What is a tomboy in the 21st century? The definition of a tomboy has always (much to the dismay of 3rd wave feminism) defined women based on how similar they are to men, rather than how different they are as women. The Oxford Dictionary identifies a tomboy as “girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys”, the Meriam Webster dictionary defines a tomboy as “a girl who behaves in a manner usually considered boyish”, and the Urban Dictionary (with surprising tameness) defines a tomboy as “A chick that usually acts like a guy”. Obviously, these outdated definitions do discredit to tomboys and women in general by failing to identify what aspects of women are considered feminine or masculine. But to the modern young adult, the lines are more blurred than ever before.
Within the last five years (at least), the typical “feminine” image are not of women bound mindlessly by dresses, tabloids, television, nor pop “idols” such as Bieber. They are instead the revelations of decades of social rebellion, defined by weakening gender roles, new age digital multimedia, and the explosion of sexual and romantic independence and visibility. It’s hard to find a 21st century woman who has never enjoyed either wearing pants, playing video games, or listening to distorted guitars (P!nk, Fall Out Boy, and All Time Low all spring to mind).
So what of masculinity? While the “jock” and “nerd” stereotypes still exist both in modern media and modern society, finding qualities considerably masculine without resorting to cheap stereotypes remains just as elusive as defining femininity. Bravery? Us women utilise bravery in all facets of life, be it in public speaking, the occasional bug (this writer will not admit to fear in public, but has panicked in the presence of a spider on more than one occasion), or just going out at night-time from terrors best left unmentioned. Aggression? Never mind, I can hear your chuckling from the desk I’m writing this article on.
The only divides found between “masculine” and “feminine” can be found in stereotypes derived from (weakening) societal pressure; man’s stoic “strength” versus feminine emotion. Even that is a poor judgement in masculinity and femininity, as while society still pressures men to mask their emotion, this line is being blurred as anyone who has been revealed as a “happy” or a “sad” drunk can attest. Furthermore, emotional outbursts are actually deemed unacceptable in men due to values of professionalism in a corporate space, not gender in itself, with more and more women finding themselves under the same corporate pressures as the gender gap closes (too slowly, but that’s outside the scope of this article).
So what of tomboy-ism? As a transgender (and previously non-binary) member of our community, it’s impossible to gauge whether the tomboy is relevant. On one hand, it saved me from a lifetime of questioning my own gender, as my shift from gender-fluid bi-gender to full-on femme was fraught with “but I don’t like floral print nor do I cry easily, how can I be a girl?”. Identifying as a tomboy eased that transition when my gender suddenly stopped sliding last year. But at the same time, how can I identify with a word based on sexist misconceptions of who I am, with no concrete list of factors or attributes to my identity? It’s a word I clutched onto deeply in the early stages of transition, but now, I think I’m ready to let it go. Are you?
Maxwelle-Jane is a second semester B Business (ABL)/B Laws student on Parramatta campus. She is currently president of the Western Sydney Queer Collective in Parramatta and is a current member of the Western Sydney Women’s Collective