Why do I hate it when my daughter calls herself a ‘tomboy’?
18th January 2016
The reason why I started this blog is because from when my daughter was two years old I knew she liked toys and activities, which would probably be labelled as ‘boy toys’. Although pink was always her favourite colour (its now red), Thomas the Tank engine was her favourite toy. This soon moved on to Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and pirates have stuck ever since hence ‘Charlie and the Pirates’.
However, although I knew she would never be one to play with dolls out of choice, I never once considered her a ‘tom boy’. I have never thought the term ‘tomboy’ to be a bad thing (and I still don’t) but I always associated that with girls that dressed like boys and Ava still played with girls and was always happy to wear whatever (this has changed over the last couple of years). To me a ‘tomboy’ was the Jolie-Pitt child that changed her name to John on her own and was determined to not dress as a girl, and to me that was fine but it wasn’t Ava.
It wasn’t until Ava started school that I really noticed she doesn’t gravitate towards playing with girls, and she prefers football to ballet, and playing super heroes over princesses. It was then I also noticed she had started labelling herself a ‘tom boy’, she completely moved away from liking anything overly pink or too girlie, and this is when I started taking issue. I didn’t like the way my confident, slightly away with the fairies but independent 4 year old had labelled her self. Why did she have to be labelled? It got me thinking and although we hadn’t used the term ‘tomboy’ at home, I realise we had pointed out to her that she didn’t like traditional girls clothes often saying “please wear a dress, it would be great if you could look pretty for this family occasion” (when all Ava ever wants to wear is jogging bottoms because quite frankly they are the most comfortable”) or “why don’t you continue to do ballet as lots of girls do it”.
I find myself now saying, “you are not a ‘tomboy’, you are just Ava and you are fantastic the way you are. You should be proud of being you.” This is where my issue with ‘tomboy’ labelling stems from, and I guess it is a gender equality thing deep down. I don’t like the idea that Ava is not proud to be a girl and that she has to be labelled as different because she loves Star Wars over Sofia the First.
I think a lot of it comes down to toys and how they are labelled for girls and boys. Through play, society has created girl and boy divides. I don’t know if it has always been there but I am sure Reverend Awdry didn’t create Thomas the Tank Engine just for boys and Izzy often ‘saves the day’ in Jake and the Never Land Pirates. However, toy aisles and marketing materials are divided by gender in so many stores and with so many products, that I can see why Ava does think of herself as different to the girl norm.
The other part is the view in Ava’s head that boys are stronger than girls. As we have two young girls in our house it is not something we have really talked about but this is obviously something she has already picked-up on in her first 5 years of life. I have to admit this changed with the new Star Wars and although I was reticent at first for her to go and watch The Force Awakens with her best friend (and his father), it was the best thing ever. She came away in awe of Rey and started talking about girls being ‘strong’ and ‘brave’.
I know sports has come along way in the last 5-10 years and there are more girls football teams etc. In fact, there are a few girls in the cricket team at my daughter’s school. However, I don’t think it goes far enough, why can’t girls play football at school? In my opinion, there is still a long way to go with not labelling children from a young age as ‘tomboy’ or ‘little princesses’ as these words stick and children too easily build an association with them, then use them a basis for how they develop. I am sure we have all had those parenting situations where you have said a ‘bad word’ in front of a child and it has swiftly been repeated or you’ve said “don’t be a bad”, which they have then swiftly repeated that to a younger sibling causing them to react ‘in a bad way’ to such words. Kids are like sponges they absorb all they hear around them and it is the labelling I would like to stop.
One of my new years resolution’s is not to point out to Ava she is different for not wearing dresses, and to support her more in her love of football or Rey. I am also keen to show her artists and inspirational people that didn’t stick to the normal girl / boy divide. Obviously who better to start with than the Stardust man himself, David Bowie.