Sportswoman or tomboy?

I’ve always had an interest in sports, when I was younger I played for a local badminton team and in secondary school I played in the netball, football, swimming, athletics and rounders teams. I never thought that playing sports made me ‘manly’ or ‘masculine’. Sometimes the boys at training were better than the girls and sometimes it was the other way round. Gender was never an issue.

I’m now in the university triathlon team and after many months of training, I finally completed my first triathlon last weekend. I was talking to some young Chinese women about the triathlon and they immediately called me a 女汉字, which can be translated as ‘masculine woman’ or ‘tomboy’. It’s a pretty negative term in Chinese, where people still have quite traditional views on gender roles.

I’ve read some articles about ‘masculine women’ (in Chinese) which say that these women:

  • independently strive for self-improvement
  • don’t like shopping
  • don’t like to use make-up
  • like to carry their own suitcases
  • are pretty on the outside but have careless behaviour
  • have the courage to take on (tasks)
  • are self-reliant

amongst many other things such as being naked at home if the weather is hot, hating pink clothes and not showing weakness when facing problems. Some of the websites I’ve looked at have had pictures of the Chinese Disney princess Mulan on. Instead of finding a husband and complying with the Chinese standards of how women should act, she faked being a man so her injured father wouldn’t have to go to war. She’s my favourite Disney princess, eluding strength, power, self-motivation and in sacrificing herself to help others she SAVED THE WHOLE OF CHINA.


I recognise that there are many types of girls out there who may be like this and I know I have some of the above tendencies, but none of them come from doing sport and I don’t think they are even necessarily ‘manly behaviours’. When the Chinese people I were talking to called me a 女汉字, I immediately told them that I wasn’t, and that playing sports doesn’t make a woman ‘masculine’. I asked them if gymnasts This Girl Canwere 女汉字,and they said of course not. So practicing some sports makes you manly yet others don’t?

Sport is such a wonderful thing that has helped me develop as a person and put into practice competencies such as teamwork, communication skills, working under pressure, dedication, setting targets, making decisions to name a few – all of which employers like to hear about in job applications and interviews. If I had chosen not to play sports because of my gender, I would have missed out on so much.

That’s why I’m so pleased there are campaigns such as This Girl Can inspiring women and girls to exercise, no matter what prejudice or barrier has been stopping them previously. I don’t see any reason why gender should interfere in sports participation. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there are always less female participants at races I have competed at. It’s good because I have more chances of success, but at the same time it’s sad that women aren’t competing in races or competitions.

Despite what those people called me upset me a little, it didn’t affect me so much as to dissuade me from triathlon or sports. I’m stronger than that, and being a woman won’t stop me from being an athlete.


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