Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where is the Girl in TomBoy?

Another post on gender issues, it is that time for me in parenting...I've heard a word that I thought was long dead a few weeks ago:  "TomBoy"..Suddenly, I've heard girls describe themselves and others using this word. Girly-Girl has been around and is used frequently, but tomboy, I thought. had seen its demise, I was wrong. I've heard it from three different children, in different settings  I like neither of these words, because they are an attempt to put a developing person into a box, a category, before they are done exploring who they are. It limits them and changes people's expectations.

The first time I heard the word tomboy was from a girl describing herself.  It made me pause.  Previous to this, I had considered this child to be very bright, active, with a tendency to consider rules to be suggestions rather than mandates. I was taken aback to hear such an old fashioned term applied to someone whom I considered to be quite a modern girl.  Another parent had described her as "a little wild", which pretty much fit, but I found that with a proper adult attitude the rules would be followed.  (She doesn't come by as much these days...I wonder why?)  After not seeing her for a bit, my family attended a school event where some of this girl's musical  accomplishments were showcased.  I thought it very interesting that the self-described tomboy was up on stage wearing a muli-tiered, bright, pink sparkle dress, about as girly-girl as you can get.  I was glad to see that she didn't feel trapped in the tomboy box she had drawn for herself.

The next time I heard the term it was from the girl next door, who was plopped down in "the red chair" by the window, sitting as one should in the red chair, with her legs over one arm and her back leaning on the other.  She used the word tomboy to describe another girl, and she, knowing me, back-pedaled and said, "I know you don't like the term."  I don't recall telling her that, but she has heard my opinions on labeling people in other ways. I talked to her about it for a minute,  about how often a girl could do something considered girly-girl one moment and do something that could be called tomboy behavior the next, and suggested that it all be considered normal girl behavior and let girls paint their toenails with little flowers and climb trees and not judge them (she paints her toenails and climbs trees).

The third time I heard the T word was from my own daughter describing another girl in her class. At this point I thought I had heard it enough. What is it about being on the outer edge of womanhood that makes people so judgmental? There is no girl in TOMBOY, it is a boy's name paired with the word "boy".  It is about a girl's behavior, and noting that it is less feminine than some arbitrary standard.  It is often used as a negative term, especially as a girl grows older.  If we want women to progress and be accepted by society in all the roles that they can possibly play, it is time to stop judging them by a long out of date standard. If they want to collect bugs, dig in the dirt, play football at recess, or whatever other behaviors that were once considered masculine in the dark, old, repressive days of the mid- 20th century, let them and  don't judge them.  Ask to see their collection, the soil horizons, or which position they play, next week they may dye their hair three different colors and wear skirts everyday and the following week they may take their bikes over jumps and build a tree fort.  It's okay, its all girl stuff.

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