Torn up jeans and a baseball cap with her head up under the hood,
—Krista Marie, "Tomboy"
Derived from the term "tomcat" for a male cat, the Tomboy is a major character archetype, and yet is also a somewhat vague concept.
A Tomboy is a girl, usually a young one (the implication being that she will "grow out of it" ), who has tastes and behaviors usually associated with boys. Because these associations are culture-dependent and tend to change, what exactly constitutes a "Tomboy" is somewhat subjective. Historically, any girl interested in science, mechanics, or combat has been called tomboyish; today, calling these pursuits "unfeminine" is considered by many to be old-fashioned at best.
However, even where gender roles are relatively lax or fluid, choices made regarding media consumption, recreation, and fashion, remain segregated for the most part. Thus the Tomboy remains a current figure, and a popular one for various reasons: A woman might chafe at how "femininity" limits her own choices and find a like minded heroine empowering; boys might find a girl who likes the things they do more relatable. Tomboys are often seen as a great way to appeal to both male and female demographics with the same characters. For still others, a love of Tomboys may have nothing to do with their opinion on gender. The audience finds (minor) transgressions of accepted roles "cute" or funny. A great deal of media takes this latter position, sometimes presenting the Tomboy as sympathetic but, in the end, immature (or even troubled).
In story justifications also vary. Some girls might just enjoy doing boyish things more. Perhaps she's daddy's little girl and so wants to do things with him. Maybe she has no brothers and so the father raises his daughter the way he would a son. Or she has no sisters but several brothers, and to be included with them she engages in boyish activities. It is also not unknown for socially awkward people to seek asexual friendship with the opposite sex in the hope of escaping having to figure out the rules for the home team and finding people that will accept their strangeness as a matter of course.
While Tomboys are subject to Flanderization, according to which they all hate "girly things" (the color pink, dressing up, playing house, shopping), most in Real Life simply (sometimes unwittingly) happen to fall outside of gender norms in a few respects; aside from these "quirks", a Tomboy might also have "feminine" interests. Even if she doesn't, she need not have any antipathy toward those who do.
When treated as Serious Business, the outcome of the Tomboy's character arc tends to indicate the intended Aesop. If the Tomboy doesn't "grow out of it," or find her inner femininity, this suggests that gender and sexuality boundaries are more permeable, and that transgressing these boundaries is acceptable. If, on the other hand, a Tomboy needs to be normalized in some way, this implies that her Tomboyish appearance or traits are somehow problematic. Consequently, Tomboyish traits can serve as an exploration of gender and sexuality.
Sub-tropes/Characteristics often attributed to Tomboys include
- Action Girl: Physical violence and a willingness to get rough tends to be a Tomboy trait as are being good with guns or swords. However, a Lady of War is never a Tomboy, since her charm point is being strong and elegant in the battlefield. Cute Bruisers often qualify—being a Tomboy doesn't mean you can't be Moe Moe (see Bokukko). Hot Amazons are rarely Tomboys (ironically, since their namesakes were rather butch), but sometimes the younger ones are. Badass Bookworms of the female variety are often stealth Tomboys.
- Amazon Brigade: Some examples of this could be a Five-Man Band or Freudian Trio full of Tomboys. Check the page.
- Bokukko: In Japan, a tomboyish girl who shows it off by refering to herself with the male versions of Japanese Pronouns and Japanese Honorifics. May lead to Pronoun Trouble.
- Braids of Action, Boyish Short Hair, Tomboyish Ponytail and Tomboyish Sidetails: Common hairstyles for them.
- Brawn Hilda: A tomboy whose bulk, mannish looks, and strength make her unattractive.
- Butch Lesbian: The stereotyped version of a tomboy.
- Farmer's Daughter: A tomboy from a rural area.
- Female Misogynist: Sometimes girls can often take their tomboyish nature too far by referring other women as sissies who should always Stay in the Kitchen.
- Femininity Failure: An unfeminine character who tries to be feminine but can't pull it off.
- Gamer Chick: Girls who like video games are often considered tomboys.
- Genki Girl: Sometimes, a tomboy could be very hyperactive.
- Girliness Upgrade: When a tomboy decided to become more of a girly girl. Possible to result in her going back to being a tomboy if she or another character decides she's better the way she was.
- Girl Next Door: While the girl next door is no more likely to be a Tomboy than any other character, Tomboys are very often the Girl Next Door. This might be because Most Writers Are Male and when a boy is younger the girl he is most likely to interact with will be a Tomboy (since other girls prefer doing girly things).
- Hot Scientist: Not as common a Tomboy trait, as science is usually less physical then most Tomboy activities, but sometimes it gets included in the package.
- The Ladette: Usually a Tomboy is not as sexualized as a Ladette, but the ideas do have some overlap. She's a girl with the personality of a frat boy.
- Lethal Chef: Poor cooking skills often are connected with Tomboys. (Which she can find frustrating when trying to invoke Through His Stomach.)
- Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: When the sensitive guy and the Tomboy pair up, romantically or platonically.
- No Guy Wants an Amazon: Tomboys are sometimes portrayed as having trouble with relationships, since guys often feel intimidated by a girl who's better at doing guy stuff than they are.
- One of the Boys: Tomboys often pal around with male friends instead of having girlfriends. They play male games (baseball instead of softball), and might even be accepted as just "one of the boys". She might be rude, and use crude or less-refined slang like a boy. She spits, bleeds, and plays in the dirt, without caring about getting dirty. She'd never say something like "I broke a nail"... unless the context is something like "Aw, fuck, I broke a nail."
- Otaku Surrogate: Similar to the Gamer Chick example, girls who like comic books are often deemed Tomboys.
- Outdoorsy Gal: A girl who would rather play outside than inside.
- Passionate Sports Girl: A girl passionate about male oriented sports.
- Raised by Dudes: A girl grew up surrounded by masculine role models (father, uncles, older brothers, etc) and becomes like them for lack of a feminine role model.
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: The character doesn't necessarily have to be a tomboy, but many of the ones who fall victim to this are. Fan Dumb and Hate Dumb will accuse a female character of becoming weaker simply because she does anything feminine.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: If a Tomboy ever does end up stuffed into a dress this is likely to be the result. Sometimes part of a Beautiful All Along plot point. Can sometimes lead to an Unnecessary Makeover.
- Shorttank: A common type of Tomboy portrayed in various media.
- Spirited Young Lady: A complex variant of this. Confident high class woman who can bend The Rules without quite breaking them. Maintains a feminine mystique while often having some tomboyish characteristics and tastes.
- The Squadette: A tomboy in the military.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Another way a Tomboy can be identified is through comparison to a girlier female character.
- Tomboy Princess: Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A tomboy who happens to be a royal daughter.
- Tomboyish Name: A Meaningful Name can often identify a Tomboy—and who knows, it might even cause her to be a Tomboy. Tomboys with girly names often insist on more masculine or neutral nicknames.
- Tsundere: This goes all the way back to school yard romances. A boy will often have a hard time expressing his feelings to the girl he likes, and will instead dip her pigtails in the ink bottle, or stick frogs in her desk. When a girl acts similarly and shoves, hits, or is otherwise aggressive towards a boy who's caught her interest, she might be labeled a Tomboy. (Or in some cases, a girl who's already considered a tomboy being aggressive towards a guy will often be assumed to have a crush on said guy.) The mixture of self-confidence and insecurity is also often a Tomboy trait.
- Unkempt Beauty: Tomboys tend to be less obsessed with their appearance than girly girls. Sometimes, this works to their advantage.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Sadly one of the negative aspects that seems to follow tomboys in many forms of media. Usually they will either feel I Want My Beloved to Be Happy or believe they need a Girliness Upgrade to get the guy's attention.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Often a way of showing that a girl is a Tomboy is to write her as preferring to wear pants and other boy clothes, and being uncomfortable in dresses and skirts. This is particularly true in cultures that have decidedly different male and female dress codes. While a man dressing as a woman can be jarring, a woman dressing as a man is often considered intriguing. But if it reaches Bifauxnen levels, then you've probably moved out of the Tomboy spectrum. Tomboys are usually identifiable as girls, even if they are wearing boy clothes.
- Wrench Wench: Girly Girls are usually not covered in grease.
Having one of these attributes doesn't necessarily make a girl a Tomboy. Depending on local norms, a girly girl may have some of these traits, and the variety of Tomboys is great enough that no one trait can be called essential.
Even "local norms" are inconsistent. Consider for example Ukyou and Akane from Ranma ½. Akane is repeatedly identified as a bit of a Tomboy, while Ukyou gets the label of "cute fiancé". Yet they both share several of the traits above. (This is probably an intentional discrepancy within the story). In the end, definition is impossible, and identifying a Tomboy comes down to "knowing it when one sees it" (though the quality of this "knowledge" is dubious).
No examples for this page, please. Put all your examples under one of the various traits associated with Tomboys. If we don't have a subtrope for your specific Tomboy please feel free to use the YKTTW to create a trope for it.
Compare Masculinity Tropes.
- Also, it's probably easier to pull off if all participants are pre-puberty and the whole "getting interested in the other sex" thing hasn't happened yet, because this would make the whole thing a completely different story.