I don’t remember the first time I heard someone call me a tomboy. That title chased me through most of my childhood in a game of tag where tomboy was always it. I could run with the boys, at least until I got to the clubhouse with the “No Girls Allowed” sign crudely tacked to the front door. I was all about backwards baseball caps and the freedom that came with wearing pants and knowing there was little worry that everyone would see my underwear. It didn’t bother me at the time. I knew people weren’t calling me a boy, they were just letting me know I was bad at being a girl. It meant that I was also bad at being a boy and that there was an inherent weakness in me that I needed to keep inside. I knew that being a tomboy meant that I couldn’t let anyone see me cry.
Now that I’m a grown up I know the term tomboy is pervasive. It’s used to separate one girl from the pack by creating a whole new title for her to reside under, alone, without her male or female companions. You are neither a boy or a girl, you are an other. It removes femininity by replacing it with masculinity and reinforces an unrelenting, very narrow idea of what it means to be a girl. Girls are pretty and clean, dainty and fragile. Boys are boisterous and proud, dirty and uncouth. One can only be considered a true girl if all the tick-boxes have been ticked. Check, check, check. You belong.
Tomboy doesn’t just affect the tomboys. It’s a label that boxes all girls in. It limits them by creating a dichotomy where the options are girly-girl or tomboy. Superheroes or Princesses. Blue or pink. Quick, pick. There is no going back. In a world with black and white convictions there is no time for individuals . There is no time for girls who like what they like without apologizing for their interests. There is self-doubt and confusion. I remember thinking that it would have been easier on everyone, especially my mom, if I had just been a boy. Then I could wear what I wanted and the sideways glances every excited Star Wars conversations evoked would be unnecessary.
It also affects boys. It gives them the impression that their strength is directly connected to their biology and girls can’t be strong. Even tomboys are girls parading in sheep’s clothing. Giving tomboys their own label reinforces rigid gender stereotype where everyone is a pawn in their biology’s game.
In reality, there are no tomboys. Only girls. Energetic girls who play in the mud and carefully tuck the Incredible Hulk into bed at night. Smart girls who will grow to be doctors, lawyers, rocket scientists, rock stars, and professors. Brave girls who stick up for their friends in the face of a bully. Clever, witty girls who keep everyone on their toes. Strong girls who climb mountains and survive the harsh terrain of heartbreak in its many forms. Just all kinds of girls, no (tom)boys allowed.
** Photo Credit : Jason Pratt