For a million reasons, it's a word I would like to see binned. Labelling our kids is a dangerous sport and one that sets them up for a confusing time as they navigate the Wild West that is childhood these days.
My daughter, aged almost nine, has often had the tag ‘tomboy’ applied to her. So much so, that she sometimes uses it herself when she meets people. The other day, in the dentist, when she was given some Disney princess stickers for ‘ being a good girl ’, she handed them back saying, ‘no thank you, I’m more of a boy’. When, then, presented with a set of Spiderman stickers she waltzed out, happy.
My girl tends towards the things that are more typically on the supposed boy side of things. She is a master at Minecraft, her Lego building skills are really quite excellent, but it’s no Lego Friends or Elves for her – no, she’s right in with Ninjago, Star Wars and Marvel Super Hero sets – the bigger and more complex, the better. She loves Pokemon with a passion. She is learning to code. She loves Power Rangers, Ben 10 and reading Beast Quest. Her best friend is a boy.
And all of these facts seem to be putting her in a box – a box I am unhappy with.
Because, as well as all of these things, my daughter loves music, art and dancing and more recently, she has expressed an interest in her little sister's LOLs (a very trendy, very tiny little doll that comes in a big plastic ball). And LOL’s are designed for girls, girls like her little sister.
This development is not without its own problems. My elder daughter doesn’t want the boys she plays with to know she likes ‘girly’ toys. She also doesn't want the girls in her class to know because they might think of her differently, too. She is clearly beginning to identify with the tomboy tag.
At home, toys are just stuff, they are for anyone who wants to play with them, the boy/girl divide is irrelevant. Fun is fun, and imagination is that open playing field all kids need to exist in. Unfortunately, out there in the world, that is not what kids are seeing. They see gender-targeted boxes provided by marketeers and retailers and innocently, they jump in. And that makes me more and more annoyed.
And not just with marketeers, with regular people too. For perpetuating the traditional and damaging narrative that what you choose defines you, especially as a child. It doesn’t. Children change multitudes of times as they grow – they try on lots of things for size. They explore, they imagine – that’s what being a kid is about - the freedom to try something out, then the freedom to reject, edit or amplify it as they feel. That’s how I’d like my daughters to experience the world – feeling opportunity in any direction, without labels, without restrictions.
We need to look very, very hard at the messaging we give our children and whether or not we are drawing imaginary lines between the sexes – lines that, like all childhood experiences, are not easily rubbed out.
Kids' minds are open, it’s we who make boxes and labels.
Photo credit: Zhen Hu, Unsplash