Why We Should All Stop Calling Girls "Tomboys"

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Paramount Pictures

Take the "tomboy" phrase and shove it where the sun don't shine.

Growing up, I was always that girl that played outside. I had scraped up knees from rollerblading around my neighborhood, and I was always in baggy basketball shorts and a t-shirt. One time, when I was outside playing basketball with my brother, a girl came up and asked what I was doing.

"I'm playing basketball," I said.

"Shouldn't you be playing inside instead?"

"No, I like playing outside."

"Well, you're just a tomboy," she responded huffing away.

I had never heard of that term before, but I automatically associated it with something bad. I didn't want to be a tomboy, I like being a girl that played outside and wore basketball shorts. I liked being myself.

The term "tomboy" is hardly used anymore, but when it is it's used to depict girls like my 10-year-old self: Girls that build treehouses or beats every boy on the playground in tag.

But the term "tomboy" can be very harmful to young girls. Here's why you should think twice before you call any girl a "tomboy."

It Reinforces Stereotypes


According to Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History, Tomboyishness and the idea of it has always had a relationship with queerness.

Historically, it had a distinct tie to "butchness" especially in LGBTQ communities. It became a way of identifying young girls and worrying about their sexuality. Girls that were "tomboys" meant they looked "like a lesbian" and it was recognized as a negative thing.

The term "tomboy" was essentially pointing out that a girl wasn't sufficiently "feminine" enough.

Calling someone a "tomboy" is particularly problematic in this age of transgender rights. It's a word that doesn't match how we view sexuality, gender roles, and our own bodies. This is yet another reason we need to stop labeling women that like boyish things.

It's Just Old-School


"Tomboy doesn't feel present tense to me at all. It feels retro, this affirmative way of talking about a girl who likes boy things, as if boy things were better," states an argument presented in the New York Times.

In addition to the word "tomboy" just being too retro, phrases like "throwing like a girl" or "running like a girl" are not valid insults. We need to focus on words that aren't describing gender roles, words that don't identify or even associate with genders.

Looking back on my experience as a kid, I'd gladly take that experience back. Feeling insecure about being a "tomboy" really shifted my perception on women, and what it meant to be "good." What I needed as a young girl was not to be told what I "am" but instead to be told to just be myself. Because that's the only damn thing we should hear.


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