I have a two-year-old daughter who loves climbing. We go to a kids’ climbing gym, and she hooks into an auto-belay system and scrambles to the top of a 35-foot wall. Her favorite part is after she rings the bell when she jumps out from the wall and floats back down on the rope. It’s incredible to watch. It’s also scary to realize your daughter is fearless.
We were at the gym the other day and another parent said, “wow, she’s amazing, she’s such a tomboy.”
I think I said, “thank you,” in reply, but my brain was already processing the compliment to understand why it seemed wrong.
I grew up with friends who were unabashed tomboys and so my first instinct was delight. Tomboys are great. But there’s still this nagging feeling.
The label comes with an embedded assumption that I just hate: that girls who like sports or physical activities (besides dance) aren’t real girls. They get a classification that identifies them as outsiders for their gender.
“Tomboy” by definition is not normal. Not that that’s bad either. But aren’t we now at a place where girls can be sporty and still well inside the norm? Didn’t Title IX break that barrier down already? Women rock climbers are awe-inspiring. And at the kids’ gym we go to, the girls outnumber the boys at least 2-to-1 — and they’re generally better climbers, too.
The parent who made the compliment is a woman and her daughter is also a climber just a year or two older than mine and slightly more timid. So the statement probably says more about the generation of the speaker than anything else.
I’m coming to believe that the term “tomboy” is outdated and unconstructive. My daughter likes cars, dolls, climbing, toy kitchens, throwing balls, dressing up like a princess, and going fast on her pedal-less bike. What label covers that? How about “bad ass girl”?
What do you think? Is “tomboy” good, bad, or indifferent?
About Patrick Walsh
I’m perpetually curious and interested in topics including human behavior, high performing teams, science, computers, security, privacy, and the law. I’m also the CEO of IronCore Labs, a data privacy platform that gives customers (businesses and consumers) control of their data.