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This article is about the type of girl. For other uses, see Tomboy (disambiguation).
The Tomboy by John George Brown, 1873

A tomboy is a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors considered typical of a boy,[1][2] including wearing masculine clothing and engaging in games and activities that are physical in nature and are considered in many cultures to be the domain of boys.[2] Tomboy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), "has been connected with connotations of rudeness and impropriety" throughout its use.[3] The OED lists its first use in 1592,[3] but an earlier use is recorded in Ralph Roister Doister, which is believed to date from 1553 and was published in 1567.

History and society[edit]

Gender scholar Judith Halberstam states that while the defying of gender roles is often tolerated in young girls, adolescent girls who display masculine traits are often repressed or punished.[4] However, the ubiquity of traditionally female clothing, such as dresses, blouses and skirts, has declined among the Western world where it is generally no longer considered a male trait if such clothing is not worn by girls and women. An increase in the popularity of women's sporting events (see Title IX) and other activities that were traditionally male-dominated has broadened tolerance and lessened the impact of tomboy as a pejorative term.[2]

Throughout history, there has been a perceived correlation between tomboyishness and lesbianism.[3][5] For instance, Hollywood films would stereotype the adult tomboy as a "predatory butch dyke".[5] Lynne Yamaguchi and Karen Barber, editors of Tomboys!, argue that "tomboyhood is much more than a phase for many lesbians," it "seems to remain a part of the foundation of who we are as adults".[3][6] Many contributors to Tomboys! linked their self-identification as tomboys and lesbians to both labels positioning them outside "cultural and gender boundaries".[3] However, while some tomboys later reveal a lesbian identity in their adolescent or adult years, behavior typical of boys but displayed by girls is not a true indicator of one's sexual orientation.[7]

General studies[edit]

There have been few studies of the causality of women's behavior and interests, when they do not match the female gender role. One report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children suggests that preschool girls engaging in "masculine-typical" gender-role behavior, such as playing with toys typically preferred by boys, is influenced by genetic and prenatal factors.[8] Tomboys have also been noted to demonstrate a stronger interest in science and technology.[2]


In many fictional stories, giving a female child character the attributes of a tomboy allowed cultural norms to be superseded so that the fictional girl's stronger will and more independent mind could be regarded affectionately, her spirit celebrated and her membership of the group accepted. Famous fictional tomboys include the character of "George" (Georgina) in Enid Blyton's series The Famous Five, said by the author to be modeled on herself; the character of George in the Nancy Drew mystery fiction series; Scout Finch in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird; Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy, Arya Stark in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series, and Lyra Belacqua in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tomboy in the Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c d Who Are Tomboys and Why Should We Study Them?, SpringerLink, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Volume 31, Number 4
  3. ^ a b c d e Brown, Jayne Relaford (1999). "Tomboy". In B. Zimmerman. Encyclopedia of Lesbian Histories and Cultures. Routledge. pp. 771–772. ISBN 0815319207. Retrieved 21 August 2012. The word [tomboy] also has a history of sexual, even lesbian, connotations. [ ... ] The connection between tomboyism and lesbianism continued, in a more positive way, as a frequent theme in twentieth-century lesbian literature and nonfiction coming out stories. 
  4. ^ Halberstam, Judith: Female Masculinity, Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.
  5. ^ a b Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female Masculinity. Duke University Press. pp. 193–196. ISBN 0822322439. Hollywood film offers us a vision of the adult tomboy as the predatory butch dyke: in this particular category, we find some of the best and worst of Hollywood stereotyping. 
  6. ^ Yamaguchi, Lynne and Karen Barber, ed. (1995). Tomboys! Tales of Dyke Derring-Do. Los Angeles: Alysson. 
  7. ^ Gabriel Phillips and Ray Over (1995). "Differences between heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women in recalled childhood experiences". Archives of Sexual Behavior 24 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1007/BF01541985. 
  8. ^ Hines, Melissa; Golombok, Susan; Rust, John; Johnston, Katie J.; Golding, Jean; Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team (1 November 2002). "Testosterone during Pregnancy and Gender Role Behavior of Preschool Children: A Longitudinal, Population Study". Child Development 73 (6): 1678–1687. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00498. 

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