Sex Roles [sers] pp1011-sers-474425 October 31, 2003 11:53 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 49, Nos. 11/12, December 2003 (
The Relationships Between Childhood Tomboyism, Siblings’
Activities, and Adult Gender Roles
Michele Van Volkom
Two studies were designed to examine whether siblings and participation in masculine activities
inﬂuence tomboyism. The inﬂuence of tomboyism on adult gender roles was also examined.
Study 1 utilized 193 mainly European American undergraduate women. Results indicated
that participation in masculine activities was related to tomboyism. Having a brother was
only marginally related to tomboyism. Study 2, a replication with 284 undergraduate women,
added participants’ ethnicity and employment status of mothers as variables. Slightly more
than half of the women were European American, with smaller numbers of African American,
Asian American, and Hispanic American women. In both studies, tomboyism was related to
masculinity in adulthood. No signiﬁcant relationships were found between tomboyism and
ethnicity or mother’s employment status.
KEY WORDS: tomboys; tomboyism; gender roles; childhood sports.
Young girls who do not like to wear dresses, pre-
fer playing with boys, and favor traditionally mas-
culine toys over traditionally feminine toys are of-
ten labeled tomboys (Bailey, Bechtold, & Berebaum,
2002). It has been long noted that although many
women report that they were tomboys as children,
there has been little research on this topic (Hyde,
Rosenberg, & Behrman, 1977; Morgan, 1998). Those
researchers who have studied tomboyism point out
that these girls generally do not experience negative
consequences for their behavior. In fact, Hemmer and
Kleiber (1981) found that peers rated tomboys as pop-
ular, helpful, and effective leaders of a group. The
main reason tomboys are described in positive terms
is that they exhibit more ﬂexible and adaptable behav-
ior than do some of their peers (Hemmer & Kleiber,
1981). They participate in both boys’ and girls’ activ-
Portions of this paper were presented in a poster session at the
Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, March,
2000, Baltimore, Maryland.
Department of Psychology, University at Albany, State University
of New York, New York.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Psychology, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jer-
ities, and they are usually not discouraged from en-
gaging in “cross-gender” behavior (Bem, 1975; Bem
& Lenney, 1976; Hemmer & Kleiber, 1981). It is im-
portant to note that whether or not parents adhere
to traditional gender roles can affect young girls’ gen-
der atypical behavior (Arditti, Godwin, & Scanzoni,
1991; Martin, 1990). Speciﬁcally, girls who are not dis-
couraged from engaging in masculine activities may
be likely to have parents who do not abide by strict
gender roles. More traditional parents, on the other
hand, may restrict cross-gender activities.
The concept of tomboyism can be better under-
stood in light of research on gender-role development.
Many researchers have examined how a child devel-
ops a sense of his or her own gender as well as the
appropriate behaviors associated with being male or
female. For example, Jacklin and Reynolds (1993) dis-
cussed the differential socialization of boys and girls
and how children are rewarded and punished for dif-
ferent sets of behaviors according to their gender.
Adults may praise a girl for helping her mother and
a boy for exhibiting independence from his mother.
Similarly, boys may be admonished for crying and girls
for engaging in rough play. Modeling and imitation is
a second approach to the understanding of a child’s
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation