In life, you will notice that people often like to categorize other people or themselves into certain stereotypes. For example, if you’re a girl who likes sports you’re classified as a “tomboy”, or if you’re a girl and you like make-up then you’re a “girly girl”. But what is the difference, really? If you look at it, whether you’re said to be a tomboy or a girly girl, you’re still a girl aren’t you? So let’s break it down, and I literally mean break the stereotype, and have a look at the “girly girl vs tomboy” mentality.
There’s nothing wrong with being either/or but we do need to consider the implications and ideas that people have around it. I mean, even I classified myself as a tomboy when I was growing up, and now I’m a girly girl, but that doesn’t mean that I suddenly now can’t do sport or don’t like cars. So why classify it? It all comes down to society.
Girly Girl vs Tomboy, society’s view
Even before birth boys and girls are socialized into gender roles. An example of this is when a couple finds out that they are having a boy, they almost instinctively paint the child’s bedroom blue. In the opposite scenario, if they are expecting a girl, they would paint the room pink. What do these colours have to do with their associated gender? Why is it assumed that girls love pink?
In truth, there is no natural association between girls and the colour pink. Rather, it would seem that it is a societal or cultural assumption that girls should like pink. Other assumptions are that girls love unicorns, barbie dolls and mermaids, but do boys have the opportunities to enjoy these things? Not really, as it’s considered strange for a boy to enjoy unicorns. Instead, they should love action men, sports and action-filled cartoons. When you are exposed to something often enough, it tends to become seen as the “norm”, and anything different will be seen as weird or strange. If people around you and the media are constantly expressing the same thing, you actually start believing it. So what happens when at a young age girls start to like “boy” things?
Initially, she is labeled quite playfully as a “tomboy”. A tomboy is a girl who seems to like doing or wearing things typically associated with boys, and this is generally accepted until a certain age. In contrast to this is a “girly girl”, which can be described as a girl who typically conforms very comfortably to the “feminine style”, whether it is her feminine dress code or her “girly behavior”. In some cases, these girls are often above society’s expectations and become ultra “girly”. What then is the implication of these labels, specifically in the creation of one’s identity?
An expression of identity
As I mentioned earlier, society has a large say in our gender identity for the first few years of our lives. Relatives would buy us gifts based on our gender, and our identities would be assumed based on this gender. An example is a doll on a girl’s first birthday or a model car for a boy’s birthday. This also leads to the answers that young children give to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Girls will typically answer: “a princess”, “a ballet dancer” or “a nurse”, whereas boys will want to be firefighters or race car drivers.
Growing older, we start to develop our own tastes based on our experiences and then begin to voice our likes and dislikes at a fairly early age. This is usually when we are given labels like “tomboy” and “girly girl”, but what is the impact that this has on an individual’s perception of their own identity?
As a young child it may have some impact, but the time when it has a dramatic effect is during adolescence or the “tween” years. It is during this time when most children are trying to discover themselves. It is also during this time that children are at their most defensive. This defensiveness manifests itself in a number of different ways. Some kids begin to argue with their parents more, and others turn on their peers and begin to hammer on the insecurities of their own peers. Yes, I am talking about bullying.
The label vocalized earlier in a child’s development may assist in them finding and developing their identities. Some girls may recognize that they enjoy soccer, and this is further developed by them playing in a soccer team or other sports and supporting a favourite sports team. These labels can also become a hindrance if used by a bully. An example of this is when a girl tries to hide her insecurities by pointing out the insecurities of another girl. If someone had to tease a sporty girl based on her appearance they may say that she is built too strong and resembles a man, the impact of which may lead to the sporty girl abandoning her exploits in sports, and searching for a new pillar for her identity. Thus losing the chance of excelling as a successful athlete.
As such we can see that gender identities can be helpful or a hindrance, depending on how it is voiced and used.
Your identity and society
How one chooses to use labels in the development of their identities is ultimately the decision of the individual. You can choose to listen to the opinion of your household, peers and general society, accept or reject it and so build the basis of your identity. How the individual chooses to respond to society’s labels is somewhat dependent on the person’s social support system and their developing personality.
If you like sports and cars, that’s great. If you like make-up and diamonds, that’s great. If you like all these things, then well, that’s great! It really does not matter. Imagine if we were all into the same things. Wouldn’t this world be a little boring? It is so great that each person can have their own personality, opinions, likes and dislikes. It makes life so interesting, and it allows for so much more creativity and individuality. I don’t think that society and the media should have an influence on how you want to dress, what activities you want to do or what you want to become when you grow up (so long as it does not harm you or the world around you). Your identity is uniquely yours. Own it.
Personal experience from tomboy to unicorn enthusiast
As I said earlier, I even labeled myself as a tomboy growing up and now I’m a girly girl. But just because I now like pink does not mean I don’t like blue. Just because I now like make-up doesn’t mean I can’t play rough in the mud. Just because I now like sparkles, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy an action-filled movie. My gender didn’t change. I’m still female either way.
When I was young I was often teased about the way I looked and/or dressed, by both girls and boys. I was told that I “look like a boy”, or “you’ll never have a boyfriend because you don’t look pretty”, and this is all because I didn’t like to wear dresses or wear make-up like all the other girls my age. Yes, at the time these things were hurtful to hear, but I didn’t change myself to suit them or to impress anyone. In fact I started embracing who I was and what I liked even more. Now I can work on my car with ease, be a handy-woman around the house, and all while wearing my dress and makeup.
Where does that leave you?
When it comes down to it, whether someone labels you as a tomboy, girly girl or anything else they can come up with, it all depends on what you feel. Society is such a fickle thing. We want so badly to fit in, to be accepted. But just because society believes one thing, doesn’t mean that it is correct or that it’s the only way.
So then where does that leave you? Which foundation will you stand on? Your own, or society’s? I reckon, your foundation is the best foundation, because you can choose your own ground. Don’t let society sway you into their norms. Be you – whoever that may be.
Are you labelled as a tomboy, a girly girl, or anything else? Let me know below what people label you as, what you label yourself as, and how it makes you feel.