To be a Tomboy


Is this a label that is still used to describe a girl who isn’t ‘girly’ enough?


There are many definitions of the word and arguments about whether it is negative or positive.


The Oxford English Dictionary says Tomboy “has been connected with connotations of rudeness and impropriety” throughout its use.

It dates the first use of the term in 1592.

In 19th century American culture the word came to refer to a specific code of conduct that allowed young girls to exercise, wear “sensible clothing’ and eat a ‘wholesome diet’

This led to becoming an alternative to the traditional feminine code of conduct that had limited women’s physical movement.

It is defined by Broody as

A girl who dresses and sometimes behaves the way boys are expected to, often into more masculine things like ‘stronger’ sports, computers or cars.  Stereotypically wears jeans, baseball caps and denim vests/jackets.


This definition is rapidly losing its place in modern society as masculine clothing is losing its ties to masculinity and girls increasingly enter into ‘stronger’ sports.

In studies in 1980, research showed that in a group of 4-9-year-old girls (identified as tomboys by their parents) were more similar to their brothers than to their sisters in activity preferences. Even though the group still liked feminine activities.


There is a clear addition of masculinity and not a deletion of femininity that distinguishes tomboy from non-tomboy girls.

Middle childhood is when tomboy levels are at their highest.  When asked, tomboys about what is meant to them, they seldom mentioned sexual aspects and rather a preference for the interests and activities culture assigns to boys.  Being a tomboy gives flexibility and more options.  Tomboys unlike boys acting in a nonconformist way and labelled as ‘sissy’, girls can be accepted as tomboys


They are less stigmatised.


Masculinity grants power and some kind of prestige in a way that girly behaviour does not in a boy.

The majority of tomboys do grow up to be straight women and are not linked to lesbians.