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Feminist Parenting: Explaining old vocabulary

I am proud to say that I was a tomboy when I was growing up. I ran around, rode my bike, climbed trees, played in the mud, played sports...all the things one might think about when you think of a tomboy. The problem is that the term tomboy is outdated.

Back in the early 1980s the distinction between girly girls and tomboys was fairly rigid. At least it was to me. I played with the boys during recess and in trying to hang with them, I spent a lot of energy trying to prove that I wasn't like the other girls. Thus, I know what it means to be "one of the boys" and the games one plays to get there...including fooling yourself. When I was forced to wear dresses, I couldn't play the way I wanted. This drove home the distinction to me: Wear a dress, act like a girl; Wear jeans, act like a boy.

But today...I see not just my daughter, but many girls running, jumping, climbing and being active and sporty one minute, then they are like Wonder Woman (in reverse), magically turning into girly girls in dresses and primping their ponytails. I have told my daughter many times that she lives in an amazing time where this can happen. I tell her, she doesn't have to choose.

She has chosen to be girly, but not uber-girly. She loves her dresses, skirts, etc., but she also loves playing soccer, gymnastics and climbing.

But last week she came home from school saying that a friend called her a tomboy. "What's a tomboy?" she asked at dinner. BIG SIGH...Her dad looked at me.

I explained that it was something, back when mommy was a little girl, people use to call girls who liked to play sports, climb trees and just run around. I also explained that for me, I liked the word, that it wasn't a bad word. I could see she was hurt to be called a boy for her athletic prowess. I then tried to explain that we don't need to use that term anymore since all girls can play sports and still wear dresses. Then she rolled her eyes...that's when I know I'm covering something again.

I think she got it.

She then reported that her friend then said, "Oh, you're not a tomboy, you're a tomGIRL!"

Perhaps her friend was merely trying to find a term to tell the kid that she's an athlete and admires her abilities. I hope so. Even thou I remember being gender-policed at that age, it still amazes me when it happens to the kid. She's not going to stop being a total girly athlete, but neither is the gender police. Hopefully I can build her up so high that when people try to knock her down, she still stands tall.

This month is Latino Book Month. To celebrate, I'm giving away three books to one reader. To enter, just comment on any May 2010 post by May 31, 2010. I'm too busy to make you jump thru hoops. Comment!


Shannon Drury said…
Interesting! I'm a Gen X child too, whose feminist mom dressed her in gender neutral clothes UNTIL..... junior high loomed and "fitting in" became more important than making a political statement. But by then it was too late, and I was a skirt-eschewer for life.

I don't know that things were more rigid then, though. I remember shopping for my firstborn, going slowly mad as I searched for something without a dog or firetruck on it. Where were the yellows and greens of my youth? I encounter the same problem with my daughter when I look for a pair of sneakers that aren't pink.
Veronica said…
Oh for gender neutral stuff is impossible these days. I meant that I think that girls being athletic is seen as something good, something so common, that being athletic isn't a one-way ticket to tomboy-ville.

I find it hard to find any sneakers without a TV character on it! We get past Dora and it's all Disney/Nickelodeon characters. What's next CW characters?

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