Outdated Stereotype: the Tomboy

John George Brown - The Tomboy
John George Brown – The Tomboy

Were you the little girl who preferred climbing trees to having tea parties with your dolls? Were you the teenager who was more comfortable in jeans and a motorcycle jacket than a dress and party shoes? Would your little girl rather search for bugs in the backyard than play with your makeup and jewelry?

Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries define a tomboy as a girl who enjoys things that may be rough or noisy and that “people think are more suited to boys”. I’d like to know in the year 2015: just who are these people?

On October 15th The NY Times published an article by Marisa Meltzer called “Where Have All the Tomboys Gone?” that prompted a wave of reactions to the press and on social media. The article discussed Liz Prince’s memoir called Tomboy (published in 2014 by Zest Books and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and scrutinized the topic in the light of modern women’s perspective.

An October 19th article by VALERIYA SAFRONOVA in the NY Times discussed women’s reactions to the word ‘tomboy’. Her piece, “Why Can’t We Just Let Girls Be Girls?”, includes comments such as:

I want my daughter to feel free to explore the ranges of her gender, including expressions of femininity, without feeling she has to renounce those things in order to be adventurous, free, brilliant and strong.

I was a tree-climbing, sporty, trouser-wearing, tough cookie of a girl. I now refuse to acknowledge the term “tomboy,” as it is a label that does not accept that there was nothing boyish about my behavior. I was an active girl who grew up to be an active woman.

A writer friend of mine who has spent many years in women’s educational residential programs has seen every “personality type” of woman up close. She remarked, “It seems that a girl should be allowed to find her unique lifestyle in order to be able to express her creativity and intelligence in a way that is most natural to her. To be healthy, we really need to feel that we can be who we really are. I think that’s why we gravitate toward certain friends: we feel we can really be ourselves with them. A young girl may spontaneously express more interest in a toy rocket than in a doll, or she may want her doll to be an astronaut. We have women astronauts, scientists, engineers, and mathematicians—these are fields which traditionally have been dominated by men. Men no longer need to be hunters; women no longer need to be tied to domestic duties. There is so much possible now with technological advances and I think society is advancing too if the word ‘tomboy’ is becoming obsolete.”

Clinical observations about tomboys have also been made. A 2008 article in Psychology Today reported:

Prenatal hormones may also play a role. Female babies exposed to higher levels of prenatal testosterone exhibit more “masculine-typical” behaviors, playing more with male-typical toys like trucks, race cars, and guns, and choosing boys as friends, according to a study led by Melissa Hines, a psychologist at City University, London. Because hormones influence basic processes of brain development, they exert permanent influences on behavior. On the flip side, mothers with low testosterone in pregnancy tend to have more feminine daughters, whose play often involves dolls, tea sets, and makeup. Most likely, tomboyism is the result of a complex interplay of genetics, prenatal hormonal influences, socialization, unconscious choice, and family structure.

A January 8th 2013 post on Psychology Today by family therapist and author Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., said that social identity is an important way that girls define themselves to themselves and to their peers. Dr. Wedge believes that friendships can more easily develop when a girl is aligned with a type including ones like tomboys, girlie-girls, and (video) gamers. A girl who feels authentic, true to herself, and is not as motivated to fit an image projected by family, schoolmates, or society may be intuiting a deeper truth in her life. She may appear to have traits of one or more type or of no type at all.

It is interesting to note that hundreds of thousands of students in schools around the world have already participated in a meditation program that, according to published research and school reports, increases the students’ self-worth and self-concept. The Transcendental Meditation technique allows us to dive within, where we effortlessly experiences deeper levels of our being—more expansive and free from the limitations of self-doubt, stress and fatigue. A girl who learned TM at the age of ten expressed how easy and profound it was for her: “I felt like I was riding a bicycle—like I’d turned the pedals a few times and then suddenly taken off with a frictionless momentum, turning deep inside myself.”

Studies have shown the TM practice allows meditators to perceive their “actual self” as significantly closer to their “ideal self.” The Transcendental Meditation technique provides such deep rest that it normalizes the nervous system so a girl or woman can be who she is out of strength and conviction rather than due to stress and abnormalities in blood chemistry. The TM practice enlivens full brain capacity so a person can truly express their full potential, rather than being a product of an undeveloped brain. A strong sense of self withstands social dictates—it is naturally resistant to peer-pressure, advertisements, and unhealthy messages from TV, video games, and movies. An expanded sense of self identity allows for stability within flexibility: a girl can play soccer during the day and dress to the nines for her date that night.

Girls and women are vulnerable to the need to try on different personas in the hopes of being accepted or popular. But with growing expression of their natural potential and a deep sense of self, they can be who they are instead of whom they think people will like best. It takes all different women—a full spectrum—to fulfill society, from the warrior in the marines to the hostess of the next society ball. Five different fingers on the hand give it its grip.

About the Author

Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals, a division of TM for Women in the USA

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