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What is a Tomboy?

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“Sports gives you something you can call your own. It’s a place where you get great life skills, you get confidence, you learn not only to deal with adversity… it just makes you tougher. Toughness is a good thing on girls, as is excellence,” ex-Stanford University basketball player and ESPN sports analyst Ros Gold-Onwude states. “You know especially today with all of the influences of social media, and there’s so much being thrown at young people about what femininity is, what being a woman is and how that criss-crosses and matches up with athleticism.”

Interviews like this one are a part of Tomboy, a documentary aimed at starting a conversation concerning gender in sports. The one-hour documentary produced by Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area is an assortment of interviews from well-known female athletes, pioneers, sports executives, and broadcasters.

The overarching idea is to “elevate the conversation” of gender in sports, including analyzing terms like the title of the documentary itself. The title, Tomboy, is actually printed with a line through it, representing the idea that the term is outdated and that there should no longer be a negative connotation to being both feminine and athletic.

What does it really mean to be called a tomboy? Are girls who demonstrate excellence in athletic ability considered less feminine? Are girls who exhibit too much talent in sports like boys?

In the film, a tomboy is described with the words “brave,” “tough,” “strong,” “determined,” and “unstoppable.”

“I don’t understand why these great values like bravery and resilience and confidence and leadership are considered male,” says Caroline Paul, author of The Gutsy Girl. “We need to decouple it from gender because those attributes are so important for the life of both a girl and a boy, so saying ‘tomboy’ and immediately [implying] she’s not totally a girl…it’s not only not helpful…it’s kind of insulting.”

Other interviews in the documentary include 39-time Grand Slam Title winner and former professional tennis player, Billie Jean King, and Basketball Hall of Famer and sportscaster Anne Meyers-Drysdale. Four-time World Cup alpine ski racer champion Lindsey Vonn and former Little League baseball pitcher Mo’ne Davis also talk about their life-changing experiences as female athletes.

Equal athletic opportunity for females is a recurring theme in the documentary as it explores the many reasons why girls join sports later than boys and drop out earlier. For a long time women have struggled with feeling like they have to choose an identity. Were they going to play sports or were they going to play dress up, as if it had to be an “or” decision.

Society needs to continue to strip away stereotypes and gender profiling so that girls can feel excited about participating in sports at a young age. They need to feel they can excel in their chosen sport without having to worry about how they will be perceived by others.

Tomboy will be distributed nationally by Comcast networks and NBC Sports Regional Networks all throughout Women’s History Month, depending on local affiliates.

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