Sunday, March 24, 2013

Were You A Tomboy?

On this blog, we talk about my struggle with gender, but I'm also interested in the flip-side -- difficulties young girls have with their assigned gender role.  Were any of you tomboys when you were young?  If so, what was your experience like?

A tomboy is defined as a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors typical of boys, such as wearing masculine clothing and playing boyish games.  The term is sometimes used positively but is often a criticism -- a girl's unfeminine behavior can be viewed as socially improper.

Girls who behave like boys are usually cut some slack whereas boys who act like girls are treated harshly.  Why is that?  Why are girls allowed to explore both spheres while boys are imprisoned in masculinity?

I'm curious about your thoughts, even if you weren't a tomboy.  Our social attitudes affect how we relate to others and everyone has an opinion on gender roles.  So please spill!


  1. Maybe because girls and women fought to be taken seriously while men and boys didn't think they needed to fight against expressing themselves

  2. Interesting topic!
    I guess I am a tomboy, I don't dress like a boy any more but I did when I was younger. When I was a lil kid I considered myself as a boy.
    I .have. been treated harshly coz of that. Girls are usually okay with it and boys too when I was a kid, but as a grown up boyish woman I have got lots of criticizm from men (why do you look like a boy, why you aren't more feminine, why don't you do girl's stuff..)
    I discovered feminine (yet quirky) clothing in my 30's, but I still like stuff that are not considered as girls hobbies (like collecting action figures, liking scifi, being pretty good at surviving in primitive conditions and loving reptiles :)) Luckily my husband is okay with everything.
    I wish that society didn't have those gender obligations :[

    xo, L

  3. Exactly what I was going to say Selina, there used to be a social stigma to girls behaving like boys but women have fought for equality and I guess that has made a difference.

    I was a tomboy but I also played with dolls at times. My upbringing didn't have any boundaries, I dont know if that was a good thing in some ways as I got myself into trouble at times when I was younger, but it means that I grew up as a person who will accept others for who they are. That has meant that I've made some pretty awesome friends without having to overcome difficulties accepting a certain part of their behavior .. I wish more people could be like that but I think that society is becoming more open minded and people are getting better at accepting differences as normal.

    Ally I do love the way you ask questions that make me think :)

  4. My grandmother made sure her boys knew how to cook, clean, knit and sew (partially out of anger at my grandfather for not even lifting a finger to do any of that...)
    My mother grew up in a large family with a brother quite close in age. Summers were spent with the two of them undergoing traditional "boy" activities, while winters were spent doing traditional "girl" activities.
    As a result, it's no surprise I learned how to skateboard in a dress, ask for hot wheels for Christmas, and but utterly surprised and dismayed when I couldn't pee standing up in the backyard. Gender was a non-issue! I didn't play exclusively with boys, there just happened to be more of them. The only other comment I remember being made about gender in my childhood years was that hitting puberty meant you switched genders. Still a little disappointed that didn't happen, to be perfectly honest!
    The difficulty comes now that I'm an adult -- large groups of exclusively female or primarily female intimidate me. I didn't stress about the day of my wedding. I stressed about the Bachelorette Party. In my predominantly female office, I keep my fingers crossed that every time we hire, we'll add some testosterone into the mix. Is that the adult version of being a tomboy?

  5. Sorry but I think men are more likely to be homophobic than women. I may be wrong. And I like to consider myself very female. But I was an only child and my father's only son. So he had me working right along with him when he built things in the house. It never occurred to me that I couldn't do things because I was a girl. I liked to drive fast(still do) and fix things, and make things. I liked my Fort Apache and my dolls. I liked my kids' Barbies and Hot Wheels. I don't care about stereotypes. I refuse to be limited. I'm happy to know someone like you who also refuses to limit himself.

  6. yes, I was a tomboy but mostly coz I was very much interested in sports and hung out with guys more for tips on basketball...did not face any problems from the guys..but yeah catty girls always took dig.....

    i have been friendly more with guys since my teenage years and find men to be more honest and better as friends...women tend to be catty and are more prone to stabbing behind one's back!!

  7. A lot of the comments above are similar to my experience, so maybe our generation had a little bit of leeway and a chance to rethink roles. My brother is a year older than me, so when we were very little he played dolls with me. As we got older, we played boy games together - cars, cowboys - and he wouldn't play with dolls. I still loved my dolls, but I also had Matchbox cars. And I loved getting his hand-me-down clothes. After watching American Gigolo, I identified more with Richard Gere's swagger than with Lauren Hutton's cloying, yet I've always been boy crazy. I think it's easier for women to cross both sides because we can wear pants AND skirts, women touching is acceptable and can be found erotic. Men always seem to have to prove something, so the same behavior in men isn't acceptable. I guess that's because of testosterone or trying to overcompensate for the X chromosome.

  8. I don't think that I ever considered myself a tomboy. I really dislike the way that it is used. I was the only granddaughter for fifteen years, so I grew up playing what is considered "boy" games with my cousins. My neighborhood growing up only had mostly boys, and they would not play with me because I was a girl. (I did not like those boys!) When I was alone, or playing with friends from school (I went to an all girl school) I mostly played with baby dolls or barbie dolls.

    I have seen memes that basically say that men are homophobic because they are afraid that someone will treat them like they treat women. In my experience, that has some truth to it. I think that to be female is still to be considered "less than" and as a society we punish those who want to be something that is seen as "less than". So boys who like things that are considered feminine are choosing to be less. I also think that it is one of the crappier things about our society.

    Saying that, I don't think that all men are that way. I generally love men and women and think that a lot of our problems are learned, which means that they can be unlearned. And that is also one of the many many many reasons that I love your blog. You offer an opportunity for someone to think about gender.

  9. My half-brother lived with me from the time I was born until I was reaching school age. He was (and is) my favorite person in the whole world. So of course, I grew up wanting to be like him, play boy games, dressed only in Blue (only he liked pink, too). Later after he moved, and I moved and I spent a lot of time by myself, I didn't know boy games from girl games, I spent a lot of time outside, I made friends with more boys than girls. I still prefer the company of guys, "boy" games, and even more masculine clothes.

    Was I a tomboy? Sure, probably. I certainly never like it when 'the guys' treat me like a girl. I've noticed since stepping up my fashion interest. Some jokes stop more often, guys apologize for their crass words, where they used to not. Even guys I've known since before my blog started. It's weird I guess.

    I grew up in a family where I had to learn how to cook and clean, but also needed to know how to use an electric drill and paint my own room. I spent a lot, and I mean, A LOT of time reading, rather than doing growing up.

    Now I don't care about gender. I just want to make friends who share my interests. It's a special thing when I can talk to someone about clothes or shoes then switch to talking about video games and science fiction or have complex conversations that range from philosophy to modern culture. It's hard to find that in any gender and when I find it - I hang onto to those people.

  10. Believe it or not, I was a HUUUUUGE tomboy up until my freshman year of high school. I refused to wear anything but baggy t-shirts and guy's soccer shorts (when I was in control of what I was wearing. My mom put me in skirts and bows when I was younger to my dismay). None of my friends believed I was in love with ballet and fixed my hair and wore makeup and tutus for recitals. I was in a neighborhood with all boys, and I roughed around with them, and I was also on an all boys soccer team. I didn't play with dolls, but I had plastic horses that I played with and remote control cars. It wasn't until 8th grade year when I started putting on mascara and wearing more feminine tops. I eventually graduated to dresses my junior year of high school. Now I'm about the most feminine and toughest of young women. I can still out-shoot and scrap with the best of them, I'll just be in a skirt and heels doing it.

    1. I would also like to say that I always got along with girls as well, even when I was a huge tomboy. Sure there are "catty" girls out there, but there are just as many "catty" guys. Being a jerk isn't reserved for one gender, and I don't believe one gender is better to be friends with than another. I had and have very close female friends who were/are very supportive and caring of me and would take a bullet as well as male friends who would do the same.

  11. Good question! I was definitely a tom boy growing up. I built forts, played with snakes and salamanders, cops and robbers, stuff like that. I would come home so dirty after playing. But then I could go to my friend's house and play Barbies all in the same day. I think it was perceived that it was just kids playing in general. Unfortunately I don't have a clear answer on why girls are/were cut more slack than boys.

  12. I was a major tomboy growing up. Major. I liked playing with boys, playing sports, getting dirty. I didn't care about what I looked like and I didn't like how girls made me feel (ostracized and misunderstood). You're right, I didn't get as much heat for being a tomboy. It would incredibly difficult for a boy that acts like a girl. However, the feeling of being not like all the other girls made me more aware of how I made people feel. I didn't want to ever make people feel lonely or like they weren't good enough. I tried from an early age to learn how to understand others and if they were different from me, to try and understand why and put myself in their place. I feel like I can relate a lot more with people now because of those experiences.

    Great question! ;-)

  13. My sister and I were just talking about this concept the other day. I wouldn't call myself a typical tomboy growing up, sure I played soccer but I also dressed in very feminine clothes but whenever my sister and I acted in a church play, I always auditioned for the male lead (and more times than not, I got it!) There was something about being the male lead (whether I was a Prince in shining armour of a male sheep), that made me feel powerful (plus I think I liked flirting with the other guys in the play!)

  14. I don't consider myself a tomboy in regards to sports or physical activities, but I do have many traits that are considered 'masculine'. I am strong-willed, smart, aggressive, competitive, a natural leader...
    Society does give girls more of a pass when it comes to cross-dressing. That is because women are considered less than equals. You are a joke if you are male and wear a dress. Where as when a women wear pants i.e. 'men's clothes' it is more acceptable because it makes sense. Why wouldn't you want to be a man? They're better.
    **I meant what society thinks--not me** ^
    Hope this came across right. It is actually a subject that really pisses me off because I take it as an insult when people bully a man that wants to dress a woman. I loved it when all those guys wore skirts to support the poor girl that got assaulted in India.
    It meant a lot and it felt like they got it. The male/female went down and it was just people.
    Becky :)

  15. This is a really interesting topic; its one we have been discussing recently in one of my classes.
    In American society we "do gender". Babies are sexed at birth...a boy, a girl...but are not gendered. Society, of course constructs gender meanings and then looks crazy eyed at anyone who doesn't conform to those gender standards.
    I could go on and on about this.
    I was never a tomboy...I loved my dolls and dress and makeup; but I also love my street rod cars and played ball with all of the boys in my neighborhood. I never felt "gendered" least not to my awareness, because gender is so entrenched in our society in every thing we do and say, that I just didn't notice it.
    As a teen and young adult, I called myself a girl-girl with a passion for cars and boy's toys. It was always tolerated because I still "looked like a girl". Gosh....this could go on and on......

  16. Those are really interesting questions and they threw up a lot of interesting comments. When I was young I spent a lot of time with my younger brother and we had a lot of shared friends, but neither my brother nor my two main boy friends were rough and tumble boys, so we spent a lot of time making up dance routines or making mad tapes of us all messing about, or just running about on the beach and in the local parks, I had girls as friends too, but we all tended to like doing the same things, we were all obsessed with ghosts and the supernatural so were always telling spooky stories or trying to make ouija boards or creeping round deserted buildings trying to scare ourselves silly. So looking back, I feel like I wasn't a tomboy, but I wasn't a girly girl either, I was just a kid who liked doing a bit of everything. My brother had action men and I had dolls but we used to make them get married and then fall out with each other and have loads of dramas.
    I always loved reading, drawing and listening to music, which again are not gender specific activities, and spent hours every day doing those things all through my youth and teens. I was very interested in fashion and makeup then as well, but I had no confidence in myself to show that interest outwardly so I did dress in a very boyish style, even though I would have loved to look more feminine and glamorous.
    I think girls are given a lot more freedom to express both spheres and I don't know why that is so, hopefully it's starting to change a bit now. I have a teenage daughter and a teenage son, and my son does have a very gentle sensitive nature, he's not tough or aggressive at all, though he's very caring and always sticks up for the underdog,and he has years of hell at school because of it. My daughter is very feminine in her looks but she can hold her own and is pretty tough, and she has had no problems, so I don't know if that's because she gets more leeway as a female or if you just need to be tough to survive in this world and the more gentle sensitive people will always get a harder time of it. You've given me lots to think about here. xx

  17. I was a tomboy. I was always so much happier in jeans and skate shoes than a dress and nice shoes. I would skate board, cycle, run, play football (sorry, soccer), go camping, muck about on my friend's dirt bike, hang around with boys and so on. My sister had dolls, I had video games. My sister had lipstick, I was muddy. My sister went dancing, I played hockey. My sister went shopping with her girlfriends from school, I played in the park with the boys.

    I probably still am a tomboy to a certain extent but I do enjoy a feminine slant on things on occasion. I've even been known to wear a dress with a flower on it - although with my patent leather Dr Martens! As I've grown up (now in my 30s) I find myself wearing make up and perfume (although never lipstick!), I enjoy an occasional face mask although I have never had a massage. I own a number of pairs of beautiful heels, but I will more often than not choose the flat shoes. I wonder if I'd been more girly as a child if I'd be more graceful now (I have the grace of an elephant!)? I wonder if I would fit in better on girls' nights out? I wonder if I'd have a smaller appetite?!

    I dream of looking glamorous, wish I knew what to do with my hair, would love to be able to walk in heels, worry about my weight. But when I look at myself in the mirror I still see a tomboy. I see someone who, with the exception of my wedding day, can't wear a pretty dress and shouldn't pay someone to do my hair and make up. I see someone who isn't very good at dealing with emotion, tends to bottle things up or cry in secret, would rather write it all down than speak to a friend about it. I realise I am more boy-like than girl-like. And I'm ok with that, that is who I am.

    Although I really do need to learn how to fix my hair.

  18. Ally, you always ask such interesting questions that make one really think. I cannot understand what anonymous is talking about ~ I have never come across any spelling problems and think you write beautifully!!

    Anyways my comment on your post ... I grew up in a home with 3 beautiful sisters and a single Mom (from age 10) so there was lots of girly stuff going on. Although I am not a girly girl, I don't think I was a tomboy although I played softball. I always wished I was this little "helpless female that needed to be rescued" but that was not to be!!! I am a big girl and we are expected to be able to take care of ourselves.

    I am very tolerant of people's choices in terms of whether they are boys or girls (regardless of what sex they were born). There is so much judgement in the world already that I think acceptance is more important.

  19. Was never a tomboy, and despite having a beauty blog, I'm not high matienance at all. I can get down and dirty when called for!

  20. It is funny you bring this up. I was a pretty big tom boy when i was younger. I was often mistaken for "the paper-boy". My aunts and uncles thought it was cool when I was younger, that I was not a 'typical girly-girl". However, when I became older, they were grossed out if I burped in public, swore, or did not dress feminine or have a boyfriend. I feel like my clothes make up for that now, but I hated all of the mixed signals, why couldn't they just let me be?

  21. I was a tomboy, mostly because I thought it might be a way to get dad's approval since he didn't have a son. (Alcoholic, and very distant.)

    Adulthood is so much better than childhood, dontcha think?

  22. When in my teens I refused to wear skirts or perfumes. Now that i think of it, maybe i was a little bit of a tomboy. They I outgrew the tomboy in me.