17/12/2012 10:09 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Don't Call My Daughter A Tomboy!

Don't call my daughter a tomboy Alamy

My four-year-old daughter plays football. She refuses to wear dresses, wants her hair cut short and loves nothing more than climbing trees. "Oh aren't you the tomboy?" people say, when they see her rolling home covered in mud. I hate it.

Why can't a girl like these things and still be a girl? Why does she need a label to justify her enjoyment of perfectly acceptable pastimes?

The dictionary definition of tomboy is 'a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys.' Well, Georgie certainly prefers getting down and dirty outside, to playing princesses in the Wendy house, but what irks me about this definition is that the former activities are 'traditionally associated with boys.' Haven't we moved on from that? Don't girls like running around outside? Of course they do, so in my view it's time to drop this outdated label.

My friend Eleanor tells me she used to be called a tomboy and really isn't keen on the term. "It suggests that behaviours such as tree-climbing and playing football aren't what a girl does," she says, "but they are for many girls. I don't like that girls can be identified as having 'boy behaviours' and labeled as such, but there's no equivalent for boys."

There are equivalents, but they are offensive and so outdated they are rarely used nowadays.


Imagine standing at a playgroup and watching a toddler boy play with a doll. Would you exclaim, 'what a nancy-boy!' to his proud mother? After all, the term was traditionally used for boys who displayed 'female' tendencies. No, I didn't think you would.


Yet I've lost count of the parents who have called my daughter a tomboy when they spot her poring over the Thomas the Tank Engine models. It's always said in an affectionate, non-judgemental tone, although it's frequently accompanied by, 'she'll grow out of it,' as though this 'phase' were something to grin and bear instead of embrace.

I don't care if Georgie's 'phase' of tree-climbing and mud-pie-making lasts her whole lifetime – just as long as it's not still me doing her laundry...

My friend Alice tells me I'm worrying unnecessarily. "I grew up being called a tomboy," she says. "I was obsessed with trains, refused point-blank to wear a skirt, and cut my own hair short with the kitchen scissors. Tomboy is just a nick-name – it's harmless."

But I don't think it's harmless at all. Using terms like 'tomboy' sends subtle signals to my daughter – and all the other girls out there who happen to enjoy football, tree-climbing or other 'rough' activities – that she is behaving in a way not expected of a girl.

How will we ever create a society which values men and women equally, if we differentiate between boys and girls in such a crude and inaccurate way? Labelling a girl as a tomboy pushes her into a box and reinforces totally unnecessary stereotypes.

There are those who consider the term to be a compliment. "It's just saying she has boyish attributes," says my mother-in-law, "she's feisty, determined." I think that just makes it worse: it implies that being a boy is somehow superior to being a girl.

So don't call my daughter a tomboy. Don't call any girl a tomboy, a princess or any other behaviour-based label. Call them children, and let them play however they want.

What do you think?