We were 5,000 feet above sea level in the rough, woody terrain over looking the mountainous parts of Southern California. It was January, the month when the first of the four TCK retreats would be hosted this year. It was 12°C outside and the cold did not stop us from going to play “Capture The Flag” and considering the random pieces of wood and thorny bushes jutting from the ground, this was a dangerous place to be playing the game. We divided ourselves up based on our childhood upbringing, Team City Kids versus Team Village Kids and as a village girl, I did not want to let my team down. Being my competitive self, I took some hard landings and slightly sprained my neck. I (unintentionally) tackled a guy twice and he was put in my team’s “jail” because of my defense. I broke a nail, dirtied my clothes, ran into a thorn bush, and my hands had cuts and bruises that I didn’t even realize I had until after the fact. Not gonna lie, I felt like a badass. And when I reflect upon this moment, I find that this young adult depiction of myself is not far removed from how I was as a child.
The word ‘tomboy’ was stitched onto the fabric of my young, adolescent girlhood. It was a tag to represent me as the girl who preferred gym shorts and a simple T-shirt to the dresses Dad used to make me wear every time I went to church. It was a label to separate me from the girly girls, the ones who would rather not dig the dirt for caterpillars and other critters, the girls who found the idea of getting rough repulsive. I didn’t understand why they would feel that way. And in my immaturity, I thought they were dumb because of it when in reality, we were both just different girls. They fit the mold for stereotypical femininity quite well while many considered my existence to be a head nod to masculinity.
Childhood memories call to mind walking out on the asphalt when it was my turn for a go at kickball, my mere presence being the catalyst that drove the boys to scatter themselves further on the outfield as “oh, she’s good” was exchanged among a few of them. I was a girl with the unwavering belief that if guys could do something, girls could too. No one in particular drove me to believe this way and this point in my life, I was not exposed to feminists nor did I know that the term even existed. But I was very aware of the loud expectation for girls to be delicate, gentle, and never to beat a boy at sports. Till this day, I feel the slightest tinge of guilt whenever I beat a guy at any game. But I digress.Growing older eventually had me growing out of my childhood and my taste clothes and accessories evolved along with me. Nowadays, my love for sneakers runs neck and neck with my love for heels and I am fan of floral print, lace, and dresses, especially if they twirl and bonus points if they have pockets in them. But the presence of these elements of stereotypical femininity in my life do not extinguish my “tomboyish” childhood spirit that still lives on. They coexist and are emphasized wherever they desire to be emphasized. My rough, competitive side does not take away from any aspect of my existence as a woman; it only adds to it.
There is something to be said about this word “tomboy,” a word that has been used in my life as a qualifier of my perceived boyishness and, more often than not, a word that has been used to affirm that I am better than other girls because of my demonstration of male gender roles. It has been used to distinguish myself from the “girly girls,” the ones easily perceived to be weaklings because they do not perform any male gender roles.
In many cases, “tomboy” exists as the opposite of phrases like “you play like a girl,” a way in which girlhood is used as insult to jab at the boys who do not behave masculinely. After all, what we call boyishness leaves no room for softness and non-athleticism and what we call girlishness leaves no room for roughness and aggressive athleticism. And yet, these characteristics of roughness and softness, athleticism and the lack thereof all have the capacity to exist in both boys and girls because those are human characteristics capable of being demonstrated in either sex.
Perhaps we have taken the easy way out, choosing tired stereotypes to assign “girlhood” instead of considering that the spectrum of girlhood stretches further than perceived frailness, docility, and gentleness. Perhaps girls who behave roughly and competitively are not performing boyhood. Rather, they are demonstrating that girlhood goes beyond the boundaries that society has built around this concept. I was not a “better” girl because I was not “girly.” And the girl who overtly demonstrates female gender roles is not a weakling. And that guy who cannot throw a ball, run, or lift to save his life does not “play like a girl.” He simply lacks athletic ability in those areas.I long for the day when “tomboy” is put rest and playing like a girl is no longer an insult. Until then, here’s to the girls, every single one of them. Here’s to the competitive, athletic, and aggressive young girl. Here’s to the girl that sees sports as an opportunity to simply have fun and here’s to the girl with a sweet disposition. Here’s to the girl who fits in some of these categories. Here’s to the girl who fit in none of them at all. Whatever girl she may be, may she thrive in her girlhood and may she do so wholly and unapologetically.
What are your thoughts, opinions, or observations surrounding the word “tomboy?” Where you ever called that growing up?