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As a kid, I was always jealous of the girls who were considered “tomboys.” I was terrible at sports, so I always told the so-called tomboys in my grade that I wanted to swap skill sets with them and champion P.E. class for once. But many of them were self-conscious about this label because it set them apart from other females just for being athletic — being a girl, who happened to be good at sports somehow made them more “boy-like.” This is one of the many issues with the word tomboy.
Parenting blogger Meredith Hale recently broached this issue in a post republished on the Huffington Post, writing that she was caught off guard when her 6-year-old daughter came home from school one day and called herself a tomboy. The little girl described herself as a tomboy because she is active and likes running and sports. This upset Hale, who explained that appreciating these things does not make someone a tomboy or boy-like:
“You’re a girl who likes sports… and princesses, and science camp, and fashion, and anything you want to. You don’t have to be a boy to like sports, just like you don’t have to be a girl to like dolls. Girls can like anything they want to. There’s no such thing as a tomboy.”
Hale wrote in her blog post that she’d like to broaden her daughter’s definition of “girl” and show her that there’s so much more to it than stereotypical gender roles, which often portray boys as athletic and girls as dainty princesses:
“Why can’t it be feminine to use her body to race against the wind, to push herself to her limit as her sneakers pound the pavement, and she soars ahead of her competition? Why can’t it be feminine to enjoy the feel of chlorine against her skin as she tears through the pool, or the cheers of the crowd as the ball releases from her fingertips and swoops into the basket? Why can’t these things be just as feminine as makeup or fashion? Why should she have to be a ‘tomboy’ to enjoy sports, or ‘act like a man’ to succeed in business?”
Fellow parenting blogger Catherine Connors wrote about this subject last month on her blog, Her Bad Mother. Like Hale, Connors was upset when her daughter Emilia called herself a tomboy:
“I hate that word, and I told her so. I told her that I didn’t like comparing her to boys. I told her that I didn’t like thinking of things as ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’ and that I certainly didn’t like any suggestion that ‘boy things’ were somehow better. I told her that there was a long history in the world of ‘girl things’ being treated as less important than ‘boy things’ and that that was a problem for everyone, and not just girls.”
The word tomboy, which asserts that only boys can be active and sporty, is far from the only unfair description of women. ATTN: has previously called out the issues of calling something “ladylike” or advising someone to “act like a girl.” This can discourage girls from being their true selves, and it also conveys the message that certain behavior is specifically feminine. Girl-like behavior is sometimes perceived as weak, and this is why boys sometimes insult each other by saying someone does something “like a girl.”
In 2014, feminine products company Always tackled the problem with this kind of phrasing with its #LikeAGirl ad campaign. In a video, adults and little girls are asked about what it means to do certain activities “like a girl.” While some of the adults duel in a silly, catlike manner when asked to “fight like a girl,” the little girls show strength and toughness during the same exercise.
In the video, a little girl is stumped when asked whether “like a girl” is a good or bad thing.
“I actually don’t know what it really … if it’s a bad thing or a good thing,” the girl says. “It sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.”
Watch the full video below:
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