Derived from the term "tomcat" for a male cat, the Tomboy is a major character archetype and yet is also a somewhat vague concept, and it is associated with the gender variance/nonconformity.
A tomboy is a girl 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 subjective. Especially historically, any girl interested in science, vehicle mechanics, house and/or building construction and/or renovation, sports, or combat has been called tomboyish.
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 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 the story, justifications also vary. Some girls might just enjoy doing boyish things more. Perhaps she's Daddy's Girl and so wants to do things with him. A similar possibility is that she was Raised by Dudes. Maybe she has no brothers and so the father raises his daughter the way he would a son. It could be that she has no sisters but several brothers, and to be included with them she engages in boyish activities. Or maybe she is socially awkward and simply wants to go somewhere where she thinks the awkwardness will be accepted because she is a "foreign visitor" anyway.
While Tomboys are subject to Flanderization, according to which they all hate "girly things" (like the color pink, dressing up, playing house, shopping), many in Real Life simply 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. Indeed her best friend may be a Girly Girl. There are generally two types of tomboys, depending on their degree of masculinity vs. femininity:
- Type 1: Butch Tomboy: This type of tomboy tends to be very masculine, to the point of actually being "manly", and has very few, if any, feminine qualities and interests. She may also hate anything that is girly and feminine, such as the color pink. Acts as a counterpart to the Extremely Macho Manly Man.
- Type 2: Effeminate Tomboy: This type of tomboy tends to be fairly masculine, but not overly masculine, nor overly feminine either, although she does not necessarily hate traditionally "girly" things. Although most of her qualities and interests are masculine, she may also have a few "feminine" qualities and interests as well. Acts as a counterpart to the Moderate/Balanced Manly Man.
Between the two types of tomboys, the effeminate tomboy is considered somewhat more socially acceptable than the butch tomboy. Keep in mind that just because a girl is a tomboy, regardless of whether she is butch or effeminate, does not necessarily mean that she is a lesbian. Both types of tomboys can be straight, gay, or bisexual, and both types of girly girls, proper and moderate, can also be straight, gay, or bisexual.
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. If there is a contrast between the two types of tomboys listed above, the media, more often than not, usually portrays the type 2 effeminate tomboy as the "better" type of tomboy.
"Tomboy" as a term for a girl who acts like a stereotypical boy is Older Than Steam, having been first given that meaning in 1592. Previously, "tomboy" referred to an especially boisterous boy. Considering the goddess Artemis could fairly be described as a tomboy, the trope itself is at least Older Than Feudalism. However, the definite golden age of literary tomboys was the period around the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a trend that essentially began with Little Women's Jo March, making her something of a Trope Codifier, and extended through The Great Depression or so.
Sub-tropes/Characteristics often attributed to Tomboys include:
- Academic Athlete: If the character is female, there's a good chance that she is a tomboy, especially if she's more focused on the "athlete" part of the trope.
- 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 appeal is being strong and feminine in the battlefield. Cute Bruisers often qualify — being a Tomboy doesn't mean you can't be Moe (see Bokukko).
- Action Girlfriend: The tomboy who fights is the male character's girlfriend.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Some tough tomboys are attracted to men who are tougher than them.
- Amazon Brigade: Some examples of this could be a team full of Tomboys. Check the page.
- Amazon Chaser: A boy who is attracted to a girl because of her tomboyish fighting ability. (Others may, at first, consider this a huge turnoff.)
- Amazonian Beauty: A girl whose tomboyish bulk is considered a key factor in her attractiveness.
- Bald Women: Having no hair without wearing a wig is a good way to identify a tomboy because Long Hair Is Feminine.
- Bifauxnen: A tomboy who looks like a Bishōnen.
- Bifauxnen and Lad-ette: Two androgynous tomboys whose masculine traits act as a contrast to one another.
- Biker Babe: A tomboy who drives a motorcycle.
- Bokukko: In Japan, a tomboyish girl who shows it off by referring to herself with the male versions of Japanese Pronouns and Japanese Honorifics. May lead to Pronoun Trouble. There is an analogous grammatical behavior among Hindi-speaking tomboys in India: they use masculine inflections on adjectives and certain verbs (e.g. rahaa vs rahee) that refer to themselves as if they were male speakers. That is not as jarring as in Japanese, but it sounds peculiar.
- Boyish Short Hair: A tomboy who wears her hair short because Long Hair Is Feminine.
- Braids of Action: A common hairstyle for tomboys.
- Brawn Hilda: A tomboy whose bulk, mannish looks, and strength make her unattractive.
- The Bully: If a female character is this, she's usually a tomboy, especially if she threatens people physically. The girly counterpart is Alpha Bitch.
- Butch Lesbian: Some tomboyish girls grow up to be this.
- Contralto of Danger: Tomboys are identified by having voices that are lower than other women.
- 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.
- Farmer's Daughter: A tomboy from a rural area.
- Female Misogynist: There are some tomboys who antagonize feminine women.
- Feminine Mother, Tomboyish Daughter: A tomboy has a conventionally feminine mother.
- Femininity Failure: An unfeminine character who tries to be feminine but can't pull it off.
- Fiery Redhead: Some tomboys commonly have red hair to fit their aggressive and temperamental demeanor.
- Gamer Chick: Girls who like video games are often considered tomboys.
- Gasshole: Girls who are unabashedly gassy are often considered tomboys since it would be unladylike for girls to either burp or fart.
- Girliness Upgrade: When a tomboy decided to become more of a Girly Girl. A possible result is her going back to being a tomboy if she or another character decides she's better the way she was.
- Girlish Pigtails: Braided tails have a more Tomboy connotation.
- 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).
- Girly Bruiser: A girly Action Girl. While this character is not necessarily a Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak, she often is, especially if she has an aggressive fighting style (unlike a Lady of War) and gets revelrous enjoyment out of fighting.
- Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: When a girly girl exhibits some traits of a tomboy.
- Go-Getter Girl: This is a girl who's passionate (and often stubborn) about reaching the desired goal of something other than the traditionally feminine homemaking. She doesn't have to be a Tomboy, but her headstrong personality and lack of passivity make her a subversion of the notion that Women Are Delicate. If she's also very cutthroat and competitive, she's even more likely to be a Tomboy or have a tomboyish streak.
- Hackette: The techie sister of the Wrench Wench and Hot Scientist. STEM fields, or even simply being technologically savvy, are assumed to be a "male" thing, so a female character being revealed as a hacker comes as a surprise.
- Hates Being Called Cute: Tomboys don't like being called "cute" by others, usually because the word is associated with being girly, though there are some exceptions.
- Hates Wearing Dresses: Many tomboys hate wearing skirts and/or dresses for various reasons, ranging from a dislike of "girly" things to a dislike of unpractical things.
- Hot Scientist: Not as common a Tomboy trait, as science is usually less physical than most Tomboy activities, but sometimes it gets included in the package. This especially applies if the female character is into "hard" sciences, like mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and physics, rather than "soft" sciences like sociology and psychology.
- I Have Brothers: A tomboy who is good at manly things because she has brothers.
- The Lad-ette: 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.
- Lady Looks Like a Dude: A tomboy who looks like a man.
- Lethal Chef: Poor cooking skills often are connected with Tomboys (which she can find frustrating when trying to invoke Through His Stomach).
- Loving Bully: It's common for a tomboy to be a bully to a male character they secretly have a crush on.
- 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. At first; they might consider it awesome afterward.
- Not Like Other Girls: Tomboys often grow up thinking this because of their isolation from their more conventionally feminine counterparts.
- One of the Boys: Tomboys often pal around with male friends instead of having female friends. 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, dammit, 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.
- Pirate Girl: A girl who happens to be a tough pirate.
- 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 in order to be strong and capable, but many of the ones who fall victim to this trope are.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: If a Tomboy ever ends 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.
- Short Tank: A common type of Tomboy portrayed in various media.
- Spirited Young Lady: A complex variant of this. A 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.
- Strong Girl, Smart Guy: In a pair of Brains and Brawn, a tomboyish Action Girl will be the brawn while her male partner is the brains.
- The Squadette: A tomboy in the military.
- Tank-Top Tomboy: When a tank top is an indicator of a tomboyish female.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Another way a Tomboy can be identified is through comparison to a girlier female character.
- Tomboy Angst: She secretly hates being identified as a tomboy.
- Tomboyish Baseball Cap: A girl can be identified as a tomboy by just wearing a baseball cap, especially if she likes playing baseball.
- 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.
- Tomboyish Ponytail: Another common hairstyle for tomboys.
- Tomboyish Voice: A tomboy with a deep or raspy voice.
- Tomboyness Upgrade: A girly girl becomes more tomboyish as time goes on.
- Tomboy Princess: A tomboy who happens to be a royal daughter.
- Tomboy with a Girly Streak: A tomboy with possibly a girly interest or two.
- Town Girls: A trio has one tomboy (Butch), one girly girl (Femme) and one that doesn't fit into either category (Neither).
- Tsundere: This goes all the way back to schoolyard 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 mean she has a crush on the 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.
- Unwillingly Girly Tomboy: A tomboy who reluctantly wears girly clothes or is involved in feminine activities.
- Used to Be a Tomboy: A character who is a girly girl who used to be a tomboy in the past (overlaps with Girliness Upgrade).
- Vasquez Always Dies: In a story of two Action Girls, the tougher and less feminine one is killed or injured.
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: A tomboy who will beat the crap out of anyone who would harm her boyfriend. Double points if he's a Non-Action Guy.
- Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child: A tomboy's parents want her to be more feminine.
- Weakness Turns Her On: Some tomboys are attracted to boys who are weaker than them or at least submissive.
- 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 TLP to create a trope for it.
The Spear Counterpart tropes are In Touch with His Feminine Side, for a male who does things which are considered 'girly' and Otokonoko Genre (known as "Tomgirl" in the West), a Japanese genre for men about male crossdressers.
Compare Masculinity Tropes.