Girls who fight to be one of the guys
Carrie Paechter, of Goldsmiths College in London, believes that tomboys view the world in terms of what she describes as polarised masculinities and femininities.
Professor Paechter studied more than 50 primary pupils over two years to det
ermine how they perceived differences between tomboys and their polar opposite: girly-girls.
The pupils viewed sex divisions in terms of ultra-femininity and macho masculinity.
They would split attributes by gender: short hair is masculine, pink is feminine.
The only way that tomboys could reject girliness, therefore, was by opting for an all-embracing masculinity. So skirt-wearing became a make-or-break factor.
Similarly, crying was something only girls did. A tomboy called Nirvana said: "Last time I remember crying was when I was six and I actually hurt. I broke my nose."
By contrast, tomboys aspired to aggression. Deniz was considered to be a tomboy, not only because she played football, but because she cared about winning.
She would chase fellow players when she lost, and was not afraid to get into fights. Verbal aggression was also considered to be a male trait. One girl said: "Tomboys have more gangster language. They could just say, 'Shut up!'"
As a result, tomboys were more likely to get into trouble at school than girly-girls, another trait that marked them out as boy-like. Children said that tomboys would mess around in class "like boys do".
Deniz was the only girl in the class to have reached the most serious level of behavioural sanctions.
Teachers, therefore, should be aware that misbehaviour among girls could result from a desire to prove their tomboy credentials.
Professor Paechter said: "Tomboy identities... operate as a claiming and assertion of masculinity by a girl. If we want to understand the factors which affect whether girls can take up tomboy identities in the school setting, we need to carefully consider their understanding of gendered identities."
However, as the tomboys neared puberty, many began to change their attitudes independently, opting for occasional painted nails or skirts.
The fear, one girl said, was that they might otherwise grow up to become muscled lesbians: "Our future career might be a PE teacher."