You do not have to be a sports fan to recognize the impact females have had on the world of sports. Reading a newspaper, listening to a radio or watching television, your attention will be directed to the talents of females in sports at every level — junior and senior high school, college and Olympic development meets.
Just this past little league baseball season, many of us were inspired and thrilled to watch a thirteen year old girl outshine the boys in the playoff games. In the meantime, females are running fast in track meets, hitting and throwing baseballs hard, shooting basketballs well and even dunking in games. What many of you are seeing for the first time, athletic females must remember the phenomenon is not new for those of us that played in the school yards, gymnasiums, streets and playgrounds in the past. As more and more thought was given to such behavior, I started to think quite a lot about females I grew up with who did many of the things boys and young males used to do. I have no doubt some of you can relate to the “tomboy” who was found in most neighborhoods, back in the day.
So, you are lost when it comes to the concept of the tomboy. If that is the case, then you are not “old school” and were not around in what I often times refer to as the “golden years.” You should know a tomboy is a girl who displays traits, characteristics or behaviors considered to be typical of a boy. When I was growing up, it seemed every neighborhood had a tomboy. Some of you will recall going out to play a game of touch football on a street that did not see much traffic and the known tomboy showed up and insisted she play in the game. While it may have been many years ago, you probably can visualize the scene: A female dressed in washed-out jeans, wearing a baseball hat backwards, sporting high top Converse sneakers and a shirt, not a blouse, hanging outside of her jeans. You may recall you seldom saw a tomboy in a skirt or dress. She had more boys as friends than girls. Tomboys had no difficulty getting dirty. Some of the tomboys I knew seemed to do all they could to outshine boys in style and behavior.
A tomboy is the one girl who would prefer to play football, in rain or in snow, rather than play with dolls, jump double-Dutch, shop or do other things typically associated with females. You may recall some coaches or team captains tried their best to avoid picking a tomboy for their football, baseball, basketball or other sporting team. But, there were a few teams — not many — that readily accepted females. If you remember, many tomboys had brothers with whom they played and therefore were able to develop their skills. You probably know tomboys who were better at a particular game than some boys. I knew of a tomboy, in my neighborhood who was constantly picked over boys. In fact, I know of situations where boys would show up at a tomboy’s home to ask her parents if she could come out to participate in a game. They felt they needed her on their team in order to win.
You may recall tomboys were not relegated to a particular position on a team. They seemed to play every position. For example, a tomboy was not assigned to play right field, a position that did not receive a great deal of activity. One of my close friends told me the short stop on his baseball team was a tomboy — someone who could field and hit a ball as well as a boy. When it came to a game of basketball, someone else I know always picked the tomboy to play on his team. He confessed while he thought he was an outstanding basketball player, neither he nor his friends could dribble or shoot as well as the tomboy. Interestingly, tomboys did not care what they were called — in fact, many proudly stated they were tomboys and boasted about it. No stigma or negativity was associated with being a tomboy, back in the day.
I understand how the minds of some “folk” function — the word tomboy conjures up many unfounded assumptions. Many of us have the typical stereotypical image of the tomboy described in earlier paragraphs. But, in spite of the outward characteristics observed in tomboys, they can be attractive. A middle-aged female told me she was a tomboy as an elementary-aged youngster. While she wore boy-like attire when out playing with the boys, upon returning home, she showered, changed into her girly outfits and went out with the girls, engaging in “normal” girl activities. I know some male reading this column can go back in time and recall a tomboy, or perhaps tomboys, you wondered about how they would look “cleaned up.” There was just something about them that was intriguing, mystical and, as gingerly as I can say it, “interesting.”
Were there any tomboys who caused you to simply say, “Wow,” once you saw they had discarded tomboyish traits? This was after they had taken off their baseball hats and had their hair all “dolled” up — perhaps put on a dress, skirt or other “girly” stuff, were wearing feminine shoes and jewelry and had put on makeup, something tomboys avoided at all costs. For you young folk, a large number of boys, back then, found tomboys attractive. It is a real possibility you were one of those young men who pursued a tomboy — after all, to capture the heart of a real tomboy was a major accomplishment for those boys or young men who claimed to have legitimate “game,” back in the day.
Being categorized as a tomboy is not necessarily related to sports. I have found tomboys are not limited by feminine thoughts — they are not restricted based on expectations related to gender. While I never saw it, I have friends who have told me about tomboys who changed a tire on an automobile. Some, I have been told, have no difficulty looking under the hood or sliding under an automobile to make repairs. Some females were regarded as tomboys because of their ability to repair things in and around the home — fixing electrical appliances, doing plumbing work, painting, wallpapering, you name it. Such females could do practically anything a male could do.
I have heard of tomboys who had their own tools and did not have to borrow a hammer or saw from their father or brother. Cutting grass and trimming bushes — dirty work — was not outside of the things tomboys did. Some of you had tomboys in your neighborhoods who enjoyed climbing trees. There was one female in my neighborhood who built her own “go-cart.” You may have known females who refused to ride a “girl’s bicycle” and insisted on riding a boy’s bicycle with a cross bar. Tomboys easily navigated in what was considered a boy’s world, back in the day.
In asking some of my male friends and associates about their memories of tomboys during their era, most, if not all, indicated the epitome of a tomboy was the ability of a female to do bodily harm to a male. Some of you have been down this road — you have observed an argument between a boy and girl that became quite heated. Contrary to what you expected, the boy ended up being quite bloody from punches and scratches. In fact, some of you are aware of this level of physical ability on the part of the tomboy as you may have been the victim and not just an observer.
I was told by a mature, pure female by any standard, when she was young there was a boy in the neighborhood who constantly picked on her younger brother. She did what any older brother would do — she took the “bully” to an alley and gave him a first-class whipping. A nice little girl or a tomboy, what do you think? I have also been told about a female, yes a tomboy, who was so notorious because of her fighting ability most, if not all, of the boys in the neighborhood were afraid of her. I certain do not condone such behavior, but I see such behavior as being indicative of the ultimate tomboy from back in the day.
So, what caused some tomboys of the past to stop being tomboys? According to one former tomboy, her tomboy days ended when a boy gave her a friendship ring while in the seventh grade. At that time she recognized boys and girls had different roles — being a tomboy was not something consistent with being a girl. Then there is a co-worker who was an avid football player. She regularly played touch football with the boys which occasionally found all players rolling around on the ground. Around 13 or 14 years of age, she found the young men putting their hands on certain parts of her body — in other words, touching her inappropriately. This is when her tomboy ways came to an end.
In light of the negative views we hear today with regard to females who display male-type behavior, the person considered a “tomboy” simply took advantage of options available to her. It appeared she was not concerned about the comments of others or about being typecast due to her behaviors. The tomboy saw there were activities, other than what might have been assigned to those of her sex, and, not just participated in them, but also excelled. Her participation, minus the judgment of others, allowed a young girl to enjoy the activities of her choice without the kind of commentary that is so prevalent today.
A tomboy was free to choose the kinds of activities she enjoyed, even if some were considered to be activities for the opposite sex. Perhaps we did not fully appreciate what was taking place, back then, but these were good times for females as they had the freedom to do boy-like things without the negativity such behavior brings today. The most significant consequence for such behavior was being labeled a tomboy, back in the day.