What Is A Tomboy | Should We Use That Term

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?

what is a tomboy
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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 history

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.

cory hat

 

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 youth

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.

Shop Jane

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.

young Cory in dress

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.

Teen years

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.

cory teen years

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?

Tomboy word

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.

20 thoughts on “What Is A Tomboy | Should We Use That Term”

  1. Thanks for the honest and thoughtful article.  The term tomboy was something I didn’t think anything of as a young boy.  I also didn’t think anything was wrong with the term sissy, which is what I was taught was the flip side of a tomboy.  I see things differently now.  I’ve come to realize we’re all human first, regardless of how we are categorized by the rest of the world.  I also have come to realize how judgmental our world is.  Be who and what we are and be proud of it, no matter who or what we are.  Some people never really learn how to be who and what they really are and try to live up to others’ expectations etc.  Keep up the good work.  Take care.

    Bob

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,

      I really appreciate your warm thoughts and comments. I love your comment that we are all human first before anything else.  Sometimes we need to hear stories that really make us stop and think.  Almost like a reminder of what it must be like for the person that maybe struggling just because they look a little different.

      I completely agree that many people struggle their entire life and never accept who they really are.  I am proud that I can right this story and hope that just one person will read it and realize they aren’t alone.

      Thank you so much.

      Cory 

      Reply
  2. Oh wow! I really enjoyed this read. The history that you broke down of the word was enlightening. It was eye opening how the term completely changed its meaning over the decades. More importantly, it made me think of many other terms that we probably sometimes unconsciously use and how it could be affecting others. Getting to know a person for who they truly are should always be priority.

    Reply
    • Hello,

      Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and comments. It is wonderful to hear that you enjoyed my first post. This website is going to be a labour of love for me as it is such a personal story.

      My hope is that I make people think just a bit. Especially when it comes to the words we use and even how we perceive people based on their looks. Just because they are different.

      Thank you

      Cory 

      Reply
  3. I loved reading your story.  I too was labeled “Tomboy” and, admittedly, I kind of wore it like a badge of honor, along with my brother’s hand-me-down jeans and flannel shirts ha!  

    I was born in 1972 so we sprouted up in the same era.  I do try to be careful about using words and descriptions of people and things that aren’t as PC as they used to be but, what I concentrate on the most is saying and doing things with respect to each individual.  My Momma used to call me “little orphan Annie”, I know I exhausted her 1950’s sensibilities but, that always seemed like a hurtful nickname for orphans everywhere because I wasn’t an orphan.  I was also a kid that didn’t think anything of the color of people’s skin until I saw true racism for the first time.  Needless to say, it was devastating, I was just an empathetic person that gave a hoot about everyone and their feelings.

    I was also called ‘feral’ I still dig that one too! *laughs at herself!*  I worked for pay since I was 9 years old babysitting and on to other things in high school so I could buy my own clothing too as you did.  I had hair down to my butt in elementary school but, was called “Lesbian Jenn” because my brother was called “Gay Gus” before kids even knew what they were talking about.   A lot of people say kids are just nasty that way but, even back then I knew that it was the PARENTS of kids that were behind that.  They were getting it from somewhere and, they weren’t being penalized for it no matter where it came from.  I was beating the crap out of kids bullying my brother as a young feral girl.  On a great note though MANY of those kids, made a point to apologize to him and myself over the years!

    Apologies, for writing a book in your comments but, I really enjoy thinking about and discussing topics like these as well as jibing with someone who had similar experiences as I did in general.  I was always one of the boys too and, nothing has changed on that front in my 47 years!  

    Reply
    • Hello and thank you,

      I absolutely love reading your thoughts on my story.  This is such a personal site and having my first post done and getting this kind of response is amazing, so thank you.

      Seems like you and I have a similar journey through our childhood.  I just want to say that I am so sorry that your school experience was difficult.  I know exactly how you felt. 

      It is great to hear that you managed to get through it all and make an impact to some of those kids.  Hopefully it made them think.

      My goal with my site is to generate conversations like this one and hopefully just get people thinking or talking.  If my story helps one person then I will be happy.

      I hope to share more of my journey through this funny life over the past 48 years, almost 49. HAHA!! Thank you so much for caring enough to share your story with me.  Best of luck to you and stay safe.

      Cory

      Reply
      • It was my pleasure. I am a huge fan of good conversations like this one.

        I’ve done a good job over the years of surrounding myself with people who prefer conversation over confrontation (lolz, I wrote ‘coversation’ twice in that sentence before the edit! Apparently, I dislike writing the word ‘confrontation as well!

        I appreciate you, please keep doing what you’re doing!

        Reply
        • Hello,

          I completely agree with you, that having a conversation with someone about something that is a bit different, can be a struggle. I find that if we can talk about things we aren’t comfortable with or don’t know anything about, then what a great way to educate people.

          Thank you for the conversation and for sharing comments on my post.
          Cory

          Reply
  4. I have a 9 year old daughter and my husband thinks that calling her “tomboy” is fun. I have never really given this some thought. I just thought that It’s not a big deal. I should probably start paying attention now on how she responds whenever her dad calls her that. As far as I can remember, i think it’s not a big deal for her. At least I hope. My daughter is more girly type. My husband would use this term on the times when she is playing soccer or basketball and she has her ponytail on. He just thinks it’s cute to call her that. I’ll pay more attention now. Thanks for the great article.

    Reply
    • Hi Jen,

      Hearing your thoughts on my post and sharing your story about your daughter is amazing. I really appreciate you taking the time to share a bit about your own experience with the word Tomboy. I don’t want you to think that it is a word that is always associated with negativity, my hope was just to make people think about what it is like for the little girl.

      Like you said, you don’t think it is a big deal for your daughter, and I am sure you are right. The one thing I wish I would have had growing up, was someone just taking the time to sit and talk to me about being different. Even just having a conversation back then to tell me that it’s OK to like sports and dress the way I want. I did figure it out on my own, but it may have made it easier if I had someone to talk to about it.

      Thank you so much. Take care.
      Cory

      Reply
  5. What is a tomboy should we use that term brings up some very good points, I have known many girls and women who could be labeled as Tomboys but only a small percentage of them grew up to be lesbians.

    I have nothing against people who prefer the same sex as partners, and even though I can’t imagine this myself I respect and believe everyone should be accepted no matter what their sexual preference might be.

    Awesome topic
    Jeff

    Reply
    • Hello Jeff,

      Sharing your thoughts and comments about my 1st post, is the reason I wanted to write this story. My hope is to encourage people to talk and try to understand someone else’s feelings and hopefully just think before we speak.

      There are many girls that grow up Tomboys and it has nothing to do with their sexuality. They just prefer to be boyish looking. Obviously this isn’t everyone’s story, but let’s just be respectful of anyone’s choice to love, look and feel how every they want.

      Thank you for sharing, I appreciate it. Stay save and healthy.
      Cory

      Reply
  6. Hey,

    I love your article, and thank you for sharing your story.

    I am 37 years old from Liverpool, and “TomBoy” was a word that was used almost every day when I was a kid. We didn’t think it was offensive or anything like that. But, what I learned later in life is that it is offensive to some people.

    So, when I have heard anyone from my family or my inner circle using that term, I have pulled them up about it, and tried to teach them that “TomBoy” can be offensive to people, and that they should be thinking before they speak.

    Thanks again for sharing your story, and keep up the great work.

    All the best,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      Hearing your own story about the word Tomboy, is exactly why I wanted to start this website and write this post. Thank you for standing up and making people think about the words that they use.

      I don’t believe the word is meant to be offensive or mean, but I still just wanted people to understand what that person being called a Tomboy feels like.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and stay safe.
      Cory

      Reply
  7. Hi,

    Thanks for this article. It gives me a lot to think about.

    My own daughter seems to be so much like you are, and she has been through a lot of the same things.

    It would be a boring world if we were all exactly the same. Well done for writing this!

    Reply
    • Hi Judy,

      You are so right in saying that if we were all the same, what a boring world it would be. I love meeting people that express themselves in a way that is different than the person next to them. Uniqueness needs to be celebrated far more than it is.
      I am sorry to hear that your daughter has similar experiences in her life. I hope that she is embracing her true self and is proud to be who she is.
      Thank you so much for you warm thoughts on my 1st post.
      Cory

      Reply
  8. I loved the well-researched history of the word Tomboy. That word was used to describe me a lot growing up as well. I didn’t like to wear make-up and pretty dresses. I played sports. I would rather have been outside playing in the mud than inside hosting tea parties. I also enjoy you included so much of your own life and experiences within the informational post as well. Great website! Can’t wait to read future posts.

    Reply
    • Hello Erika,

      It is always nice to meet a fellow Tomboy. Together we have many stories to share and sterotypes to break. HAHA!

      Sports was the most important thing in my life and it literally got me through til my mid twenties. I loved being part of a team. When you are part of a team you never stand alone. Sometimes I think it allowed me to quietly be myself.

      I love that you shared your thoughts and comments on my post and please come back.

      Cory

      Reply
  9. Dear Cory.
    It takes courage to speak out about sensitive things. In my mind, loving sports and not loving dresses doesn’t necessarily mean a girl is unhappy being a girl. It may mean a girl wants to prove she can do all things boys can, perhaps even better than the boys can, but still retain her femininity. Maybe she just likes to play sports. We actually don’t hear the term “tomboy” much anymore because it’s natural for all kids to be active in all kinds of sports regardless of gender. (Only the “boys” get paid the big bucks for it but that’s another story). In your case without the correct language to convey what was going on inside, maybe because you didn’t even have the understanding yet, it might have been difficult for anyone to give you wise council. But I’m very sorry you had no one to at least give you a listening ear.

    Reply
    • Hi Patricia,

      Thank you so much for your amazing thoughts on my post. I do think that it is cathartic to finally write about myself. The older I get, the more I reflect on my personal journey to get to where I am now.

      You are so right that many girls play sports now more than ever. Back 40 years ago, it was a little less normal if you will. I think that girls today can do anything, but yes we still to financially equal the playing field.

      Finally we are getting somewhere with just loving people for who they are, not what they do, or how they look.

      My hope with my website is that I can share my personal stories, ideas, and guidance to any girl who may need a little comfort along the way.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Take care
      Cory

      Reply

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