carries many examples of tomboy characters: Jo March in Little
Women and Idgie Threadgoode in Fried Green
Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, to name just two. The word
can refer to little girls engaging in what society
considers more boyish activities to grown women who “hang with the
There is no hard-and-fast rule
why some girls prefer Tonka trucks and Transformers to tea sets and
tiaras, but sociology has established tomboyism to be a normal
experience among girls of all cultures and identities.
Unfortunately, most of the
psychological research looks at tomboyism in light of gender outcomes
as adults, such as homosexuality or transsexuality. But roughhousing
young girls shouldn’t have to suffer the presumption that they want to
be a boy or will grow up to be a lesbian. In books written for the CBA
market, this is certainly not the intended or desired result for our
Typically, in books targeting
Christian readers, the author pens a “one of the guys” kind of girl who
refuses to wear pastel, lace, or dresses. She usually ends up donning a
dress against her will that is both pastel and lacey for some event,
then she realizes that she wants her best guy friend to see her as a
romantic interest and look at her as a girl.
How can you spice up this
1) Give her a weak spot
for some feminine aspect.
Perhaps she wears lacy panties
under her basketball uniform. Maybe she wears satin to sleep in.
Possibly she gets regular pedicures but covers her prettily painted
toes with power heels or cleats. While she can keep her hard outer
shell, a quirk like this can help the non-tomboy identify with her and
soften her in the eyes of your readers.
2) Give her a solid
to seek the masculine realm.
a) Disappointment with
female role models
Tomboys may want to identify
with the world of men more than the with the world of women,
particularly if they think the world of men has more to offer them. For
example, if a tomboy grows up with a powerful father who dominated a
submissive wife, the young girl might begin to reason she should be
more like her dad, interested in what interests him.
Many girls who gravitate toward
being a tomboy don’t want to be perceived as weak, boring, or a
pushover. They don’t want to be used and abused as they might have seen
happen to some other female they know, so they work hard at showing no
signs of weakness.
Desire for recognition
(beyond physical beauty)
What if your heroine grew up
with a beauty-queen mother from whom she inherited drop-dead gorgeous
looks. Not wanting to be valued for her looks alone, she seeks rewards
for her professional successes or athletic accomplishments instead. To
her, these represent more substance, but they are also considered more
c) Hometown hero(ine)
Research shows that tomboys more
often than not grow up in a rural setting. Not to be too stereotypical,
a female seeking to establish herself in a backcountry town might be
forced to run faster and jump higher to stand out. To do this, a female
would almost have to excel at being competitive and a risk-taker.
3) Give her a
It’s easy to imagine a tomboy as
a police officer, athletic coach, animal handler, or military trooper.
But what if she had to run a florist shop or a jewelry store? Or had to
work in the lingerie department instead of the hardware department? If
you give her surroundings that are even more unwelcoming for a tomboy
than general circumstance, you’ll ramp up the tension for your heroine.
A short word should be said
about the male equivalent of a tomboy—the “sissy.” This term is far
more pejorative for males than tomboy is for
females. The connotation sissy carries with it is less positive. So
instead of all out sissification, there are male characters who are “in
touch with their feminine side,” which means they have affinities for
cooking, they dress well, tolerate a shopping
female, or like to have their hair just so. But because I’ve never read
a book about a sissified man, you won’t be seeing a “Character
Stereotypes: The Sissy” column next month. Just not happening in CBA
fiction right now—or probably ever.