Growing up some girls were known as “tomboys.” Unlike the connotations around the word “sissy,” there seemed nothing bad about the label. It referred to girls who liked to climb, run, do sports and generally play anything except dolls. Looking back at my elementary school days, I realize that the majority of the girls in my grades before puberty were all tomboys.

I don’t know if it was because we were in Oregon or because of the specific nature of my little school, but the most admired girls were very athletic. Being “cute” or “pretty” really didn’t seem to make any difference in popularity. We might have to wear skirts and dresses at school, but that didn’t stop our activities. The only hitch I had was when I transferred in second grade to this new school. At the old one we hung upside down without pause. At the new one I was quickly informed that I needed to wear shorts under my dress to do the same stunt.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, my friends early on were all boys and I loved dressing up as seen above in my father’s necktie and my cowboy hat and gun. In grade school I made friends with girls, but even in fifth grade my best friend and I spent a long time debating whether Annie Oakley or Dale Evans was our idol. We could still imagine ourselves riding into the sunset with either one.

Seventh grade seemed to be the demarcation line for becoming “ladylike.” We went to dancing school, learned how to follow, not lead, how to wear gloves and to be “demure.” It seemed agreed that it was time to put our “tomboy” self behind us. Most of us did.

How does it go for tomboys today?

29 thoughts on ““Tomboys?”

  1. I had little or no experience of tomboys in the London of my childhood. Most girls my own age were obsessed with dolls, and rarely joined in our rougher games of ‘War’. By the time I went to secondary school aged 11, both sexes had started to ‘notice’ each other, and there was definitely no tomboy activity to be seen. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. That was me. I even wanted to be a boy until my teens – boys seemed to have more fun. I hated having frills on my clothes and bows in my hair; I always managed to lose those at school somewhere.

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  3. I was definitely a tomboy. Like you, I can not think of many people in our mountain community that were ultra feminine. We all ran about barefoot, climbing trees, fishing, catching crawl-dads, etc. I do recall the first time someone made fun of me. I wore white ankle socks with my patent leather shoes to school and she told all the girls at school that everyone ‘knew’ you wore nylons with shoes like that. (I would still not wear nylons for years to come).

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  4. I grew up in rural New England, two brothers, on a backroad with only more boys. I was definitely a tomboy, as were most of the other girls in my class I think. We did, as Maggie above, all the things the boys were doing, living in barefoot, climbing trees, fishing, we played War and Cowboys and Indians, we whittled, built tree houses, made spears for our King Arthur battles, had epic baseball games. We played all the same games on the playground at school with the exception that most of the time the boys did not play jump rope.


    1. I forgot about bare feet. One mother startled me by insisting I put on shoes to come indoors. How odd I thought. I definitely whittled with my precious Camp Fire Girls knife. For some reason we did not integrate our team games on the playground, nor the events on field day.


  5. I had two brothers and most of time I was a tomboy. I climbed, rough housed, and got dirty with the best of them. I wasn’t into the doll thing until I got Barbie. Then I was constantly building her furniture and making her clothes,


  6. If “tomboys” were tomcats,
    They wouldn’t meow —
    They’d bark like a dog
    Or moo like a cow,
    Depending on whether
    They felt pug-nacious or moo-dy.
    But you were no dog or even a cow —
    You were a cowgirl cutie!


  7. Whew! Lots of thoughts on this subject. I apologize in advance.

    I realize that your reference to tomboy is from your early days, but my years as an elementary teacher in grades 2-6 give me a unique perspective. First, I agree that tomboy and sissy have two totally different connotations. For a male, particularly if you thought you were masculine, being called a sissy was the ultimate humiliation. I suspect that it might cause more shame for the typical guy than a girl.

    There are so many gender double standards in society. For example, men seem to get a pass about turning gray and losing their hair. (I’m going through this now 😂), but it seems that women somehow face more shame for that. That seems ridiculous and unfair when you think about it.

    I shouldn’t stereotype the kids I taught, but I’m going to do it anyway.😉 Second grade and third-grade girls were a dream compared to boys of the same age. Everything you hear about girls maturing faster is true. I often laughed to myself when I’d see boys of that age falling out of their seats or making inadvertent noises such as pretending they were airplanes with their hands. I didn’t get angry at them because they weren’t doing it on purpose.

    On the other hand, I’d take a sixth-grade boy over a sixth-grade girl any day of the week. The boys are finally settled down by that age and pleasant to be around. Some girls (plenty were not this way) were so damn mean at that age, particularly to one another.

    Popularity starts at a fairly early age. Even by second and third grades, they are starting to create standards of popularity. As you stated, athletic kids seemed to have the inside track. Looks and outgoingness were also huge factors. (Picture your typical cheerleader here.) By fifth and sixth grade, kids have already established popularity hierarchies. This was something I always tried to breakdown because I wanted them to learn that people will like and accept them for being themselves and not having to live to somebody else’s artificially created standards. I used less complex words, but you get the point.


    1. I truly appreciate your thoughtful answer derived “from the trenches” as it were, especially since your experience is much more recent than my own. I have often observed the mean girls middle school phenomenon and shuddered at it. My granddaughter is home schooled but says she much prefers middle school boys to middle school girls she meets in Sunday school.


  8. I cannot answer your question about Tom boys, Elizabeth, as I was a girlie girl. I loved dolls and teddy bears, and I still do. My collection is quite extensive now. I would not wear pants, but insisted on dresses, usually frilly ones and to this day, I wear dresses and pants that are pink and covered in flowers.


  9. I wonder how it goes for tomboys today. We both had similar upbringings, to the point that 7th grade was really the switchover. Oh, the dance classes. It was called Cotillion. I had to learn how to wear stockings. Do you remember when stockings came wrapped in tissue and in a box? They were shaped like legs and feet. And of course there were two as pantyhose had not yet come into being. Being a tomboy was much more fun.


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