This is how Wikipedia defines the word ‘tomboy’:
‘A tomboy is a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviours considered typical of a boy, including wearing masculine clothing and engaging in games and activities that are physical in nature and are considered in many cultures to be unfeminine or the domain of boys.’
This is a term I’ve been called all my life and I cannot recall a single moment when I considered it as a compliment.
I’ve always been what they call a very ‘non-girly girl’. The kind of girl who never liked the colour pink or hated playing with dolls. All my time was spent rolling around in the dirt, playing cricket in the sun and trying to climb up trees.
Coming home rugged from playing sports was a daily activity for me and to be honest, it was the best time of my life.
But clearly, as people don’t let others live in peace, my neighbourhood-watch aunties had a huge problem with me playing with the boys. They also had a problem with how I dressed — Baggy T-shirts and oversized jackets were my everyday clothes.
They would constantly bug my mother about how I should behave more ‘like a girl’— A concept even my mother failed to understand. In fact, my mother never had a problem with how I was growing up. She never forced me to play with toys I didn’t like or be friends with people I shared no common interests with.
Instead, she was more than happy that I was an active child who dedicatedly played sports and sat inside the house doing nothing.
However, even though these aunties failed to manipulate my mother, they constantly gossiped about me among each other. I was the only girl playing with the boys and for some reason, it was really hard for them to digest that this is a possibility.
According to them, a girl wasn’t even supposed to speak to boys, leave aside playing with them for hours.
There was even an incident when one of the aunties asked my guy friends if I’m dating one of them or all of them.
I was 12 years old.
My parents always made sure I develop a thick skin to such absurd comments but deep down inside, it did disturb my mental peace.
People might think children don’t give anything much thought but if you constantly bother a child to a point that she becomes the hot topic of your evening gossip, it’s bound to have some impact.
And eventually, there came a point in my life that I started wondering if what I’m doing is actually wrong. If playing with boys and being in their company all the time is something ‘girls from good families’ don’t do.
It’s not like I didn’t have friends who were girls. I just didn’t spend as much time with them. An incident which literally traumatised me was when the mother of one of my girl-friends scolded me at the age of 14 and told me that girls my age shouldn’t be hanging out with boys.
She was friends with my mother and dragged her into this conversation of deciding what I should do with MY time.
I was finally told to limit my playing time outside the house and become a little more ladylike. My mother also gave in because well, ‘Log kya kahenge?’
I was made to grow out my hair and change my wardrobe. My denim shorts were given away and replaced with floral skirts that I’d rather puke on.
My mother tried coaxing me with the fact that since now I’m growing up, boys and girls should have a necessary physical distance which is impossible to achieve while playing sports.
I lost my enthusiasm and let’s just say I was feeling miserable almost all the time. I was allowed to hang out with only girls and no offense to anyone but that life wasn’t for me.
I couldn’t stand to constantly talk about how boys are cute because, for me, they were my friends. I never found them ‘cute’. I just found them super annoying just like friends do.
My girlfriends saw me as a gateway to being friends with these boys. Since they never had the liberty of playing with them, they asked me to introduce them.
I considered this as an opportunity where I could finally get to spend some time with my real friends and did exactly what they asked me to do.
Oh boy, did I get in trouble for this! One of my girlfriends started dating my guy friend and just like every other adolescent relationship, this couldn’t stay under the covers for too long.
Her mother found and guess what? She blamed me for it. She asked me to come down to her house when my friend wasn’t around and blasted the living hell out of me. She said all sorts of things like how I am the reason her daughter came in contact with the boy and how I should have stopped it.
I, a girl who had never even known physical attraction towards the opposite sex yet, was being blamed for someone else’s hormones.
I cried like a baby that day and told my mother everything. I confided in her how I hate staying in and playing ‘house’. How I’d rather be out kicking everyone’s ass in a bicycle race. Fortunately, my mother being a sensible woman, understood that keeping me away from things I like won’t be good-parenting and once again, gave me the freedom to do whatever my heart desired.
I was myself once again. I cut my hair short and brought back those baggy clothes with no fucks given.
The aunties were back at it with their ‘hawwws’ but this time, I gave it back to them. I had an answer for every shallow question they threw my way and eventually shut them up.
And as I grew up, I started hating the term ‘tomboy’. Just because I didn’t like what most girls did, it doesn’t make me less of a girl.
I had both girlfriends and guy friends and neither of them ever seem to care about how I preferred life. Because kids don’t do that. They don’t judge. It’s the adults that need to realise that if you become an obstacle in a child’s personal growth, you’re taking a huge part of that child’s heart.
I’m a full-grown adult now and of course, I developed a liking towards a lot of things that women usually like but not once did I do it to please anybody.
I never once gave in to the idea of how a woman should only be feminine. Not even when my college-boyfriend expressed how he would prefer if I ‘maintained’ myself a little more. When asked what does he mean by that, his answer took me right back to when I was 14 years old.
“Thoda make-up toh laga liya kar…. and yeh kya har jagah converse pehenti hai? Baaki ladkiyan toh heels pehenti hain.”
If you can’t accept me for who I am, what are you even doing with me? I need nobody to tell me that baggy shorts and sneakers make me any less of a girl. Watching cricket with more enthusiasm than watching a beauty pageant doesn’t take away the fact that I’m a woman.
And on days I want to put on a pretty dress and loud make-up doesn’t have to be a big deal because a ‘tomboy’ can also do that.
To all the aunties that felt that gossiping about a pre-pubescent child was ethical and that ‘being pretty’ is something I’ll never be, here’s a big fuck you to all of you. I won.