The Tomboy Trope, Explained

Get a full month of MUBI FOR FREE: (With the support of Creative Europe – MEDIA Programme of the European Union) | The Tomboy. She loves traditionally masculine activities and would rather wear baggy clothes instead of dresses or skirts. Confident with the tendency to be headstrong or impulsive, she doesn’t cave to the pressure to conform, which has made her a strong role model for women and girls who feel like they don’t fit in. But is our culture outgrowing this character? In this video, we unpack the Tomboy in film and TV and why this trope might soon become irrelevant today. If you like this video, subscribe to our channel or support us on Patreon:

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10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Booksmart (2019)
Brave (2012)
Candleshoe (1977)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Clueless (1995)
Freaky Friday (1976)
Harriet the Spy (1996)
It Takes Two (1995)
Little Women (1933)
Little Women (1949)
Little Women (1994)
Little Women (2019)
Love & Basketball (2000)
Mean Girls (2004)
Miss Congeniality (2000)
My Girl (1991)
Paper Moon (1973)
Pariah (2011)
Set It Up (2018)
She’s the Man (2006)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Terry the Tomboy (2014)
The Bad News Bears (1976)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Fits (2015)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The March (1964)
Tomboy (1985)
Valley Girl (1983)
West Side Story (1961)
The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994-1998)
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018-)
Euphoria (2019-)
Full House (1987-1995)
Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Good Girls (2018-)
I Am Not Okay with This (2020-)
iCarly (2007-2012)
Little Fires Everywhere (2020)
Never Have I Ever (2020)
Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)
Pose (2018-)
Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
Punky Brewster (1984-1988)
Roseanne (1988-2018)
Sex Education (2019-)
Stranger Things (2016-)
That ’70s Show (1998-2006)
The Facts of Life (1979-1988)
The O.C. (2003-2007)
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (2005-2008)
The Tudors (2007-2010)
Mulan (1998)
Mulan (2020)
“Let My Baby Stay” (2017)
“Material Girl” (1984)
“How Do You Sleep?” (2019)
She’s All That (1999)
PEN15 (2019-)


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  • There's also a darker side of the tomboy. Girls that were sexualised or in violent situations, would often reject their own femininity, sometimes is not something as heavy as that, but i dressed like a boy to hide my body and avoid comments, compliments and stuff from creepy men. I wanted to dissapear, i did not want any kind of sexual attention. And i wanted to feel strong, smart and capable. It can end up with deep self hatred and body dysmorphia. Then there's a shift, when you realise that you do like to dress up and you enjoy girly stuff, and it's time to confront a lot of shit.

    To this day im very conservative in the way i dress, but i know is not because "im not like other girls", there's a lot of shame, guilt and trauma involved in it, but i made my peace with my girly side, im still working on not treating attention as a threat.

    AlePolait July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I love the intersectional analysis. Wonderful job as always! ❤️

    Iruka July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • My problem with this trope is that most of the time it borders or just flat out is a another case of ''I'm not like other girls.'' It has girls bringing down other girls by saying stupid stuff like ''dresses are dumb and girls who wear them are dumb!'' and tend to agree with or say very misogynist things. With how things are now in 2020 i kinda think this trope should die out, it's not very relevant to our society now as we are more fluid in our way of fashion.

    マザーファッカー July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Ilhan Omar <3

    D VDV July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Im a tomboy but I'm still feminine and I don't bring other girls down if they're more girly then me cause what's the point, their as much of a girl as I am… I hate how were portrayed as if we despise feminity and look down on other women, or categorised as the "I'm not like other girls" type in the media, again I can't speak for every tomboy but for me if anything I love it when girls accept each other and I do my best to accept all fellow women.

    aliyah bilal July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • The tomboy trope tricked me most into believing in needing a boyfriend because even the cool tomboys were finally happy when they found a guy

    nuhlam yea July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • My mom was a tomboy back in the 70s. And she's like the savior of all the girly girls in her school when boys teases them or make fun of them as being a girl. And that is why I love my mom. Now she dress up like a lady but still have that boyish attitude😅

    Blaze 1984 July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Growing up, I was always a tomboy. I felt more comfortable playing with the boys and usually got along with them much better than with girls. I grew up with these movies and thought that being a tomboy meant that I had to completely reject every form of femininity. That I had to refuse to go to a ballet class because it was for “lame little girls”. I used my differences like a shield, so that I could distance myself from the girls that were mean to me in school. Feeling that my lack of femininity would make me better than them.
    I did end up “outgrowing it”, as the pressure from society in my very sexist country forced me to take on more gender normative roles. The thing is, I always liked dresses and makeup. I just didn’t want to admit I had things in common with the other girls.
    After growing up, I finally realized that I could still be interested in manga, anime, comic books and video games, and have mostly male friends, but wear my pink dresses and enjoy everything glittery.

    Maria Alejandra Bastidas Torres July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • The thing that annoys me about the tomboy trope is when it's used as an excuse to put women down for liking traditionally feminine things, like there is something inherently embarrassing about being girly. Women should not be pit against one another because ultimately it always falls down to competing for the attention of men, hence the 'not like other girls' phenomenon. Also, I find that a tomboy is only ever allowed to remain a tomboy under the condition that it makes her more attractive to men, i.e. liking games, comic books, eating lots of food (I don't know why this one is so important but I see it everywhere), sports etc.

    Messi July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Love the tom boy it’s just another type of womanhood

    purplegrrl711 July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Shame theirs no tomgirl

    James Latham July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • i wouldn't use merida as an example of the tomboy, because she ties in her interest in traditionally male activities into her femininity and her being a girl

    Taltzi July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Can you do a video about the girly girl

    Alshaikha Shaikha July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • The tomboy today HAS to be trans unfortunately it is the tropes new duty even if the character is simply a tomboy

    JuanPiZea July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • e This "tomboy" label is really the fire energy expressed! As well as air! So in a girl's natal (birth) chart if she is more air and/or more fire than water and earth it will be expressed as more "masculine". I am a Sun Aquarius (Air sign) with a Venus in Aries (fire sign) and a Mars (fire sign) I grew up playing more with the boys, I approach love in a more masculine way and express my passions and sensuality in an assertive way. I excelled in sports and in academics and hated wearing any girly stuff until I was in college. I am still in your face and outspoken and can eat a whole pizza in a setting yet I still like to play in makeup and have this charm. It is all about being true to the energies we were born into.

    Mamaissi Njuzi July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I like tomboys but i think there's another extreme now. Everytime i open a book there's a tomboy. And in this books the female who likes dress and make-up is automatically the week one and somebody who is lame. Why is it? Wearing a skirt isn't weakness in fact no one care about what people wear anymore (at least not so much as before).

    vikaziza July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • pls,,, can someone tell what show/ movie is in the clips at 17:37 and 18:15 ? i need to know and i’ve watched this three time to no avail

    thatnormalpersonhaha July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Ola is the only one that's actually a good character, she is not defined for that she is just like that

    random girl July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Nothing was more cringey than the Sabrina character stopping all her friends and saying "Actually GUYS, its Theo now."

    ❀ Nixie July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • It's so weird to be a tomboy yourself. I've always been different. Played Super Mario instead of Baby Born and so on. And even now as a full adult, I am more a nerd than my boyfriend. So you never really "grow out of it". 🙄

    Caroline M. July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I mean, most (if not all) females I know has a mixture of both feminine and masculine traits. I don’t think any women (or man for that matter) is exclusively one of the other. I feel like tomboy characters from older movies/shows tend to be so exaggerated and anti-feminine, they become almost unrealistically masculine.

    That One July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply

    Try it, it doesn't hurt as much as continuously using a fucking slur

    Tomboy is misogynistic because it implies that being brave is manly and the opposite of being a woman. That the woman has a male soul/essence or now masculine gender identity. The misogynistic concept of gender identity takes that to 11. She is less of a woman because she is brave and independent.🙄

    Gender is oppression not identity ffs

    paula pastor July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Lol

    dflowers30 July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Tomboys are for grow old with.

    The Happy Monk July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Beautiful thanks 💛❤️💚

    Jaya Tripathi July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Overall I loved this video essay! I think the structure is good and the arguments are well chosen and presented, I just wished they would have put a little more emphasis on the fact that women HAD to be tomboys in order to be independent/strong/ fearless and so on until quite recently. This means that while they were great role models for women who didn’t (want to) fit in the “feminine girl” mould, they, at the same time, raised traditionally masculine traits above feminin trains once more, thus reinforcing old gender dynamics while dressing it up as feminism

    Naomi B July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Oh so that's what non-binary means. I thought it was the degree of one's gayness. Luckily that's never been much of a problem in my country.

    Hudaef Cares? July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I enjoy your videos! It sounds like you use a script, which means it shouldn't take too much effort for you to caption your videos for your deaf and hard of hearing viewers; I hope you consider!

    Mk Mason July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • So I'm genderfluid. I've got a butt lenght hair that won't ever see scissors. I love skirts and aesthetic clothing. And yes, I have masculine days.
    The world will never see me as androgynous and I don't give a fuck. I see myself as manly when I'm a man, even if I'm wearing a cute lolita dress. I really do. I don't owe androgyny to cis people. None of us do.

    Ariel Kawai July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • as a black girl sometimes I just want to do things that are seen as more masculine just because society says so. But the media already portrays black woman especially the darker skin ones as Aggressive, And sassy, opinionated and outspoken neck/eye roll and all. To say the least, masculine. So I feel I have to calm myself to be more dainty and quiet and less loud by force just to even the playing fields because we know damn well they won't do it for us, they are the ones set us up to be in this position.

    Which is why I appreciate them pointing out most tomboys in the media are portrayed as white. They seem to be the only type of woman that can afford to get there hands dirty then jump right back to pastel gloves detailed with lace. like Taylor switching from country to pop. since they already get a verity of tropes from nerd, to damsel in distress, to the sporty girl. They don't risk the idea of having their race even more stigmatized in one space.

    oh boo yourselves i'm garrett bobby ferguson July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I like the take. One of the biggest reasons being, it's film discussions from women's perspectives.

    Chelsea Nortje July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I personally don’t think the analysis of Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You is really all that fair. Unlike the original Katherine of Shakespeare’s text, Kat isn’t tamed at the end of the movie. She’s still the same tempestuous, vocal, politically-minded Riot Grrrl she started out as. And unlike Petruchio, who used actual psychological warfare to “tame” Katherine, Patrick accepts and loves Kat for who she is and doesn’t try to change her. That’s why she ultimately falls for him; surrounded by dozens of people who want her to change so she’s more “likeable” by their standards, Patrick accepts her and loves her all the same.

    skywalkerchick July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • And they're name is always Max Mj Cj

    RIBBITING FROGS July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • Historically speaking most of the "feminine" behaviour presented here is created and societally imposed by misogyny. Its problematic to suggest that these traits are "naturally" or "traditionally" "feminine". They're provably of the male gaze.
    In other words these traits very well may be subversive to women's equality.

    Preet Dhami July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • 13:06 "The tomboy denies the male gaze rigth to sexualize her"
    I can't believe they miss out the opportunity to show Billie Elish with that comment..

    Anderson Neo July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • god do i love this channel

    miles July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • so going off of this video and my own personal observation this trope comes right before the Cool Girl trope. In most tomboy movies there's a big moment where the tomboy character undergoes some big change where they become conventially attractive (lets be honest, casting Kiera Knightley or Emma Watson and thinking a baggy tshirt makes them "ugly" bc it would be oh so terrible to cast a truly unattractive person is a conversation for another time) and start to see boys as potential love interests whilst still maintaining many of their original tomboy traits and hanging out with mainly boys. So the Cool Girl is just the Tomboy after puberty (in a figurative sense of course bc many adult tomboys exist in media. When i say puberty i refer to them changing into something more feminine.)

    Zelda o July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • In french, the expression for "tomboy" is pretty violent, we say "garçon manqué" which could be translated as "failed boy". Yeah, if a girl acts weirdly, that means she was ought to be a boy but was failed XD

    Krankar Volund July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I love your guys, as a heterosexual male I want you to know that i am the person that I am today only because of you! I may be figuring things out but people like ylu make things make sense!!

    AJ Perla July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • I like Lorelai's character from Gilmore Girls – because she's feminine, but also strong, brave and resilient. Personally, I felt more comfortable with the feminization of myself in the typical way, as I got much older.. and fortunately, I had a supportive family who let me dress the way I wanted to. They commented, but didn't make me change. And these days it depends on my mood.

    On a completely different note —
    You don't have to hate pink to be against gender-izing everything! Especially now that I am a parent, I find it so annoying that things like potties (with no special add ons for the boys), sheets / towels are all 'gendered' simply because of the colors..and typically the 'pink' ones are more expensive! And there are so many parents on Amazon complaining that the girls' stuff is more expensive. Well, then don't give into this gendered nonsense!!!
    End rant.

    calico27 July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • A girl can do "boy's" stuff and still be girly or "heterosexual"… or not
    From a personal experience; tomboy girls are the most fun to hang around with.
    We, humans, associate and group ideas as categorization, which is one of our main intellectual traits, so it's expected to get the first impression that if a biological male or female behaves in the way most of their biological counterparts do then they are to some extent an altersexual (?); this thinking is unavoidable and accurate in several cases. What we can avoid is reacting subjectively to it and this is where the "mind your own business" mentality comes from.
    TAKE EVERYTHING FOR WHAT IT IS AND NOT FOR WHAT YOU WANT IT TO BE; one of the healthiest advices ever learnt.

    PJPF July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • c’mon we need te prefect girl trope, the one who always behave extremely well, all the town loves her because she is too nice, goes well on school, is the role model for the other parents with “problematic kids”, and she is from a known family in the town also

    Ba K July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply
  • 15:19 😁

    Fabiola Dort July 3, 2020 10:43 am Reply

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