Many of us experienced our “tomboy” age from early childhood into our teen years. Today, tomboy girls are no longer allowed to just be, experiencing what is an entirely natural phase. As a feminine woman who grew up embracing rowdier, boyish behavior, I, along with many others, am concerned about the unnecessary death of the tomboy.
Being a Tomboy Is, More Often Than Not, Just a Phase
Some of us just didn’t resonate with the color pink. Maybe we got pushed into ballet class and felt out of place. When I was young, I didn’t always prefer girl toys or feminine clothing. I didn’t always enjoy girls’ sports.
I couldn’t tell you which Disney Princess was my favorite because, honestly, I didn’t feel like any of them. I cared way more about getting my aggressive, youthful energy out through endless matches on the handball courts or propped up in front of my tv beating the living daylights out of my opponents in Super Smash Bros. Melee for hours on end.
Most rational parents look past this behavior, let their girls be themselves, and then eventually we grow out of the phase. Playing pretend and letting your imagination run wild is just normal childhood experimentation. For some girls, that imagination is looking up to fierce girl characters, and for others, it’s a tomboy phase. Either way, it’s simply a young girl figuring out what she can accomplish and who she can be.
Playing pretend and letting your imagination run wild is just normal childhood experimentation.
Without a doubt, there are more opportunities for young girls than young boys. Females are afforded feminine roles but are also encouraged to experiment with masculine sports, hobbies, and extracurricular activities. We’re encouraged from a young age to break out of restrictive, domestic roles that young ladies were once expected to fill. We’re told to be competitive and push boundaries, and that’s healthy. As early 20th-century feminist activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman said, girls shouldn’t be “feminine till it’s time to be.”
This “tomboy to lady” pattern is shown in classic stories with characters like Jo from Little Women or Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. They’re both amazing, wild young spirits who later grow into their feminine role through adulthood and marriage.
But now, instead of waiting to see how things will play out for a child, the new trend is to indulge in their whims. Your little girl isn’t very girly? Give her a new name, give her different pronouns, give her the clothing for the opposite sex, and let her use the other bathroom. Then, before your little girl has even finished puberty, seek medical transition.
Nowadays, Tomboy = Transgender
You may have seen that there are record numbers of children identifying as transgender. In the U.K., recent data has shown that every day, at least one child undergoes gender transition. The same study noted how increasingly common it's becoming for children to get referred to gender identity clinics.
What’s more, in the U.S. where youth self-identification as transgender is similarly on the rise, our current administration is endorsing gender reassignment surgeries, puberty blockers, and hormone therapy for minors. Top mega-corporations like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are lobbying states to allow for medical transition and claiming discrimination and child abuse if children are not allowed to transition.
But why? What’s going on?
Parents are worried about the mental health of their children who experiment in their childhood. But is that the right “mental health problem” to focus on?
A study was done to understand the anxiety and depression levels of children with Gender Identity Disorder, a diagnosable marker for people who later might transition genders. It compared children who transitioned to living as their new gender versus children who stuck with their biological sex. Their findings – that children allowed to transition were less anxious and depressed – should be taken with a grain of salt as this study has been based on short-term self-reported evidence, reporting results only two years into a 20-year study.
Children who transition are 19 times more likely to die by suicide.
So what’s the deal with parents caving to their children’s whims and allowing transition when the better approach could be to wait and see how things play out?
Parents Are Falling Prey to Politically Correct Movements
The trans movement and its allies have pushed for children to transition. Take the case of Sophia, who, in 2021, was featured in a Virginia newspaper because her parents allowed her to transition from female to male. She preferred sports and was disinterested in dolls and dresses. Interestingly enough, she also started showing interest in presenting herself more like a boy because of the character Max from the Netflix show Stranger Things, despite that character being a classic tomboy and not a male.
Sophia’s parents started letting her go by Max and “trashed” Sophia’s girl clothes, replacing them with boy clothes. As a girl who grew up more tomboy-ish, when I read through this article, I felt sorry for Sophia. I loved playing pretend and sometimes would prefer to be the male character, and it makes me wonder…if I had had parents like Sophia’s, would they have encouraged me to live as a boy?
Though not all little girls go through a tomboy phase, it’s incredibly common because pre-puberty children have very low sex hormones. Young girls and young boys don’t “feel” feminine or masculine since their sex hormones are around the same low level. Children across the board tend to have the same amounts of estrogen and testosterone regardless of which gender they are – until puberty hits and the dominant sex hormone surges.
Some girls don’t even feel their femininity until much later in their youth. I know I didn’t. Despite being a legal adult, at the age of 18, I still didn’t feel totally comfortable expressing femininity. My body didn’t feel right, partially because I was carrying a bit of extra weight and rebelled against gender norms with a bright green, pixie cut hairstyle, but also because I hadn’t had enough time to understand myself. I’m still sportier to this day than the stereotypical woman, preferring a heavy weight lifting session to a pilates or spin class.
Girls Are Paying the Price for the Death of the Tomboy
It’s somewhat ironic to me that the trans movement – which often loudly claims to subvert gender norms – actually seems to push children to transition because of sex stereotypes. How is it progressive to assume that a little girl can’t enjoy playing with trucks for a season of her childhood and that this somehow instead means that she’s actually a boy?
If so many of us girls who experienced tomboy phases grew out of it, we’re looking at a slippery slope if the trend continues for parents to encourage transition. Why do we have to erase the tomboy in exchange for things like hormonal therapies which have long-term negative effects on physical and mental health?
As expert on transgender discourse Abigail Shrier has lamented, gender dysphoria was once very rare but now there is irreversible damage being done to young girls: "The number of gender surgeries on girls and women in the U.S. quadrupled, with biological females accounting for 70% of all gender surgeries."
Sex changes can either be irreversible or incredibly damaging and difficult decisions to change. In some cases, transgender youth will fully sterilize themselves. Not only is gender-affirming medical care not effective, but up to 20% of those who transition regret their procedures in some capacity. Let’s not forget that for those who do transition, their suicide rate is 20% higher.
Gender-affirming medical care seeks to ease the pain that people who struggle with their gender identity experience. But there’s a problem when highly-impressionable young girls who express normal tomboy behaviors are being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
A prominent criticism of the term “tomboy” is that by assigning a label like “tomboy” to a girl who embraces a sporty or adventurous personality, it reinforces the stereotype that there are certain interests that are more masculine or feminine. Critics will also say that the tomboy label might make a young girl second guess her hobbies, and stifle her creativity because she’s afraid to admit she prefers softball and skateboarding to ballet, or Star Wars instead of Disney Princesses.
We need to be more patient with children. Children change their minds on the things that they love, who they want to be, and how they want to act monthly, daily, and hourly! I know my experience as a young girl expressing boyish tendencies was simply a fleeting phase.
Childhood experimentation is just part and parcel of growing up. The hormone levels that young girls have are entirely different from the hormone levels that they will grow into. I’m so grateful that my parents were patient with me and didn’t take my interests as a cue for them to block my hormones and pay for irreversible surgeries.
Whether or not you like the term "tomboy", erasing that temporary identity entirely is dangerous. We can’t lose the tomboy. If we do, we risk changing a young girl’s gender identity forever.
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