April 1 - June 30, 2022

Appearing first in the 1590s, the term "tomboy" was defined as a "wild, romping girl, who acts like a spirited boy"; or "strumpet, bold and immodest woman".* This exhibition interrogates the history of cultural expectations and gender norms for girls & women, especially in the interplay between lifestyle, aesthetic, play and self-identity. It looks at historical shifts in definitions of femininity and gender to understand how tomboys have challenged cultural norms to have a dynamic influence on fashion, literature, sports and popular culture.

Visitors are encouraged to ask themselves about the relevance of the tomboy today. How have various societies and cultures defined femininity? Does the term "tomboy" hold meaning currently? As society has developed a more nuanced understanding of femininity, is it a term that holds continued relevance? If so, for whom? Do current cultural conversations about the intersections of gender identity and queerness complicate the use of the term? In what ways?

We invite you to learn more by visiting the exhibition, attending programs and events, and checking out suggested videos and readings about tomboys below.

*Harper, D. (n.d.). Etymology of tomboy. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from




Exhibit produced in partnership with the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University. For more information, please visit