Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Johanna S. Hunsaker, PhD, Director; Kathleen T. Heinrich, PhD; Susan M. Zgliczynski, PhD


gender, Leadership studies, middle aged, narrative study, qualitative, tomboy, women


Women's lives have been increasingly researched in the last thirty years, offering greater understanding of their roles and relationships within our patriarchal culture. It is now readily understood that adolescence tends to mute the positive sense of self and authentic voice of young girls in our current culture, and midlife tends to relax these restrictions, allowing self and voice to emerge once again. Many women in their middle years rediscover the spirited, independent, and competent identity left behind when they accepted cultural restrictions to conform to a world that was not of their own making. In spite of the increased knowledge about women's lives, however, virtually no studies have concentrated on the cultural experiences of tomboy women. Tomboys have been defined as cultural rebels for over six centuries, yet their personal stories have not been studied to identify their patterns of acceptance or resistance to social restrictions. The purpose of this study was to gather and analyze narratives of the historical events and challenges of ten midlife heterosexual tomboy women in an effort to better understand their life choices. The four original questions were organized around the specific life events of being childhood tomboys, navigating adolescence, selecting careers, and experiencing midlife. This qualitative research method involved a reflective narrative process which encouraged personal life stories to emerge in three ways: oral interviews, individual selection of a photograph or creative art piece that reflected how they felt about having lived their lives as tomboys, and written description interpreting their representative art. These stories were then woven into themes in an effort to create a mosaic of their common experiences. The portraits that emerged from this study supported cultural tomboy traditions of independence and a refusal to be squelched either physically or mentally. Their childhoods were free and independent, but adolescence was difficult for some primarily because they no longer were allowed to roam freely in the male world, and they did not want to live in the female world. Their competitive strengths and love of physical expression could not be contained for long, however, and they regained their strong sense of self in early adulthood. These tomboys shared a light-hearted and irreverent humor, continued high level of energy in their midlife years, an enthusiasm for their maverick natures, and a firm determination to maintain an authentic voice that has been a tomboy trademark for hundreds of years. It appears the Tomboy Archetype not only survives, but continues to thrive in spite of cultural pressures. For these women, being a tomboy is a lifetime identity they hold with great pride.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access