When I was growing up in the 60s, being called a tomboy was a bit of a pejorative, an indication to some that there was something not right about a girl who enjoyed activities (and clothing) that traditionally were considered to be better suited for boys. I liked building forts, riding bikes, playing endless games of street baseball, and pretty much everything that would keep me outside and active with the guys. I had a brother who was not quite 11 months older who I was very close to as a child. He took me under his wing very early, teaching me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike and throw a baseball. I remember being called a Tomboy, but I don’t remember it bothering me much at that time. I was perfectly happy with my life. My brother rarely seemed to mind me hanging out with him and his friends, that is until he started junior high school and started taking a different kind of interest in girls.
That was a bit of a pivotal time for me as well. I was in sixth grade then and, as tradition, our class would put on a play for the rest of the school. The teacher passed out the script and asked us what roles we would like to try out for. I wanted to be King Mathematics.It was a subject I enjoyed and it was an important role. Some of the other kids protested that it should go to a boy (being a king and all). In the end won the part. A small victory, but one that strengthened my belief that being a female shouldn’t limit my opportunities. But I lost a second challenge at the end of the year that made me realize that not everyone was comfortable with others who didn’t fit in to what were considered socially accepted roles based on gender. On the final week of the school year, a baseball game would be played between 6th grade boys and the male faculty. Girls were not allowed to try out and were required to shag balls for the boys while they practiced for the big game. I was called to the principal’s office for having the audacity to complain.
Change happens slowly. I would be a senior in high school before girls were allowed to wear pants to school. It was also the first year our high school offered interscholastic sports for girls rather than the occasional “Play Days” that had been a tradition up to that point. I started at the local community college, but I missed sports, and transferred to Valley College where I played on both the softball and basketball teams. At University, I majored in athletic training, a field with few women, but one that was really coming into it’s own thanks to Title Nine, the equal access to education law that was passed in 1972. I went on to get my Master’s from the University of Oregon. There were few jobs in the field at that time and I ended up woking as a Fire Crew Supervisor, a Letter Carrier, and eventually a Postmaster (the job I held when I retired 15 years ago). All were jobs that were predominately held by males.
My husband and I encouraged both our son and daughter to pursue the things they loved without feeling constrained by stereotypes. Our daughter loved team sports and played on her high school teams and even through the first couple of years of college. Our son was more interested in individual sports in high school, running track and cross country. In college he played on the club Rugby team. Today they are both military officers and helicopter pilots (he’s in the Coast Guard and she’s in the Navy). I am sure there were people who called my daughter a tomboy, and perhaps some still do. But I don’t think it holds the same negative connotation as it did when I was growing up. The world is a better place when we don’t put labels or limits on someone or their aspirations.