Is The Word "Tomboy" Obsolete?

The new, girlier incarnation of Dora the Explorer prompts The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to examine what may be a dying breed: the tomboy.

Kristin Tillotson of the Star-Tribune argues that the word “tomboy” may be outmoded now that “girls have more athletic options than ever and are outpacing boys in college-graduation rates.” The idea that girls don’t have to dress or act like boys in order to be considered smart, strong, or adventurous is awesome, but we’re not entirely there yet. Scarlett Thomas, who plays Ramona in an upcoming stage production of “Ramona Quimby,” says “she likes Ramona, a still-beloved classic kid’s lit character, because she thinks for herself and stands her ground — traits associated with boys and tomboys, but not girly girls.” And young Girl Scout Shamira MensanTeajaha Granger says, “girls have to stay on top of their game about how they look and being clean all the time. Boys come to school smelling like anything.”

All this implies that we haven’t yet reached a world where traits like “well-dressed,” “adventurous,” “pretty,” “sporty,” and “smelly” can exist independently of each other and of gender. Even Tillotson falls prey to some gender stereotypes, as when she generalizes, “little girls love to wear pink tutus.” As far as we’re concerned, as long as well-meaning people say things like this, there will always be a place for the term tomboy, and a soft spot in our hearts for girls who prefer a cape to a tutu and don’t mind “smelling like anything.” These girls aren’t necessarily smarter, cooler, or stronger than girls who wear tiaras and lip gloss, but for now they might have to be braver, because, as another Girl Scout said, boys still expect girls to “to have a Coke-bottle shape and wear cute clothes and makeup.”

“Ramona Quimby” director Clinton Turner Davis thinks “it would be interesting to poll some of the female leaders of our time — Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice — and find out how many of them identified as tomboys.” We took a similar poll of the Jezebel staff, and here are our results: Anna (H.) and Hortense were both total tomboys. Sadie “loved dolls and stuff, but I was very rambunctious, always climbing trees, skinning my knees, very grubby and kinda feral, too!” Dodai “had a phase where i was all about bugs and karate, but I never really thought of it as boyish.” Intern Katy “was really interested in karate and boxing, but like Dodai, I didn’t think it was ‘boyish.'” Margaret says, “I don’t know if having a brother very close in age influenced how I played, but I didn’t pick up that you weren’t supposed to wear a frilly dress AND play with He-Man figures in the mud until I was older.” And while I was really into clothes, I also enjoyed X-Men, Creepy Crawlers, and fighting. If we’re any indication, it looks like it’s possible to combine “boy stuff” and “girl stuff” into a relatively happy childhood. What about you? Were you more about frills, more about bugs and karate, or all about both?

Tomboys In Tutus [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

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