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Volume 16, Issue 2: Femina

The Tomboy

Nancy Wilson

From time to time I hear parents refer to a daughter as a tomboy. They may say it with a bit of parental pride or with a tone of grave concern. Either way, the term tomboy can encompass many things. To one parent it may mean her daughter loves to ride her bicycle and play outside. She may hate fussy, fluffy dresses, and she may dislike dolls all together. But to another parent the term may mean her daughter wants to wear camouflage pants and combat boots to church and dreams of growing up to be a soldier. Obviously, these are very different. And of course there are all kinds of variations in between. What kinds of behavior should be alarming to a Christian parent? What sort of "tomboyish" behavior should be of no concern?

In both the dictionaries I consulted, a tomboy refers to a boisterous girl who is behaving like a boisterous boy. And boisterous means loud, rough, and good-natured. And of course one thing worse than a swaggering, loud-mouthed boy is a swaggering, loud-mouthed girl, good-natured or not. Though we do want our daughters to be cheerful, we would rather not encourage them to be loud and rough, taking on spitting and belching as though these were admirable traits. In fact, Scripture exhorts women to be sober-minded and modest, two virtues that seem to be at odds with loud and rough.
But let's think about some of the typical behavior that makes parents think they may have a tomboy on their hands. First of all, having a daughter who loves to be outdoors is not necessarily at odds with her femininity, unless she wants to be a logger or a roofer. A woman can be a skilled horseback rider, archer, or shooter, but she should not go off to war . It is a mother's duty to steer such things, teaching her daughters that God requires husbands and fathers to go to war, not daughters and mothers. In our so-called politically correct society, it is essential that we train our children to think biblically and to laugh out loud at the modern absurdities surrounding gender roles. God has made Himself abundantly clear regarding our role assignment, and it is our duty to teach our children how to enjoy themselves as His obedient creatures in this as in every other area. Daughters must be taught to have real reverence and admiration for the high calling women have been given by God, to be homemakers and life-givers. The central way to impart this is by esteeming our own calling in the home as wives and mothers.
Sometimes parents press a child into the tomboy mold. This may come about because a mother has trouble relating to a daughter because she does not seem very feminine in her appearance or interests. In that case, she may be dubbed a tomboy. Her parents may tell her regularly that she is a tomboy, and so she will simply strive to live up to the expectation. If she is not built like a china-doll, and her sisters or friends are, she may hear comparisons way too much. "Oh, she is our little tomboy, while little sister Susie here is so feminine and pretty!" It would be much wiser to teach, instruct, and encourage the naturally unfeminine one to be more feminine than to give her up as a tomboy (and the daughter who gives herself to fluffy dresses may need a little parental restraint). When a daughter first pronounces that she will not wear a dress, her mother should laugh and gently instruct her otherwise. If she begins to wear a baseball cap constantly, her parents should insist it come off. But this should have happened long before she turned fifteen. By that time it is very difficult to turn things around.
A girl who has been treated like a tomboy by her family may think her only future is in sports. And if she feels she cannot compete with the other girls in her looks, she may just give up all together and begin to adopt a more unfeminine persona as an attempt to say to everyone, "I don't care if you don't think I'm feminine, because I beat you to it: I don't want to be." This sort of daughter begins wearing dumpy, unfeminine clothes, and doesn't make an effort to look lovely. This may annoy a mother, which just causes her to become more critical of her daughter. "Why can't you wear a dress like the other girls? Why can't you try to look a little more feminine like your sister?" And that will only alienate the daughter all the more, increasing her insecurity, and making her more unattractive.
Unfortunately, mothers can reinforce this by sins of omission as well: not teaching their daughters how to do their hair or makeup, not encouraging them to be comfortable with their looks or shape, not complimenting them when they look good, not buying them attractive clothes or teaching them to love the lovely. And it's no good saying, "I don't know how to do hair or makeup, so I can't teach my daughter." You'd better learn how, and quick, or get out you wallet so someone else can help.
Finally, dads have got to act. Mothers need to help spot these things early on and enlist Dad's aid in promoting, encouraging, and supporting (financially) femininity. This does not mean going overboard on the ruffles, but rather delighting in the way God has made us male and femal, and not blurring the distinctions.

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