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Tomboy: Toward a More Expansive Definition of Womanhood
chidinma divine iwu
Mar 17, 2022
Location: Abia, Nigeria
Summary

Once, being a tomboy was a way to gain male validation. When adolescence brought on emotion and curves that were harder to hide, an expanded view of what womanhood could look like also flourished.

We woke up one day, and our parents firmly instructed us to ransack our home of two rooms and a little kitchen, pack and unpack properties, and do the laundry. We woke up another day, took rushed baths, dressed up, and drove to the bus station. We couldn’t afford flights. On the last episode of our waking up, we were in Abia, the dusty environment welcoming us as the pungent stench of diesel filled our nostrils. Until six years ago, when my mother, in concession with my father, concluded on our resettlement to Southeastern Nigeria, I was the girlboy, the boygirl, the girlboss of every street and school that I stepped foot in, in Northern Nigeria. Before our spontaneous embarkment, there were no discussions with us, their children. Our mother didn’t hint at the slightest about moving, and neither did our father—even though a conversation with us would be unusual. With that move, my life would change. I just didn’t yet know how.

How to Be a Tomboy


There’s no handbook for attaining tomboyism, and for me, it started off as a coping mechanism from the influx of femininity traits that unveiled themselves every night that I sat and had dinner with my family of too many women. It was as if someone had to do it—be different, stand out, exude more butch energy—and every time I met my sisters’ gazes, I felt their femininity shine lucidly through their eyes.

Three extremes probed my decision to reach tomboy peak. One, I was fed up living in a world clustered with women being women. I wanted out to explore the freedom of living by my own standards—riding bikes at will, playing soccer on the streets—standards that conflicted with norms. The comfort my sisters felt with living up to standards that limited them further propelled my irritation.

Two, I was irked by the disregard for women, and I could not see a way to fix this other than to disentangle from the docility of it. To lean more into the courts of the players who treated my sisters and mother with impertinence, as I had long heard that these players run the world. I wanted to be respected the way men were respected.


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Tomboy: Toward a More Expansive Definition of Womanhood by Chidinma Divine Iwu
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