Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Effects of Childhood Tomboyism and Family Experiences on the Self-Esteem of College Females

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Effects of Childhood Tomboyism and Family Experiences on the Self-Esteem of College Females

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine if being a tomboy in childhood is related to high self-esteem in college women. Different aspects of participants' family experiences were analyzed as well. This study revealed that feeling overprotected in childhood as well as currently was related to lower self-esteem in college women. Participants who were tomboys as children had higher self-esteem in adulthood, a finding that approached statistical significance. Other aspects of the participants' family situation, such as parents' employment and marital status, as well as birth order and the presence of a male sibling, were found to be unrelated to tomboyism and self-esteem. Implications of these findings as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.

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Gender identity can be defined as how one perceives the self in terms of masculine or feminine traits (Berk, 2006). However, if girls are to identify with their mothers, and assume the characteristics associated with the feminine role, then the concept of tomboyism becomes difficult to explain. In fact, as pointed out by Carr (1998), theories of gender identity cannot explain why a young girl may or may not identify with her own sex. Although there is still no completely agreed-upon definition of tomboyism (Carr, 2007), if a tomboy is seen as a young girl who freely moves between masculine and feminine behaviors, then, indeed, gender identity theory cannot fully explain the behavior. Additionally, as discussed by Reay (2001), being a tomboy may involve a rejection of the feminine role. Given the social inequity between males and females, it is not surprising that girls may want to incorporate some masculine traits into their identity (Carr, 1998). Tomboys can not only gain male friends but, more importantly, the respect of their male peers (Reay, 2001). This notion echoes findings of other research, both early and more recent, which demonstrated that girls can improve their status by adopting masculine behaviors (e.g., Feinman, 1981; Safir, Rosenmann, & Kloner, 2003). As suggested by Kleinplatz, McCarrey, and Kateb (1992), more "social value" is attached to behavior that is traditionally masculine in nature.

Early research demonstrated that girls who are tomboys as children are well-adjusted, good leaders, and popular (Hemmer & Kleiber, 1981). Green, Williams, and Goodman (1982) reported that tomboys relate better to males in their peer groups, reported that their role model for the future was their father, and stated outright that they wanted to be a boy. In addition, it was found that tomboys were more likely to take on a male role when engaging in pretend play (Green et al., 1982).

Being a tomboy does not always carry a negative stigma with it, unlike a boy who is labeled a sissy (Kimmel, 2004). The word tomboy describes a girl who may like to play with trucks as well as dolls in childhood. This comfort with moving in and out of the masculine and feminine gender roles can prove to be very adaptive, as females who are tomboys as children may be more flexible in adulthood. It has been suggested by some researchers (e.g., Plumb & Cowan, 1984) that this flexibility may lead women to be more androgynous in adulthood. Indeed, there was an empirical examination of the relationship between tomboyish behavior and androgyny in adulthood by Burn, O'Neil, and Nederend (1996). These researchers, however, found a relationship between tomboyism and masculinity, not androgyny. An androgynous gender role has been found to be adaptive, as a healthy dose of masculine and feminine traits are coexisting within the same person (Baldwin, Critelli, Stevens, & Russell, 1986). Given the potential positive outcomes of engaging in tomboyish behavior as a child, it is surprising that this topic has not been given much research attention in the past several decades (Bailey, Bechtold, & Berenbaum, 2002; Morgan, 1998; Van Volkom, 2003). …

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