The ‘tomboy’ label and its accompanying lifestyle have been receiving a lot of flak lately for being a disempowering term for young girls and even women. We take a different view and tell you why labels are just that – labels you can stick on a discount corn pack! How you use them to define yourself and why is really a personal choice because they will exist as long as the human race does.
Thats it! I am done with the ‘buggery-bugginess’ of politically correct America and its labels and associations. It absolutely riles me up no end and I’m not sure where and when it’s going to stop!
In a country where the first and second amendment are worshipped and constantly being protected, the fact that America has its own self-censoring advocates crawling traditional and digital media is an insult to those of us who don’t live in countries that practise free speech. It is as if America’s CPU voluntarily fed its system a self-censoring bug for absolutely no reason and in doing so, is spitting out nothing but divisiveness in the process.
This media-imposed political correctness is speeding out of control these last two decades and has made us all feel more conscience of our differences than our similarities.
It’s an age where it’s all about LGBT versus straight, straight versus bisexuals, whites against coloured or black, Muslims versus Christians, Catholics versus Judaism, women against men, asexual versus androgynous – the list goes on and on and on, when in the end – it doesn’t fucking matter because all that fades away when you realise we’re all subject to this karmic wheel of life and death, sitting here waiting our turn on the benches to participate in a game that can end anytime or day.
To me, all this political correctness with all its good intentions of bringing about unity and respect between the diverse communities of the country has backfired which is why I had to respond to Claire Gillespie’s recent tomboy article on a site called SheKnows.
First of all, let me say that while I support her article that we should do away with all these labels, I also want to take this opportunity to put to bed all the negative connotations the world seems to have about the word ‘tomboy’ and its so-called effects on the psyche of a young female child.
I feel that being a tomboy is so misconstrued it’s been happily chewed on and spat out, creating more divisiveness, fear and prejudice amongst us women than ever before.
So I’ve decided that this article will be a clarion call to all tomboy women out there to defy the current perceptions of the label that has not only been an endearing term to describe women and girls who are unique in their lifestyles and fashion sense, but also one that imbues strength and empowerment in all of us, without having to feel we need to fall into a specific female stereotype in order to succeed or thrive in life.
Before I dive in deep, let me just say that all opinions expressed in this article are basically my own as a co-founder of this classic tomboy site where we’re trying to break down all stereotypes about tomboys period.
If you disagree on the perspectives being explored and explained here, I’m fine with it because seriously? Tomboys are getting too much negative rap from women’s lifestyle sites wherever we go. Ironic given that in the fashion, media and entertainment worlds, this is the golden age for tomboys as we embrace our gender neutral spirit.
Recently, an article that appeared on Bustle also propagated the idea that the label should be done away with because its origins were problematic. The author writes that ‘tomboy’ only really began to be used as applicable to younger women and girls at the end of the 16th century, but the word itself is a centuries-old way of policing women’s behaviour — and note that, at the time, it was definitely for adult women, not just for little girls. (Interestingly, they had their own unique term: tomrig.) What can be seen as a benign description of a girl who hates dolls is actually a softened term for one of the worst kinds of women in society: the one who was outrageous, sexually licentious, rude, and didn’t know “her place”. It wasn’t necessarily about acting like a man; it was about not acting like a proper woman, and being mocked for it.
Now, while I agree that licentious, loud, boisterous and obnoxious women prone to tomfoolery were associated with this word a long, long time ago in space and time (it sometimes still is), we are making this a bigger issue than it really is, thinking that calling a girl a ‘tomboy’ is like calling a black person the ‘N’ word. If it is that negative, then why was mainstream media once happy to use the label to describe a rebel-hearted woman who was not afraid to shatter glass ceilings and female myths?
Since Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn’s defiant stance back in 50s America of wearing tailored men’s clothes, being a tomboy, I feel, is a label society tolerated, while pursing and shaking their heads on the side, because celebrity icons were endorsing this sub-culture and at the same time, leaning into any feminist space where their hearts led them. So I’m really surprised that decades later, in 2016, with tomboy style exploding again on fashion runways and the younger female generation, the conservatives are out again with their fangs bared, ready to tear tomboy-spirited women apart. WTF?!
Look, a tomboy can and will wear a dress if she wants to but she prefers the pantsuit. She can act demure and polite but she prefers to be upfront with people and live a life true to herself, not what society expects her to be. I’m surprised that in an age where we purport living our life authentically that there are folks out there telling us to drop this label because it is demeaning to the achievements of women this last century when it is the complete opposite. It was because of the classic tomboy icons that we got this far and now that we’re all leaning into what it is like to be a real woman today, we are conveniently turning our backs on a lifestyle and attitude that empowered and inspired women and girls.
The old stereotype that tomboys, as kids are constantly rolling around in the ground with boys, talking loudly and behaving rudely is totally wack, even by Enid Blyton’s standards, when she included groundbreaking characters like George and Darryl Rivers in her Famous Five and Malory Towers books. Yes, they may have been boisterous and confident in their abilities but at the same time, they had so many moments of doubt and emotions about their life. These original female characters were amazing free spirits who placed no limits on themselves and yet, at the same time, we loved them because they were also remarkably human.
As a tomboy child myself, I did not once see my preference to play with toy soldiers, learn about wiring parts on my uncle’s stereo system or Legos as being boy-like at all. My tendency to be the loud-mouthed and dominating kid of my play groups also had nothing at all with me wanting to be like the boys. In fact, the boys in my play group loved how I came up with these imaginary games to play. I also did not think boys were better than me because even at that age, I just knew what my abilities were, irrelevant of gender.
Being a tomboy has always meant opening your mind to new possibilities as a person, not a gender. It is also not a word about negotiating one’s femininity because we live in a world where there are expanding choices and opportunities for women and if you so choose to be a tomboy or not, it’s your choice. Don’t let media platforms throw some shallow bullshit at you about what it’s like to be your own brand of woman in a man’s world. We choose to be tomboys (or anti-girl or whatever label you want to call us at this point) because we have transcended our gender labels.
We have and are going beyond what society’s expectations of being a woman is. Whether you want to call us ‘Tom-girls’, ‘Paul-boys’, ‘Jo-women’ or whatever fancy term you want to label us with, one thing is clear – these women we talk about or feature or admire in our lives are those that have kicked the doors down on traditional, orthodox views of how women should feel, think and behave.
It’s sad that, even today, when one mention the word tomboys, they include the following stereotypes
- That we are ALL lesbians.
- That we are ALL man-like/butch and want to cut off our breasts
- That we are ALL rough, pant-wearing, outdoor-loving women/girls who are brute, rude, rough and have no emotional depth or sensitivity
Reality check people. None of those tomboy stereotypes are even a per cent true. Every tomboy is so different that categorising and lumping us all into any of the aforementioned categories is not only lazy, it’s downright ignorant.
First of all, many tomboys are straight, bisexual or even asexual. Some are single women, others are wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and perhaps, even alien! Who knows? The point is, tomboys are diverse.
Secondly, many tomboys are very expressive and emotional. Even the most man-like of us have a sensitive, gentle and intuitive side. It is the power of being female. We acknowledge it and we don’t suppress it.
Thirdly, we know so many tomboy geek girls who prefer staying indoors, playing computer games all day or reading the latest comic/anime books/films. There are also many of us who are also into ‘guy stuff’ like music, construction, architecture, biology, quantum physics and engineering so the idea that we’re all beer-guzzling, foul-talking freaks of nature is so far-off the mark, it’s laughable.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are many feminine women who can be equally as aggressive and man-like in their spirit and behaviour but they happen to choose to project an ultra-feminine exterior in their fashion and lifestyle choices, so tell me, how would you classify or label these women? Girly-girls? O give me a break!
If you think ‘tomboy’ is bad, ‘girly-girl’ is an even more demeaning label to women because in my head, it denotes a woman who walks around in floaty lace dresses with cotton candy for brains. The same goes for guys who are called ‘Nancy Jo’s’ or ‘Fanny Dicks’. How are all these labels any different when all of them come with pre-conceived cliches?
In Claire Gillespie’s article, she talks about how having the word ‘boy’ in the tomboy label makes it flawed because it is still associated with male behaviours. I think that’s OK. What I’m not OK with is her opinion that the label is damaged because guess what, while women and men are certainly making strides in their gender evolutions, a girl acting out in boy-like ways is just that. She is embracing her inner boy and I’m OK with that because that is human. We all have the spirit of male and female in us. That’s what makes us such a unique species. It’s not embarrassing to be either at the same time.
The problem comes in when we’re taught in school to be one or the other, not both. We learn of our gender through social messaging that comes through learning materials, media and via the community. So girls must don princess party frocks while boys need to get their cowboy hats on just to prove to society that they are reflecting their respective genders accurately – on the outside. How shallow and lazy is that, huh? This huge pressure to impose another set of globally approved labels of ‘girl’ vs ‘boy’ on us can work on maybe 80 – 90% of the population, but what about that remaining 10 -20% who fall into the transsexual or transgendered groups? How can we help them understand themselves better in a round world where they are clearly square pegs?
In the article by Miss Gillespie, there was also an interesting observation about appearance.
“From my daughter’s perspective, that’s life through the eyes of a little girl who is always drawn toward the “boy” aisle in the toy store, who really, really never wants to wear a dress, and who has very little interest in going to Frozen-themed birthday parties because she knows if she goes dressed as Olaf, all the Annas and Elsas will stare at her.”
In the very few studies that have been done on tomboys, one of the factors that researchers have taken into account include physical appearance. This includes a girl’s choice of preferred style of clothing and from what I gather from Claire’s experience, she is in a dilemma about a daughter that does not follow gender rules and is being called ‘boy-like’.
As the article goes on, we find Claire descending further and further into the void of apologetic political correctness. This is sad because as a mother, we are seeing how she cannot fully embrace her daughter for where she is now in her growth and development. Why feel embarrassed that your kid is acting out her inner boy and what if she was born a tomboy anyway? Is there anything one can do about it?
While I feel Claire’s frustrations at making the other mothers in her circle understand that her daughter’s behaviours are normal and nothing to get fussed about, it doesn’t bode well for girls wanting to be stronger and more empowered in this world. It seems that now we’re all getting all sorts of mixed messages about femininity and what it entails.
My own childhood as a tomboy was fraught with difficulty because like Claire, my mother couldn’t just explain me away easily to family friends and relatives. It was even worse because I grew up in Asia and Asians usually frown on expressive, loud and boyish girls. Things have, of course, changed significantly now in the region with a lot more women embracing their beautiful gender-neutral selves.
Being a tomboy has been a great and positive experience for me as opposed to what the mainstream “US-bible-thumping-Hamptons” media says. With this piece, I think it’s time someone went in for the jugular and stopped doing a constant fandango around these issues. I’m sorry but I’m not going to heed these idiotic calls to action to annihilate the ‘tomboy’ label from my world because it has done me more good than bad.
If you’re a supportive parent, then your duty is to allow your daughter to have the freedom to choose who she wants to be at any point of her life and if she wants to associate herself as a ‘tomboy’, she must be given that choice. So please call your daughter a ‘tomboy’ if she chooses to identify herself with that word because she is amazing. She would be proud (just as I am) to be part of a group of unique, supportive, loving women who are creative and smart, sincere, geeky and sheer fun-loving folks, straight or otherwise, and frankly, there’s no other label we’d all rather be in.
WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TOMBOYS? DOWNLOAD THIS PDF STUDY ENTITLED “WHO ARE TOMBOYS & WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THEM”.