Tuesday, September 5, 2023



February 25, 2016 by Emily Porter

Girl with "Tomboy" look

I have a question. If a girl who acts like a boy is called a tomboy, then what is a boy who acts like a girl called? If I had to guess I would assume most of us can agree the ‘opposite’ of a tomboy would be a sissy—or in other words a boy that acts like a girl. Growing up, I’ll admit that I was a tomboy because I loved catching frogs and climbing trees. Both actions could you might consider masculine, but perfectly acceptable for a young girl. Yet, if I were to ask a group of boys if they were sissies growing up I can assume I’d receive some confused looks and rejecting responses. For whatever reason it is shameful to act like a girl if you’re a male, so those who do are insulted by being called a sissy.

Whether I act ‘girly’ (feminine) or like a ‘tomboy’ (masculine), my behaviors are deemed as socially acceptable in our culture. Because of this, I never realized how many times the media reinforces an acceptance of girls behaving ‘masculine’. Consider the movies, She’s The Man, Motocrossed, and Mulan. What do these movies have in common? All three have a female character that disguises herself as man so that she can participate in the masculine activities she desires.

Now lets consider the reverse, are there any movies where a male disguises himself as a woman to do feminine activities? I can think of a couple, like Mrs. Doubtfire and White Chicks. The difference is in the movies when the females dressed as men, they are considered brave, strong, and dedicated (to their sports or country). In the movies when the males dress as women, males wear dresses and act ditzier than their original male character.

In this way movies are reinforcing the idea that it’s OK for females to want to act masculine because that means they are being brave, strong, and independent. It also reinforces that it is not OK for males to act like women because then he would need to dress sexually and act ditzy. Thus an understanding why the word sissy has a negative association with males who act like women.

Society’s Opinion

As society has become more aware of this lack of acceptance for feminine boys, CNN came out with an article that notes how,

‘Anna’ from the Disney
movie Frozen.

CNN’s claim was supported when pop artist Adele took her three-year-old son, Angelo, to Disneyland decked out as ‘Anna’ from the Disney movie Frozen. “In the past, allowing boys to dress as female characters was seen as extremely controversial and while it is still notable enough to spawn articles like this one, many parents like Adele now realize that heroes come in various forms.” This quote comes from an article from the Advocate that shows how Adele and her family are evolved enough to recognize that allowing her son to dress as a woman (in this case a cartoon) can represent him dressing as a brave and courageous character that just so happens to be female. Compare this to the movies mentioned earlier, Mrs. Doubtfire and White Chicks, where males dressing as women meant acting as a ditzy woman with large breasts.

C’mon Man, Don’t Be a Sissy!

Unfortunately since most families are not like Adele’s, boys who want to act, dress, and behave feminine are often teased and called sissies. In Julie T. Wood’s Gendered Lives, Julie gives insight to the concepts of growing up masculine. “Don’t be a female” is one of her themes of manhood, which explains that when boys grow up they are pressured to avoid conversations that show sensitivity. This is because sensitivity can show vulnerability, which can cause a boy to be labeled as a sissy.

Basically, this masculine theme means that boys are taught from the time they are born to be a “strong boy”. If they feel pain or show sensitivity, then they are expressing weakness and that is not considered masculine. For example, when a boy joins a sports team he will rarely report if he is injured or cry when he feels pain. This is because he does not want to “be female” and falls into the pressures of acting masculine.

Are the Words “Tomboy” and “Sissy” Necessary Anymore?

When I mentioned Adele’s son dressing as ‘Anna’ from Frozen, did you consider him a sissy? If you’re like me, you thought it was awesome that a boy would want to dress as ‘Anna’, a brave girl who in the end saves the life of her sister (spoiler alert). Adele is teaching her son to break from the idea of what it is to be a man in America and to dress as a woman character, if that’s what he wants to do. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same outlook as Adele and our society still has a long way to go before behaving feminine is considered acceptable for boys and girls.

For now, a girl acting like a boy is a tomboy and tomboys are perfectly acceptable in our society. In the future, I hope we can be more encouraging of males wanting to act more feminine and stop telling them “don’t be female”. Because in the end we’re hurting both males from freely expressing themselves and females by putting a negative connotation on what it means to be feminine.


  1. I would rather be a tomboy growing up female

    1. Agree - Had I grown up female, I think I would have been a Tomboy. Today as a feminine man is still enjoy some typically guy things as well as girly stuff.