The Issue with the Word ‘Tomboy’


I have recently started taking issue with the term ‘tomboy’. I was always called one growing up, and never really saw issue with it. I was in Kung Fu, an obviously male dominated sport. The sport brought so many amazing things to my life from confidence to strength to friendship. I remember training with a girl named Jennifer who had short hair and was extremely strong and talented. So often new people would come to our dojo and ask if she was a boy or a girl. It got so frustrating to her and she tried her best to keep calm when people would be so ignorant to her. Short hair in a “boy’s sport” somehow equated to being a boy.

By definition, a tomboy is “an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls.”

Personally, if someone used the characteristics of energetic and boisterous to describe how I am with regards to activity and sport, I would not take offence. In fact, I would welcome it. My larger issue is that apparently there are activities that are for boys and activities for girls. So what exactly is a ‘girl’s activity’ versus a boy’s?
I decided to Google ‘Girl’s Activities’ to see what we as the female race are supposed to be doing. Here is what I found:

  • Dress up like a fairy princess
  • Tea parties
  • Dollhouses and dolls
  • Gardening
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Baking cookies
  • Arts and crafts

I couldn’t make this up! That is literally what is suggested for girls to do. Not one mention of anything physical or sport related at all. And not that there is anything wrong with little girls doing these activities, but why can’t they also play soccer, hockey, basketball and dodgeball? Well of course they can, but if they do, they are seen as boisterous and ‘too energetic’.

So the issue with the term ‘tomboy’ becomes that we are automatically associating girls who do the typical ‘boy activities’ as non-feminine. Does it make me any less of a woman because I like watching Kung Fu movies? Or because I like going for a super-sweaty kickboxing workout? HELL NO. In fact, I think it makes me more of a woman because I am diverse in what my life experiences are all about.

Moreover, why can’t it be ‘girlie’ to be in sports? Be it a female dominated sport like synchronized swimming or gymnastics, or a male dominated sport like football or hockey. Did you know that in Winnipeg alone there are over 16 women’s football leagues? There is such a desire for girls to be active and involved in sport in such a huge way, but we still feel the need to label these girls and women as ‘tomboys’.

Can we not simply address these sporty girls as GIRLS? A girl who loves being active. A girl who loves finding out what her body is capable of doing through sport. A girl who gains confidence in herself each time she steps into the ring, does a lap around the ice, or hits her best personal best in weight lifting.

So I challenge you to do away with the word ‘tomboy’. Girls are up to six times more likely to drop out of sport than their male counterparts by the age of 14. One of the reasons for this is the social stigma attached to being a female athlete. For being labelled as a tomboy. This is something we need to shift. If we want to see our girls participate in sport to help them gain confidence, increase their overall health, meet new friends, set goals, do better in school – we need to uplift them and encourage them to stay in sport. Stop labelling them for doing so, and rid ourselves of the term and ideology behind being a ‘tomboy’.

If you feel as passionately as we do on this subject, we think you’ll love what we’re doing with the Fitness Journal for Girls.

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