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A tomboy is a female-identified person who behaves according to the gender role of a male. This can include various things:

  • Wearing non-feminine clothes.
  • Enjoying boys’ games, interests and activities, e.g. running, jumping, climbing trees, and sports like football and baseball.
  • Preferring school subjects often considered to be the domain of boys, e.g. maths, and science.

Some contribute, and some tomboys themselves think, the substantial cause of their inclination is spending their childhood and/or adolescence in an environment where the male presence or action predominates, and having therefore a lack of female role models. For example,

  • a family with:
    • more than 2 brothers and 1 sister or fewer, or
    • a single father
  • a school mostly of boys, hence the tomboy befriends few girls.

However, this post hoc hypothesis is challenged by some tomboys’ personal experiences and by modern research that suggests that tomboyishness is heavily influenced by genetic and prenatal factors. [1]

Historically tomboys were defined by both behaviour and wearing boys’ clothing. In recent times, as the use of “traditional” clothing such as dresses, blouses and skirts steadily declines among females, the distinction has become more and more one of behaviour. A general increase in the popularity of woman’s sporting events, (see Title IX), and other activities that were traditionally male-dominated is today lessening the impact of “tomboy” as a pejorative.

Childhood genders are handled somewhat differently for tomboys and ‘sissy’ or girlish boys. Tomboyism generally enjoys much more social approval and support than femininity in young males. However, gender scholar Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam has noted that while tomboyism is often tolerated or even encouraged in young girls, older girls and adolescents who display masculine traits are often repressed and punished as well.

Famous tomboys in fiction include Jo March from Little Women and Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Occasionally, someone who identified as a tomboy while growing up might come to identify as a trans man, transsexual, transgender, butch or boi. There is also a possibility that a tomboy will later be diagnosed with an intersexed condition, though not all people with such conditions who were raised as and/or identify as girls will exhibit tomboyish tendencies.