Monday, February 24, 2014

Did You Just Call My Kid a Tomboy?

Did You Just Call My Kid a Tomboy?
My twin daughters just turned 7. Their interests range from My Little Pony to digging in dirt to shooting Nerf guns to engaging in planned physical warfare with one asking the other, “Hey, do you want to battle?” They prefer stuffed animals over dolls (actually, they hate dolls), and we hosted a Lego Legends of Chima party for their birthday.

Ruthie, especially, gravitates more toward activities that traditionally have been considered “boy” interests. Her favorite colors are blue and red, her best friends are boys, and most days she prefers to play Legends of Chima or TMNT at recess. She avoids skirts and dresses like the plague. As a toddler, she wore Lightening McQueen and Thomas the Train t-shirts. I’ll admit, in the early years I worried about her love of all things “boy.” Even more so when she told me she wanted to be a one.

But I soon traded those worries for reality. I was blessed with a smart and sweet little girl with a variety of interests who prefers the toys and clothes geared toward boys over the pink and purple frills that delight so many girls. I think that's awesome. And if it makes her happy, who really cares?

That’s why I was was a tad shocked and even a little offended when a classmate’s mother asked, “Is she a tomboy?”

Some part of me - the Ideal Reality part - thought gender roles had evolved beyond that term. I thought most people believed that girls have every right to engage in activities all along the gender spectrum. I thought the label “tomboy” had fallen out of favor. Apparently not. Yet, when I think about it, I recall all the times I tried to find red or blue girls clothes among the cotton candy pinks and purples that still dominate the girls' department. Or the challenges I've had in find a dressy outfit that wasn't a dress. Mission impossible unless I'm willing to pay some big bucks. Toys for girls? Dolls, makeup, jewelry kits. (Although Nerf is stepping up its game with the Rebel series. But even those weapons are pink and purple.)

According to The Grammarphobia Blog, the word tomboy popped up around 1553 as a term to describe a “rude or boisterous” boy. Twenty-five years later, tomboy defined a bold or immodest woman, and 15 years after that it was “applied to a girl who acted like a spirited or boisterous boy,” which is the meaning used today.  There’s no denying that both of my girls can be spirited and boisterous. Most girls can. As can most boys.

Look up “tomboy” on, and synonyms include “butch,” “lesbian” and “dyke.” Really? Seriously?

Not everyone views the word with a negative connotation. Articles such as “How to Be a Tomboy,” offer step-by-step guidance, and there are entire fashion sites and blogs that focus on “tomboy” style.

I do know this: My daughter thinks it has a negative connotation. Every time someone says the word, or applies it to her, she gets an odd look on her face. Like she’s done something wrong. It’s sad. She just wants to like what she likes and be happy. She’s 7, and she doesn't understand society and it’s desire to pigeon-hole people and guide their interests based on outdated thinking. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she stays engaged in the things she genuinely enjoys. Like I tell her when she asks me if I like something she's interested in, “It doesn't matter if I like it. If you like it and it makes you happy, that’s what counts.”

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

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