you don’t know me, most people look at that picture and thing I was a boy.
I look back at the internal struggle that I felt being considered a Tomboy. At a really young age, you don’t even realize what or why people are calling you that. All I knew is how I felt inside and that the clothes or look I wanted was truly how I identified. Or better yet, how I saw myself and how I was the most comfortable.
I can’t imagine what my mom went through trying to understand why she has this cute little girl who wanted to dress like a boy. I think back than with the information that was available, my parents did a great job of trying to find a balance. When it was going out to a wedding or event, I wore dresses and had curlers in my hair, simply because that was how it was done. The second I got home and it was time to play, I would change into my boy close where I felt much more comfortable.
By the time I got to grade 6-8, I clearly had identified my Tomboy style. I loved wearing army camouflage clothes, baggy pants, even suspenders with my dress pants. No matter what the even was, I was always a girl that got noticed. Unfortunately that notice, was generally negative.
As we know even today, kids can be extremely cruel to one another. For the most part all the girls in my classes would make fun of my weird boyish preppy look. I like to have short hair and for a girl to have super short hair back than, it was unusual.
We all know the 80s was a time when fashion really took a different turn. The beauty of the 80s, was that it proved that openness to express yourself through fashion far more than before. More risky looks like punk hair, neon clothes and of course camo became huge.
I literally started babysitting, so I could make my own money to shop and buy my own clothes. That way if I used my own money, my mom had no say in what the clothes looked like that I bought. I was absolutely in my glory. I embraced the 80s look far more than most.
The 80s for the girls in my classes meant tight jeans, black boots and of course the leather purse with a rabbits foot dangling from it. That was not me of course. That just meant that I was a perfect target for all the other girls, simply because I looked and acted different than them.
The funny part about all of it was that the boys’ never really cared that I would rather dress like them and play flag football. I am not sure if the girls felt threatened by me simply because the boys’ included me in everything they did. The other girls were not treated the same by the boys’. For me I was just treated as one of the boys’.
Choosing our words
Looking back, I think that my experiences growing up a Tomboy, made me a much stronger adult. I was always the odd duck if you will. I quickly learned that I didn’t need to be like everyone else, I just needed to be myself.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that as a young girl it was difficult to understand why I was different. Why did I want to wear boys’ clothes and why did other girls treat me so badly.
I often think about whether the word Tomboy is a word that is or was meant to be an offensive way to describe a girl that dresses and acts like a boy. Of all the worlds in the world, Tomboy is not in my opinion an offensive word. That being said though, why do we need to define people into one category or the other. Why can’t we just accept people for who they are. Is how they look really the most important thing?
Using a term, or word to describe someone is really such a close minded way of thinking. What is a Tomboy, is a question that will continue to be asked and of course used. I have always been called a Tomboy, my entire life. I am used to using the word and I guess you could say it has lost any negative power for me. So yes, I do use the word.
I don’t think it is a mean or offensive word, I just don’t think that we need to use words to describe any girl that is or wants to be different. How about getting to know the girl by talking to her first rather than just looking at her and making an assumption. Being a good person inside is far more important.
I hope that you have enjoyed my insight into the word Tomboy. I really wanted to share my own experience with the word and how it impacted my life. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on my post, so just hit me up below.