The word is meant to be comforting. To make sense of the situation. To assure the little girl that there’s nothing wrong with her.
Dictionary.com defines tomboy as “an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls.” Scout Finch and Katniss Everdeen are a couple well-known literary examples. Uninterested in dolls and dresses, we call them tomboys as a way to interpret them, to explain them.
Therein lies the problem, because there’s nothing to explain.
A young girl’s interests and aspirations have nothing to do with how much of girl she is and everything to do with what makes her happy. Just because she likes football or playing in the mud does not negate the fact she has a vagina.
To tell her she is a “tomboy” doesn't increase her confidence in how she feels about her likes and dislikes—quite the opposite. If someone defines her as a tomboy then the message that's inferred is that she is less than: less feminine, less ladylike, less of a girl.
Is there ever a time in our lives where being referred to as less than those around you has made us feel better? It's certainly not a term of empowerment. It’s a word that adds a filter of gray over the young girl’s life because now she is "less than a girl" while still not being a boy, so what IS she? She is undefinable, she is confused. The only logical next step in her inner dialogue is “what’s wrong with me?”
It’s an old word from an old generation, and it's irrelevant in this day and age.
The truth of the matter is, there is nothing wrong with her. Being “boisterous” and “energetic” are mere character traits, not definition of gender. And what exactly are activities "typical of boys"? We're living in the 21st century; to define our children by the activities they choose to take part in is so archaic.
Rather than calling our gregarious little girls “tomboys,” can we call them something more encouraging? Can we use words that define their character more than their gender?
Perhaps tell them they are independent because they don’t feel compelled to do what everyone else is doing. We can call them self-aware because they know what makes them happy. Passionate, interesting, fun and dynamic are all things I’d like to hear when describing my little girl. Way more than "tomboy."
It’s an old word from an old generation, and it's irrelevant in this day and age. There are no such things as "boy activities" and "girl activities." There's no such thing as boy jobs or girl jobs. We're living in a new world where little girls are capable and should be encouraged to do, and be, whomever their little hearts desire to be.
So, please, let’s retire the word “tomboy” from our parenting vocabulary, and instead tell the girls of today that they are kind and smart and will change the world by being exactly who they are.